The Poet's Pots | The Collection of Anthony Thwaite

The Poet's Pots | The Collection of Anthony Thwaite

Our 1 November Home and Interiors sale includes a group of pots from the wider collection of the esteemed poet and critic Anthony Thwaite (1930-2021).

14 October 2022

Thwaite was born in Chester in 1930 to the son of a bank cashier, Hartley, and his wife, Alice.  At the age of only 10, following the outbreak of war, he was packed off alone to sit out the conflict with relatives in the US, and the son that returned to the Thwaites in 1944 was a changed one, with an American accent and an eagerness for the larger world.

Anthony Thwaite

Esteemed poet and critic Anthony Thwaite (1930-2021)

Back in England, he attended Kingswood School, Bath, and having been obsessively interested in the things of the past since his childhood, Thwaite became an active member of the archaeological society and organiser of a Saxon burial dig. He was senior secretary of the school archaeological society. His junior secretary was later to become Sir David Wilson, onetime Director of the British Museum, who remained a lifelong friend. In 1949 he won a scholarship to read English Literature and Language at Christ Church, Oxford, but the requirement for National Service meant that, at the age of 20, he was posted as acting sergeant to the Royal Artillery garrison at Homs (now al-Khums) in Libya. He spent a great deal of his time in the ruins of Leptis Magna, finding no fewer than 7,800  Roman bronze coins in a large pool among the tumbled masonry. 

It was also during his time at Kingswood School that Anthony’s talent for poetry had come to the fore and, on his return to England, Thwaite went to study English Literature and Language at Christ Church, Oxford. Whilst an undergraduate, Thwaite devoted a great deal of time to his own writing. He had poems published in The Listener, The New Statesman and The Times Literary Supplement, and book reviews and articles in ‘The Spectator’.  Thwaite bought his first bellarmine in North Wales in 1952, just before he arrived in Oxford.

The Holy Family, by Jan Mostaert (c.1495-1500) showing a similar Siegburg jug that is in the collection.

The Holy Family, by Jan Mostaert (c.1495-1500) showing a similar Siegburg jug that is in the collection.

On graduation, he and his new wife, Ann (later to become the prize-winning biographer Ann Thwaite), set off by ship to Japan to take up a two-year post teaching literature, and it was here that their first child was born. His relationship with Japan continued all his life. His first and last books were both published in Tokyo, the latter a bilingual Selected Poems. Whilst acquiring enough spoken Japanese to feel at home, Anthony said that he still understood that he remained a gaijin – an outsider – and said that his later experience, when he moved to Norfolk with his family, was much the same!

On his return to the UK, Thwaite spent eight years at the BBC, first as a radio producer and then as Literary Editor of ‘The Listener’, before heading back to Libya in 1965 to take up a two-year teaching post in Benghazi, pursuing his passion as an amateur archaeologist in his spare time.  How strongly his love of archaeology, and indeed, also religion, had shaped his life is demonstrated in three collections of poems published on his return to the UK: ‘The Stones of Emptiness’ (1967), ‘Inscriptions’ (1973) and ‘New Confessions’ (1974).

Pots from Anthony Thwaite's collection

Pots from Anthony Thwaite's Collection

Once again back in Britain, in 1967, Anthony was offered the position of Literary Editor at the ‘New Statesman’; the following year he won the Richard Hillary Memorial Prize for his collection of poems ‘The Stones of Emptiness’.  In 1973, Thwaite and the family moved to Norfolk and this coincided with him joining ‘Encounter’ magazine, where he stayed as co-editor for twelve years.  He subsequently held various prestigious posts, including Poet-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, and Editorial Director at the publishing house of André Deutsch.

Thwaite was invited all over the world to read his poems and talk about poetry, often through the British Council. He once calculated he had visited 45 countries, including China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey. Wherever he went he enjoyed the local pottery- sherds on the ground and the traditional pots that were still being made. He would bring them back in his carry-on luggage on the plane.

Throughout his life, both Anthony and his wife, Ann, were deeply involved in English literary life.  As well as at least a dozen volumes of poetry, Anthony was a publisher and a literary editor, and was not only an executor of the estate of Phillip Larkin, but he edited Larkin’s ‘Collected Poems’, his ‘Selected Letter’s, ‘Letters to Monica’ and ‘Further Requirements’. His own books included ‘The Deserts of Hesperides’, ‘An Experience of Libya’ (now an e-book) and ‘Six Centuries of Verse’, the text of a 16-part Thames TV series he wrote, spoken by Sir John Gielgud. His own Collected Poems came out in 2000. He held two honorary doctorates (from the University of Hull and the University of East Anglia), was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was appointed an OBE for services to poetry. 

Anthony Thwaite at UEA
Anthony Thwaite at UEA

In 1998, Thwaite exhibited much of this collection at the UEA in Norwich, titled ‘The Poet’s Pots’, and his earlier ‘Chronology of the Bellarmine Jug’, published in ‘The Connoisseur’ in April 1973, is still quoted and used as a reference for scholars and collectors.

The group of pots come from a much larger collection that stayed within his family, and will be offered in Sworders’ Homes and Interiors sale on Tuesday 1 November.

For further information about the collection, please contact John Black | 01279 817778




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