Val Warner

b. 1946 – d. 2020

Val Warner was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1998.

Val Warner remembered – by Patricia Craig

Val Warner was a poet of distinction, an acute social commentator and a scrupulous and exacting editor. Her Charlotte Mew: Collected Poems and Prose (1981) was a landmark publication which helped to bring the earlier poet back into focus. Warner had already made an impact with her inspired translations from the French of Tristan Corbière (The Centenary Corbière, 1975) and with her own collection Under the Penthouse (1973). Two further poetry collections, Before Lunch and Tooting Idyll, followed at lengthy intervals (1986 and 1998). Both were intriguing, sardonic and moderately experimental in style, as well as being exceptionally alert to the modes and manners of contemporary life.

Val Warner read Modern History at Oxford in the late 1960s. Here, she was part of an up-and-coming coterie which included poets Grevel Lindop and Gareth Reeves, and the future founder of the Carcanet Press, Michael Schmidt. For Warner, it was an exciting and stimulating time. After graduating, she held the posts of Creative Writing Fellow at Swansea University, and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Dundee. She published poems and stories in various periodicals, and received a good deal of acclaim. She became a member of PEN International and worked indefatigably on behalf of writers in prison.

In her later years, however, something went wrong. Warner gave up poetry and spent her days planning, writing and endlessly revising a series of novels, none of which ever reached completion. Utterly indifferent to physical comfort or her own well-being, she lived in a state of extreme (and unnecessary) privation. Her house in Hackney lacked running hot water, cooking facilities or any form of heating. Rats were occasional visitors. Her diet consisted of raw onions, soya mince and tins of chickpeas. She fell out of touch with most of her friends and adamantly refused to seek help of any kind, even when her health became a cause for concern. (Not without reason, she feared the intrusion of Health and Safety officials.) Without a single family member or friend in the neighbourhood to keep an eye on her, she died alone, probably from malnutrition and assorted ailments, just as she had predicted. The police had to force an entry to find her, which they did on 10 October. It was a tragic end to a life of great promise, of a stubborn rectitude, and of only partial fulfilment.