The Desmond Clarke Collection
11 January 2018
By Karen Watson
We were fortunate enough to have three boxes of correspondence, poems and literary documents given to the University of Sussex Special Collections by Desmond Clarke. Desmond worked in book marketing and was the sales and marketing director at Faber & Faber during the 1980s. This meant he was in charge of promoting the famous Faber poetry list under Poetry Editor Craig Raine that included Wendy Cope, Douglas Dunn and Seamus Heaney. All these names are included in the collection in various forms.
Desmond was also the director of the Book Marketing Council and in 1983 came up with the idea of the Best of Young British Novelists campaign. Desmond was able to persuade several bookshops, including all the branches of WH Smith and several hundred libraries, to stock and display the mostly unknown novelists’ books. The idea was cemented by the now iconic group photograph taken by Lord Snowdon. Granta magazine published a special issue that year of the authors’ work and has taken the idea forward each year. The collection has some press and publicity about this event.
There are a large number of Wendy Cope poems; some handwritten, some labelled first draft. Several have been published in Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis and others in Men and their Boring Arguments. There were outbursts of laughter reading through the poems in the office and a lot of reading aloud to colleagues during the cataloguing of this collection.
The documents by Ted Hughes include the poem ‘Rain Charm for the Duchy’, given to Desmond to get published when Hughes was first made Poet Laureate in December 1984. The second line of the title is ‘A blessing Devout Drench for the Christening of Prince Harry’. With the recent Royal wedding announcement, the documents have renewed significance. Ted Hughes wrote words for a song for the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1985 and this, including musical score by Howard Blake, is part of the collection.
The collection is unusual as it contains very little written by Desmond himself. It is named after him as the donor and collector of the documents, some of which were created especially for him. The Desmond Clarke poem by Wendy Cope is a good example of this. There are cards and correspondence written to Desmond from many authors, including Vikram Seth. His relationship with poet Craig Raine is represented through some correspondence and poems; they went on to further work together on the literary journal Areté, where Desmond was a member of the advisory board.
Desmond was a hugely charismatic, warm and intelligent gentleman who I was privileged to meet when the papers were given to us. I wanted to capture some of his stories about the collection so Desmond agreed to a short interview in March 2017, and this is now part of the collection. I felt it important to capture some of the person who was so skilled in making other people and their literary creations shine.
The collection fits well with our other Special Collections; Ted Hughes and Wendy Cope are stored alongside other literary greats Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Madge and Langston Hughes, representing a large and varied collection of writers and poets, their work and lives