One of the discoveries of Thank Goodness for Cake was that John Pudney was at school with Auden. He was two years older and fell in love with Pudney in his final term at Gresham’s in a very decorous manner “We still addressed each other by our surnames”. Pudney was awed by this older boy and as they were in separate houses their contact was limited to ‘long rambling walks’ which Pudney found magical. “Wystan did not talk like a boy. He spoke a language which was mature, worldly, intellectually challenging”. They discussed poetry and Auden showed Pudney the poems which would be published by Faber although Pudney was too admiring to be able to offer much criticism whereas Auden was very critical of Pudney’s efforts. Later Auden wrote to him
“Never write from your head, write from your cock. Don’t force yourself mentally. Unless the original impulse comes from the guts and gives you a nice warm feeling up the spine, it is cerebral and bogus… Much poetry today is of this kind, emotional frigging.”
Of Auden’s Poems, which were published by Faber in 1930 Pudney says
“The volume itself made a greater impact on me than any work before or since. The tattered thumbed text is still treasured, not only for itself, but as a symbol of some magic, bright, quick, hard which illuminated the autumn sky in my twenty-first year” TGFC p52
Pudney continues “The following year, Auden himself made a very different impact. He was staying in London and wrote me a note asking for my photograph”. Pudney realises this was to see if he’d grown up pretty as he had been at school. He had and so Auden visits him but “When he came round, there were no concessions to love. It was just meat he was after.”
Pudney gave Auden more of his poems to read and Auden writes to him
18th September 1932
My dear John,
I’ve read your poems through a number of times. They’re no use. They’re very much better than what two or three thousand young Englishmen with literary interests are doing; any living writer under forty who is any good has written the same sort of thing, but in themselves they are quite worthless. Don’t think I despise you for writing them; your ego has got to shed its droppings just as your intestines have to; but they’ve exactly the same hygienic value and no more. They’re droppings and not babies. Don’t ask me what you’re to do because I havent the slightest idea. What I feel inclined to say is, chuck all this literary business. Go and do something useful like digging roads or organising strikes. Forget about yourself, learn to say ‘I’m very ordinary’ and one day perhaps it will come back to you. He who loses his life shall find it. The literatteur is as useless to society as a collar stud to a nude woman.
If I can ever help you in any way let me know.
I think I’d have given up writing poems at this point but Pudney perseveres and his first collection, Spring Encounter published in 1933.