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Vernon Watkins is a great riddle at the heart of twentieth century poetry. His poetry has been praised in the highest terms by, among others, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Marianne Moore. Kathleen Raine called him: "the greatest lyric poet of my generation." Yet he has remained, for the most part, almost entirely unknown.
One reason for this is that Watkins in no way sought for fame. Another is that after a transformative spiritual experience, marking a new beginning in his life and work, Watkins rarely referred to the visionary, crisis-ridden dramatic path of his early years. Right as this was for him, it has prevented the full context of his life from being seen.
An Exact Mystery, the first volume of Watkins's authorized biography, sets this to rights, depicting his path to maturity as a poet and a person, from his early years in Wales and schooling at Repton up to his appearance as a published poet, aged 35, during the Second World War. Along the way, Ramsbotham describes his extreme clash with Christopher Isherwood at Cambridge; his 'spiritual emergency' in Cardiff and Rome; his links with W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot; and his intense friendship and collaboration with his complementary opposite, Dylan Thomas.