Patricia Beer

Poet: Patricia Beer.

University marks 10th anniversary of Devon writer Patricia Beer

Devon born writer and poet, Patricia Beer is being honoured by the University of Exeter in a special event to mark the 10th anniversary of her death and the successful completion of a cataloguing project of South West writers.

Directors of the University’s Centre for South West Writing, Professor Tim Kendall and Dr Andy Brown, will read from a selection of Beer’s poems and also from their own work alongside writers Lawrence Sail and Georgina Hammick.

Patricia Beer was a writer of impressive range and best known as a poet, she was also a formidable critic and novelist. Born in Exmouth, the daughter of a railway employee, she went onto study at the University of Exeter and later Oxford. She then taught in Italy for seven years before returning to the UK eventually to become a full time writer. During a career spanning over 45 years, she produced seven volumes of poetry, a novel and two volumes of non- fiction including a memoir. Beer always retained a close link to her Devon roots and among her most successful books is Mrs Beer’s House, a vivid memoir of her childhood. 

An impressive range of her letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, notebooks and photographs have recently been catalogued by Special Collections at the University of Exeter as part of the ‘Writing Lives’ project. Funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme, the project will preserve the literary and personal papers of eight writers who all have connections with the South West including Beer, John Betjeman, Charles Causley, Agatha Christie, Jack Clemo, Ted Hughes and Margaret Forster’s biographical research papers on Daphne du Maurier.  

Christine Faunch, Archive Curator for the University’s Special Collections said, ‘Completing the cataloguing project is important in helping the understanding of literary connections made in the South West. As more collections become available via the cataloguing process, we are able to increase our knowledge about the relationships between writers and their influences, whether they are regional, national or international. It opens up possibilities for more texts to be used in teaching and research, helps to provide information on our shared literary heritage and enables people to re-discover writers and enjoy their work.’

Recurrent themes in Beer’s work include death, religion, love, loss, relationships and personal reminiscence. Beer’s work was permeated by the influence of the Devon landscape, which she often used as a focus for her poetry. One of her collections, entitled The Estuary, includes a poem of the same title, referring to the Exe Estuary. Her collection Driving West was written whilst spending increasing amounts of time at home in Devon. 

As part of the special event celebrating Beer’s work, Dr Brown has chosen to read her poem ‘Concert at Long Melford Church’ which is about morality and history. He said, ‘It’s just full of some extraordinary lines, like ’the tombstones make your teeth ache’ is fabulous.’

Dr Brown has also chosen to read Middle Age because it mentions the University of Exeter and he has recently finished writing a poem Home Leaving, which is about middle age and will also be read at the event. He commented, ‘the poem clearly speaks to me, a middle aged academic in the same institution. It speaks to us all of the choices we've made in our lives and how, in middle age, we begin to wonder whether or not they were the right ones. A few lines from Beer’s poems express this: ‘There have been real alternatives. They have put on weight and yet faded.’

Writer Lawrence Sail was a friend of Beer’s who was brought up in Exeter and he will be reading two of her poems in addition to his own work Estuarial and A Visit in June. He has published nine poetry collections and recently wrote the entry for Beer in the British Writers, supplement XIV. Sail was a former chairman of the Arvon Foundation which Ted Hughes was closely involved with and Beer was a great supporter of. The literary connections throughout the South West become evident in the archive which shows that Beer received correspondence from John Betjeman in thanks for her contribution to an anthology in his honour. 

Beer’s friend and novelist Georgina Hammick, whose first novel was short listed for the Whitbread First Novel Prize will also be giving a reading.

There will be a premier reading of Beer’s unpublished poem ‘Where’er You Walk’.  The typescript of the poem which forms part of the Beer archive at the University of Exeter has pen revisions in Beer’s hand. Professor Kendall, will also read ‘Transvestism in the Novels of Charlotte Bronte’ as a reminder that Beer was an important scholar of the Victorian novel as well as a poet.

Date: 10 June 2009

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