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Harold Edward Monro (14 March 1879 – 16 March 1932) was an English poet born in Brussels. As the proprietor of the Poetry Bookshop in London, he helped many poets to bring their work before the public. Arnault in Conrad Aitken's Ushant (1952) is Harold Monro.
Monro was born at 137 chaussée de Charleroi, Saint-Gilles/St Gillis, Brussels, on 14 March 1879, as the youngest of three surviving children of Edward William Monro (1848–1889), civil engineer, and his wife and first cousin, Arabel Sophia (1849–1926), daughter of Peter John Margary, also a civil engineer. Monro's father was born at Marylebone and died aged 41 when Monro was only nine years old. This loss may have influenced his character as a poet. The Monro family was well established in Bloomsbury. His paternal grandfather, Dr Henry Munro FRCP MD, was a surgeon, born at Gower St, Bloomsbury, in 1817.
In 1903 he married Dorothy Elizabeth Browne (1885–1960) but was divorced in 1916.
Monro was educated at Radley College and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. His first collection of poetry was published in 1906. He also edited a poetry magazine, The Poetry Review, which became influential. In 1913, he founded the Poetry Bookshop at 35 Devonshire Street in Bloomsbury, where he published new collections at his own expense and sometimes made a profit, while providing a welcoming environment for readers and poets. Several poets, including Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, lodged in the rooms above the shop. Monro and the Poetry Bookshop were also involved with Edward Marsh in publishing the Georgian Poetry series.
Monro wrote few war poems himself, but his "Youth in Arms" quartet, written in the early months, is one of the first attempts to envisage the "human psychology" of soldiering and understand "how ungrudgingly Youth dies." These poems were inspired by Monro's fears for his friend, Basil Harry Watt, whom he dearly loved and who was later killed at Loos. Monro's moving elegy for Watt, "Lament in 1915", is a monologue in unornamented, modern language.
After the war, Monro wrote his somewhat trenchant overview Some Contemporary Poets (1920), though this was not published by the Poetry Bookshop. He also founded The Chapbook (1919–25, his third journal after The Poetry Review and Poetry and Drama, 1913–14), which was not commercially viable, but contained some of his best work as a poet. His intention was to find "cultural middle ground" between modernism and the more traditional work exemplified by the Georgians. In this Monro took a broad view of the sphere of poetry, devoting whole numbers to children's rhymes and to songs by Walter de la Mare complete with scores.
The young Monro was raised together with his sister Mary (died 1921) by their widowed mother, who remarried in 1910 to Sir Daniel Fulthorpe Gooch (1829–1926). Monro's stepbrother Lancelot Daniel Edward Gooch, a midshipman on HMS Implacable, , died a fortnight after his 18th birthday in Greece, on 4 October 1915. On 2 December 1903 in Eastbourne, Monro married Dorothy Elizabeth Browne. Their son Nigel Monro (1904–1951) was born in Ireland, where Harold was working as a land agent for a family friend. However, the marriage was not to last and in 1908, the couple separated. The son followed Monro family medical tradition and practised as a surgeon.
In March 1913 Monro met Alida Klemantaski, 17 years his junior, from Hampstead, who also had a passion for poetry and had set herself goals of becoming a doctor or rescuing prostitutes from their predicament. Monro instead persuaded her that by working in the Poetry Bookshop, she would be achieving just as much for society. They were married in 1920. Alida's brother Louis Klemantaski, a promising young poet and musical editor died at the Somme in 1916. It is said that Alida had a greater influence than anyone on the development of Monro's own poetry.
Monro married Alida Klemantaski on 27 March 1920 but she never lived with him, although they spent weekends together in the country.
In his later years, Monro reflected on whether the Poetry Bookshop had fulfilled its purpose and whether it should be closed, but he was too deeply attached to it. According to the English literary historian Dominic Hibberd, "By now Monro was a disappointed man, appalled at the state of Europe and feeling forgotten by the poets he had helped." He had used up most of his money subsidising the shop.
On top of a drinking problem, Monro contracted tuberculosis and died on 16 March 1932 aged 53 at the Cliff Combe Nursing Home, Broadstairs, Kent, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on the 19th. He was remembered as being liberal-minded and without literary prejudices. "Perhaps no one did more for the advancement of twentieth-century poetry" (Dr Hibberd again).
On Monday, 4 August 2014, a service was held at Westminster Abbey as "A Solemn Commemoration on the Centenary of the Outbreak of the First World War", HRH Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, representing HM the Queen. After a reading from St John's Gospel, the choir gave the first performance of a new composition by David Matthews, a pupil of Benjamin Britten, setting a bitter, disillusioned 1914 poem by Harold Monro, "To what God shall we chant our songs of battle?" alongside passages from Lamentations and St Luke. James O'Donnell, Abbey organist and master of the choristers, commented that the work "leaves you standing on the edge of an abyss." It was delivered by young men whose voices blasted the stone walls of the abbey like a rebuke.
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