Stride Magazine -




MAGPIE WORDS by Richard Caddel, 182pp, £12.50, West House Books, 40 Crescent Road, Nether Edge, Sheffield S7 1HN

QUIET MUSIC OF WORDS Conversations with Richard Caddel by Anthony Flowers, 40pp, £4.50, West House Books


‘Difficulties’. The word jumps at you from the first page of the preface to Magpie Words. It’s there again several times in Quiet Music of Words. Daunting, if like me you’ve not come across much of Caddel’s work – most of my time being spent with what he calls High Street Poetry. But there’s also encouragement: ‘if there are… – heaven help us – difficulties in what follows… they are there because I wanted them that way’ and ‘Reading the poems out loud will get round most of the tricky bits, I’ve always found’. (p11, Preface, MW)


Magpie Words is typeset at Five Seasons Press and printed on Five Seasons recycled… a book to take seriously. The poem titles strike you. I expect I shall like: ‘Milkwort’, ‘Parsley’, ‘Ramsons’ and ‘Sweet Cicely’. Oh, and several ‘Rigmaroles’. I’m reading these titles for quite a while (a poem in themselves?) then it strikes me: they’re in alphabetical order. Nothing arbitrary about this: ‘For the Fallen’ a poem about the death of sons is followed by ‘For Tom’, the poem about his own son’s death. This is a selected, for the period 1970 -2000… a bold thing to say: my work belongs together, over any time period, in its own order.


There are fewer of the famous difficulties in the second half of the alphabet: this is the whole of ‘Parsley’:


Evening: smell of parsley

thinned in late May after rain


But these words recur in the ‘Fantasia in the English Choral Tradition (redesdale section)’ in a passage about recollection,


the trick being

                         to love



within in a poem in which a present moment intersects with a line of memory. And geological time. And cultural shifts. This is a (long) poem I’m re-reading with increasing pleasure. As I am the ‘Rigmaroles’, poems which ’in a sense take their forms from walks’ (p37 QMW) ‘Each uses anchor quotes, uses repetition and sound patterning, but in different ways…’ (p25 QMW)


The first of them, ‘Rigmarole: And Each Several Chamber Bless’ Caddel describes as ‘driven by sound…rather than its syntactic cohesion’. (p 25 QMW) Its haunting opening ‘Long time coming’ is one of the phrases that hold the piece together and bring it back to itself. Far off, another chorus: Pete Seeger’s ‘long time passing’. The fourth time the phrase appears is as


     a place

             for the genuine

                     long time coming, a

              song of the high



echoes of the ‘high song’ in ‘Larksong Signal’. Not only is this alphabetical ordering of the poems not arbitrary, it also gives you the ability to find your way around and between poems (have I heard a variant of this phrase somewhere else?) with ease, get to know the book as a whole, rather than individual pieces.


‘Ground’ is a good place to see the repetitions and echoes at work across a group of very different pieces. The five stanzas of ‘Theme’ that begin


Throstles feeding

on the ground


recur in various arrangements in the eight sections of ‘Ground’, the simplest re-vision coming in ‘Homage’ (to W.C.W.)




on the



No, no notes needed, not ‘difficult’ (though there is a note which answers why the word ‘throstle’).


I’ve been referring to Anthony Flowers pamphlet Quiet Music of Words as I go along. These are transcripts of conversations from 2000 and 2001, a form which I usually loathe, especially when every cough and sneeze is faithfully recorded as a sort of stage direction. But this isn’t at all bad in that respect: just the odd ‘Hmm’ and pause for thought. There’s stuff I’m not (at the moment) that interested in, about Caddel’s early working life, but much that directly addresses the ideas and the work and the methods of Magpie Words. This, the ‘Preface’ to Magpie Words and the notes in that book have been invaluable. Particularly the notes: I appreciate having a way into the long ‘reading’ of ‘Y Gododdin’, telling me that there are three approaches to the idea of translation in this poem:

•selective literal translation

•loose phonic translation

•free palimpsest rendering

all of which are unlikely to ‘satisfy a scholar of old Welsh’, because Caddel’s more interested in making a new text than a literal transcription in a different language. Quiet Music of Words expands on this: it is the elegiac core, the grief for lost sons, with which Caddel empathises in the original, and it is this he’s pulling through into new work, powerfully – this from section 83 (free palimpsest rendering):


              fear for him

all puffed out

              crying for

whats lost

close loved

              under stars


Here is a (whole) short section, number 24, rendered in ‘selective literal translation’, pointing up those words and feelings which resonate with the ideas within the poem as a whole, as well as with Caddel’s other writings:







only son

do not tell



So back to that question of ‘difficulties’. Caddel does not duck out of this in asking you to listen to the sound of the poems. He acknowledges that the poems would be difficult if you were expecting to be able to understand a poem in the same way as prose, and to be able to paraphrase it’s meaning. But he has faith in an ‘empowered reader’, someone who will engage with a difficulty, so that like a piece of music it ‘grows on you’ (p28,QMW). And that is how it’s worked for me: the more I’ve moved around Magpie Words, the more I’ve heard the poems, the more they’ve grown on me. Not necessarily (as he anticipates in ‘Larksong Signals’, with ‘no ideas but in tunes) just because I’ve begun to catch the sense of the sound, but also because of the look of the poems on the page, the meticulous placing of words so that you see what else they can conjure beside the first-heard statement. From ‘Fantasia…(redesdale section)’: the shape of these words gives you not just children-letting-go, but letting-children-go:


or striding over turf

                                    the children

learning to catch things

                                           and let them go

and I struggle for breath

for plant names


Although I’m a reader bored with what appears in so many poetry magazines, I haven’t found much ‘what else’. The reason, says Caddel, is that ‘you haven’t been looking in the right place, because there’s been little or nothing to show you where to look’. For a writer, he adds, the downside of such independent work away from ‘commercial pseudo-critical faffing-around’ is that ‘no-one knows you’re there’. (p33, QMW) Well, now you know he’s there: sound sense to listen.


          © Jane Routh 2002