THE STORY of Anna Wickham (1883-1947) and Harold Monro (1879-1932) is a long and complicated one. Within a year after Monro opened his one-of-a-kind Poetry Bookshop inaugurating a time of "poetry intoxication," (1) he became Wickham's publisher. Ultimately the two survived not only the growing pains of Wickham's publication in the U.S. and the planning of a joint visit to the heiress Natalie Barney's Paris salon, but also irritation, perturbation, denunciation and embrace. Nevertheless Wickham remained one of Monro's most important poets, and Monro was Wickham's steadfast champion. (2) But the tale starts with a mystery: just how did the two come to find each other?
When the Poetry Bookshop, just five minutes away from the British Museum in a rough area of Bloomsbury London, was officially opened for Monro by Henry Newbolt on 8 January 1913, poets, writers and others who loved literature quickly became familiar with the narrow Georgian-era house at 35 Devonshire Street (now Boswell Street). Upstairs in the attics, poets could rent cheap lodgings. On the ground floor, the small selling room of 12' by 12' was lined floor to ceiling with oak shelves that carried poetry: poetry in periodicals, pamphlets, chapbooks; fat volumes of poetry bound in leather and gilt-stamped; thin volumes of poetry in cloth covers; lives of the poets, literary criticism and, on a large table of oak (the massive furniture all built by Arthur Romney Green, who shared his friend Monro's ideals), the latest publications issued by the Bookshop. For it was as a publisher and bookseller that Monru made his mark during the 'teens. Though a poet, he did not find his own strongest voice until toward the end of his career.
There was of course normally little mystery involved in a writer's coming to Harold Monro's shop. Almost from its beginnings in late 1912, the little haven was advertised, written about, much discussed, and frequented by those who quickly came to appreciate the warmth, atmosphere and dedication to poetry that they found there. The mystery here lies in how much each of the main players in one particular drama, thirty-four-year-old owner Harold Monro and Anna Wickham, wife of a City of London solicitor, mother of two sons, thirty years old and recently released from an asylum for supposed nervous disorders, may have known about each other. Had Monro learned of Wickham before she showed up? Had Wickham learned of Monro in a way much differently from others of their generation? There are no conclusive answers to these questions, but in asking them we delve a little beneath the surface of the literary terrain to find some intriguing possibilities.
Anna Wickham was the pen name of Edith Alice Mary Hepburn, who in 1913 lived in the leafy London suburb of Hampstead only a few blocks from the Heath, and who had recently begun writing poetry again after primarily devoting the years since her marriage in 1906 to her husband, their two young sons and her philanthropic and charitable activities such as...