Portrait of Roland Duncan

University launches Devon writer's collection at Exeter Poetry Festival

The archive of a West Country author Ronald Duncan, who lived in north Devon all his writing life, has been acquired by the University of Exeter.

Its arrival will be celebrated by a special display at Exeter library during this year’s Poetry festival on 5 October.

The collection is a record of the life of Ronald Duncan who came to Welcombe in the 1930s and lived and farmed breeding pigs and horses until his death in 1982. He was a wartime pacifist who travelled to visit Gandhi in India in 1937 aged only 22. While there he met the mystic Rabindranath Tagore. Duncan wrote plays and poetry and also got to know T. S. Eliot who published him at Faber and the modernist poet Ezra Pound, whom he visited in Italy and America.  

An interest in music and the stage also brought him into contact with other well-known figures such as Benjamin Britten, with whom he co-wrote the opera The Rape of Lucretia (1947). Duncan is best known as a playwright for This Way to the Tomb (1946), his epic poem 'Man' (The Complete Cantos, 1970) as well as a librettist. The Devon poet also founded London’s Royal Court Theatre, which grew out of the Taw and Torridge Festival, set up in Exeter, Barnstaple and Bideford in the early 1950s.

Dr Christine Faunch, Head of Heritage Collections at the University of Exeter said: ‘I am delighted that we are taking the Ronald Duncan papers on deposit.  This contributes greatly to our established archive and library collections of West-country writers, including Henry Williamson, who knew Ronald Duncan, Ted Hughes, Charles Causley, John Betjeman, and Daphne du Maurier.’

To celebrate his life and writing, the Exeter Poetry Festival will show a special display of digitized scarce material from Duncan’s archive including poems, photographs, letters and books that document his relationships with Eliot, Pound and Gandhi.

The Ronald Duncan Reading will take place at 7pm on Friday 5 October, when poets Fiona Benson and Anthony Wilson will read from their work at Exeter Central Library.

This reading is sponsored by the Ronald Duncan Literary Foundation, the charity set up by the poet to support arts events in the South West.

Date: 2 October 2012