Found amongst a pile of books at Jot HQ, the pocket-sized ‘Patience Strong ‘Quiet Corner ‘calendar for 1955 with its sepia photographs of ‘ picturesque ‘ spots in England. We had almost forgotten that publishers still used sepia photographs as late as this, but then remembered the lifeless and dispiriting photographs of landscapes and empty streets in Arthur Mee’s ‘King’s England’ series of county guide books. No wonder the county guides published by Shell from 1934 were regarded as such a welcome change from these dreary volumes. Mee’s totally predictable descriptions of towns and villages in each county were matched by Strong’s trite and cliché-ridden verse formatted as prose in her calendar and exemplified in ‘ The Sunlit Way ‘which accompanied a traffic-free photo of a ‘ quiet corner of old Warwick ‘ on the page for January 1955.
The Sunlit Way
‘May the way that lies ahead be lit with sunny gleams—and prove to be the road to the fulfilment of your dream…And may it lead you to the place where lost hopes are restored—where love is true and life is good and faith has its reward.’
Tumpty-tum …tumpety tum
England’s Treasures (October)
‘All along the roads of England treasures can be seen. Little old world villages with church and pond and green . Gems of beauty—cherish them and guard them jealously—and let no vandal touch the sacred scenes of history.’
Not sure about the scansion there, Patience.
The Glorious Month (May)
May is the month of bloom and blossom.
May is the month of song and light.
Of tulips by the garden path
And hawthorn hedges, snowy white.
May brings the bluebells to the wood
And paints the cowslips by the stream.
May makes this sad old bad old world
As lovely as a poet’s dream.
Which poet would that be?
Patience Strong was born in Catford as Winifred Emma May in 1907, in the same year as W. H. Auden and just a year after John Betjeman. Growing up, attending Sunday School, writing and playing music in the family home (she had published over a hundred songs by 1928), and reading voraciously, .it is likely that Winifred would have come across Modernism in some shape or form before 1922, the year in which she published her first poem in Nash’s Magazine and the year in which Eliot’s The Waste Land
appeared. She could hardly have avoided it after this date. And yet she chose to ignore modern poetry as if it had never existed. In 1935 she sent some verse to The Daily Mirror. They liked them, asked for more and then suggested she adopt a pen name. She chose ‘Patience Strong’ after a character in a novel she had admired. She now had a regular newspaper column, ‘ The Quiet Corner ‘ and this continued throughout the war until 1945, when it was transferred to The Sunday Pictorial, where it appeared regularly for several decades.
There was evidently a market for her ‘ inspirational’ and ‘ warm ‘ homilies on the importance of hope, resilience etc., for from 1937 she continued to bring out collections will titles such as The Winding Road, Sunlit Byways, Tapestries of Time, Magic Casementsand er, Golden Rain( what was thatall about ?). She died in 1990, unmourned by real poetry lovers.
Some indication of the low esteem in which she is held today are the prices you have to pay for copies of her many books online. One bookseller on Abebooks will charge you the sum of 73p each for four of her collections, while another has the temerity to offer Magic Casements(1956) for five of your English pounds. Well, it does have a dust jacket. [R Healey]