A BOOK of poems handwritten by their author and specially bound by his son is the latest addition to the University of Huddersfield’s important archive of rare, precious and fascinating editions of the works of Ted Hughes. The collection now has more than 90 items, and is becoming an essential destination for serious scholars and devotees of the life and writings of the late Laureate.
The natural world was a powerful theme in Hughes’s poetry, and the latest acquisition is titled A Bundle of Birds. It contains 23 of his bird poems neatly written out in 1982 by Ted Hughes himself in a volume, bound by his son Nicholas, that was a gift for his sister Olwyn. Swans, rooks, swallows, buzzards, nightingales and starlings are among the subjects.
A Bundle of Birds was one of the most prominent lots at an auction of fine books and manuscripts that was conducted in Knightsbridge by Bonhams. It included a substantial number of items written by or associated with Ted Hughes – who died in 1998 – and his wife, the poet Sylvia Plath.
The University of Huddersfield is home to the Ted Hughes Network and it was decided that the handwritten, 24-page A Bundle of Birds would be an important addition to what is now a world-class collection of limited editions of the poet’s work.
He was published by the major company Faber and Faber, but Hughes also issued much of his writing in what were often exquisitely designed and illustrated editions by small presses and publishing companies. The University of Huddersfield has specialised in acquiring examples of these.
As artefacts, these books provide a valuable insight into the heart of Hughes’s creative process, says lecturer Dr Steve Ely, who directs the Ted Hughes Network.
A Bundle of Birds – as a handwritten volume – was an edition of one, individually bound by Hughes’s son Nicholas. Although he collaborated creatively with his father, he later become a successful marine biologist – before his suicide in 2009.
When the book is examined in detail, it will be fascinating and revealing to discover any variance between the autograph bird poems and the versions as they appear in print, said Jessica Malay, Professor of English at the University.
It was she who took part in telephone bidding for the book. The auction was a tense experience, said Professor Malay. But when A Bundle of Birds was finally knocked down at £11,875, the price was close to the sum budgeted for by University’s Research Fund.
Professor Malay also bid successfully for a limited edition of the Ted Hughes poem Crow and this too joins an archive that will have an official launch in the autumn. But the collection is already of global significance and a boon to researchers, including University of Huddersfield literature students.
A group taking a final-year module named Public Humanities have curated an exhibition titled Ted Hughes: You Are Who You Choose To Be, at the University’s Heritage Quay archives centre. It runs until July and includes items from the Ted Hughes Network Archive.