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Anvil Press Archive

Date range: 1967-2015

Medium: Archive

Founded in 1968, Anvil Press grew out of a student magazine called New Measure, edited by Peter Jay at Oxford University. The magazine published poets Peter Jay admired, some of whom later became Anvil authors, including Gavin Bantock, Harry Guest, Matthew Mead, Stanley Moss and Peter Whigham. The Press was kick-started by a small grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled Jay to print their first six pamphlets and two books. The operation moved to Greenwich in south east London in 1969, where it remained until it was wound up in 2015. Peter Jay remained at the helm of the Press throughout its existence, assisted by a small number of other staff over the years.

Anvil always retained its small company ethos as an independent poetry publisher, and typically issued between six and ten books a year; Peter Jay had a personal connection with many of his authors. The Press specialised in modern and contemporary poetry in English from around the world. It published Carol Ann Duffy’s first two collections (as well as two anthologies edited by Duffy), seven collections by Irish poet Dennis O’Driscoll, and work by other poets including F. T. Prince, Stanley Moss, Dick Davis, Ruth Silcock, Heather Buck, Peter Levi, E. A. Markham, and many more.

The Press also had a particularly prestigious translation programme (Peter Jay himself being a distinguished translator), and published works of eminent poets from Eastern and Western Europe, Latin America and China. Anvil was a long-standing publisher of work by celebrated translator Michael Hamburger (winner of the inaugural European Translation Prize for his Anvil-published versions of Paul Celan); it published Ted Hughes’s translations of János Pilinszky, and five collections by the Chinese dissident poet Bei Dao. It also published pre-1900 poetry in translation, from Classical Antiquity onwards, with the aim of bringing these works to new audiences in modern translations.

The Press’s list was truly international in its significance: a flavour of its range and extent can be found in Peter Jay’s anthology, The Spaces of Hope: Poetry for Our Times and Places (Anvil, 1998), the title of which came from a work by Serbian poet Ivan V. Lalić (as translated by Francis R. Jones).

Peter Jay retired from publishing in 2015, and the Anvil Press list has now been taken over by Manchester’s Carcanet Press, whose growing archive is also held by the Library.

The archive primarily consists of material generated by the Press from 1988 onwards, the earlier part of the archive having been sold to Texas University in 1989. However, some of the author material and business records do date from an earlier period. Material comprises:

  • Book production files, which typically contain manuscripts, annotated proofs, cover designs and associated correspondence;
  • Author correspondence files, including letters exchanged with most of the poets and translators represented in the book production files, as well as other writers;
  • General correspondence and business files: these include some author correspondence, but also letters exchanged with other publishers, distributors, printers, booksellers, literary magazines, libraries, funding bodies, arts organisations, literary agents, teachers, academics, aspiring writers and more There are also files containing board meeting papers, minutes, and associated papers;
  • Reviews of Anvil publications and obituaries of Anvil authors in the form of cuttings and photocopies;
  • Unsolicited manuscripts and submission letters;
  • Financial records;
  • Digital records, including email and book design files (these are not currently available to researchers).

Writers and translators represented in the archive include: Gavin Bantock, John Birtwhistle, Keith Bosley, Heather Buck, Nina Cassian, Tony Connor, Bei Dao, Peter Dale, Dick Davis, Carol Ann Duffy, Martina Evans, Harry Guest, James Harpur, Tony Harrison, Francis R. Jones, Peter Levi, E. A. Markham, Thomas McCarthy, John Matthias, Stanley Moss, Anne Pennington, Vasko Popa, F. T. Prince, Michael Schmidt, Peter Scupham and Ruth Silcock.

Correspondence with some writers and translators is particularly extensive, notably Michael Hamburger, Dennis O’Driscoll, Daniel Weissbort and Anthony Howell.

See also:

Further information:

Catalogue available via Special Collections reading rooms.

Other information:

Although some of the material in this archive dates from earlier in Anvil Press's history, the bulk of the pre-1988 archive is held at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, and is outlined in an online inventory.


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