Potts the Forgotten Poet

Posted by Howard on Jul 19, 2017
Paul Hugh Howard Potts, poet.

Paul Hugh Howard Potts (19 July 1911 – 26 August 1990),the scion of famous Vancouver Island family, was a writer of international reputation who is almost unknown in British Columbia. He is known for, among other things, Dante Called You Beatrice (1960), a memoir of unrequited love.

Born in Datchet, Berkshire to (Arthur George) Howard Potts (1869-1918), who had emigrated to Victoria, where he was a partner in a bakery and confectionery business and his Irish wife Julia Helen Kavanagh (also recorded as Cavanagh), Potts was educated in BC, England) and Italy (at a Jesuit college in Florence) but from the early 1930s he lived in London. He frequented the Soho area where, prefiguring the practice of later BC poets such as bill bissett and Peter Trower, he would sell broadsheet copies of his poetry in the streets and pubs. Arthur Potts's father, Dr Walter Jeffery Potts (1837-1898), had married Julia, daughter of Sir Thomas Braithwaite Beevor, 3rd Baronet of Blathermore. Many descendants with the name 'Beevor-Potts' once lived in BC. Lionel Beevor-Potts was police magistrate in Nanaimo from 1945 to 1964 and regularly earned headlines for his strict rulings, always delivered in colourful language. His most notorious case was the trial of the fraudulent cultist Brother 12.

Among Paul Potts's literary friends were George Orwelll and another poet with BC connections, George Barker. Potts's memoir of Orwell, "Don Quixote on a Bicycle", appeared in The London Magazine in 1957 and became a chapter of Dante Called You Beatrice. His 1948 essay “The World of George Barker” appeared in Poetry Quarterly.

Often cited as a rare English instance of a poete maudit Potts was described in late middle age as '...balding' with 'a stutter that he mixed with rapid blinking and an amused chuckle as he started a sentence', eventually becoming a dissolute figure 'barred from Soho pubs'. Potts died in 1990 of smoke inhalation from a fire in his bedroom; he had been house-bound for some years by this time. The Cape Breton folklorist Ronald Caplan published an anthology of Potts writings in 2006, George Orwell's Friend (Breton Books.)


  • (1940) A Poet's Testament, with drawings by Cliff Bayliss and Scott MacGregor, foreword by Hugh McDiarmid
  • (1944) Instead of a Sonnet (enlarged 1978)
  • (1960) Dante Called You Beatrice
  • (1970) To Keep A Promise
  • (1973) Invitation to a Sacrament
  • (2006) Ronald Caplan (ed.), George Orwell's Friend: Selected Writings by Paul Potts