‘I’m promising myself one last drink before bed, one last smoke before I die’ – Ken Smith
The Ken Smith archive held by Special Collections is a kaleidoscopic mix of material. It includes travel memorabilia, photographs, newspaper clippings, diaries, memoirs, think-pieces and letters. There is an impressive mixture of poetry and prose drafts: some he was proud of, but others he would label as ‘great flops’. Drafts are written on napkins, coasters, receipts, address books, notebooks, scrapbooks and envelopes. Together, these materials form a staggering collection that reflects the personality and creativity of this great poet.
Smith’s correspondence is one of the highlights of the collection. His many recipients ranged from fellow poet Jon Silkin (whom he worked with on Stand Magazine, somewhat unharmoniously) to prisoners he mentored at Wormwood Scrubs Prison. His correspondence was also wide geographically. There are envelopes addressed to Smith from across North and Latin America, Eastern Europe, London and of course Leeds.
A great discovery when reading these letters full of impassioned opinion, love and poetry is the humour – albeit often black and profane – with which Smith approached his life and art. Ever wondered what you call a ‘hot sweaty little poem’, for example? Well, that’s a sauna-ette of course.
This is a truly superb collection and well worth exploring.
A complete catalogue for the Ken Smith Archive will be available online from October 2018.