introduction the way it gave me and my contemporaries a strong sense of continuities and developments, of the generic and thematic connections between works remote in tone and time. As the curricula changed, one of my missions as a publisher was to try to provide some texts a new reader might miss – hence an accessible Gower or Henryson, a Surrey, a Smart – reminders, signals of the primary wealth that is there, giving off its energies. And there were the neglected figures, neglected even by our teachers: Gascoigne, say, and the great Sermon writers, and Chatterton who seemed to us much more than a footnote, and Aphra Behn, the Rossettis. Carcanet’s Fyfield Books (now the Carcanet Classics) were a response to a growing sense that the tradition, and not only the minor but key figures in it, were being allowed to drift off, or were being consciously sloughed, when they should remain current resources for poetry writers and readers.
We did not at the time seem troubled by the lack of choice in the curriculum, though we sometimes complained about omissions. We thought we would learn to choose our own ways in due course, which of course we did. My friends and I in establishing Carcanet thought we were publishing for writer-readers like ourselves. The lecteur was our semblable and frère and not yet an hypocrite. We learned to be ironists after the die was cast.
Had I not had a kind of phobia of libraries, I might not have become involved in publishing. Until my third year at Oxford, libraries struck me as picturesque but insanitary places. I would no more share a book (except with a friend) than I would a toothbrush. I did not like to read among other readers, their different degrees and intensities of concentration were a distraction, their physical presence a provocation. I liked to sit back comfortably and privately, indoors or out, to read, not bend forward in study mode. I must have been more of a reader than a student even then.