Obituary: William Cookson ; Editor for Four Decades of the Poetry Magazine `Agenda'
Alexander, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
WILLIAM COOKSON founded the London poetry magazine Agenda in 1959 and edited it until his death. In the 1960s Agenda established itself as one of the two or three leading small magazines, and perhaps the most distinctive of them.
It flew a Modernist flag for four decades in which Philip Larkin's grump against American Modernism gave way to a New Trivialism. Cookson saw different visions and heard a different tune. David Jones finished The Sleeping Lord for Agenda, and designed the lettering for its cover. Cookson devoted special issues to William Carlos Williams, publishing "Asphodel, that Greeny Flower" in 1963; to Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting, Ezra Pound, Hugh MacDiarmid, David Jones, and Geoffrey Hill. Hill chose to publish in Agenda. Cookson did not confine himself to the contemporary and the English; he gave a place to translation, and was interested in new poetry wherever it came from, ignoring critical and cultural fashion. Agenda earned and kept the admiration of poets from Charles Tomlinson and Donald Davie to Thom Gunn and Seamus Heaney. Its achievements are well represented in Agenda: an anthology, edited by Cookson and published by Carcanet in 1994.
William Cookson was born in London in 1939 to Rachel Pelham Burn and the 70-year-old George Cookson, the founder editor of the journal English. William grew up in rural Surrey, and attended Westminster School and then read English at New College, Oxford. He had discovered Pound in 1955, corresponded with him, and, with his mother, visited the released poet in Italy in 1958. Pound proposed a magazine. Agenda appeared in January 1959: the hand was the hand of William, the voice was the voice of Ezra. Then Pound fell silent, and Cookson took over.
In 1960 Cookson seemed the only undergraduate in Oxford who admired Pound's poetry and translations. Agenda published my verse translations from Old English. From Agenda, these versions went into Penguin Classics (The Earliest English Poems, 1966), as did Peter Whigham's Catullus (The Poems of Catullus, 1966), and Arthur Cooper's Li Po and Tu Fu (1973). The magazine was edited from the family's book-filled flat in Battersea. …