Stride Magazine -


Richard Caddel: Magpie Words. Selected Poems 1970-2000 (West House Books, Sheffield, 2002. 182pp. £12.95. ISBN 1-904052-03-7)
Richard Caddel/Anthony Flowers: Quiet Music of Words. Conversations with Richard Caddel
(West House Books, Sheffield, 2002. 40pp chapbook, £4.95. ISBN 1-904052-06-1)
Alan Halsey & Martin Corless-Smith: Lives of the Poets: A Preliminary Count (Ispress, Wakefield, 2002, pamphlet. ISBN 0-9533897-1-5)
Bill Griffiths: Durham and Other Sequences (West House Books, Sheffield,2002. 64pp, £7.95p. ISBN 1-904052-04-5).

While the core of this clutch of books is Richard Caddel’s Magpie Words (I wanted to write Sounds) the person who links all four is the poet/editor Alan Halsey. And what a midwife he has been to Caddel with a beautifully printed and presented selection which contains some of the most substantial of the latter’s poems. The fact that Richard Caddel died in April of this year (2003) makes that work a timely memorial: the last section is from Writing in the Dark ñ a still to be published collection. In Quiet Music of Words Anthony Flowers, who is responsible for ‘cover design and origination’ of Magpie Words, has provided something of an autobiographical companion to the selection as well as to the poet’s life in, as it were, his own words. This small pamphlet is something of primer for the would be poet which, aside from the occasional throw away remark about ‘High Street’ poetry, offers a demanding personal guide to writing and the finding of a voice: from “me and the act of writing” to finding a poetry ‘reading space’ where work is “voiced aloud” and where reading requires preparation “to make the performance responsive to the specific needs of the occasion”. Everyone reading their own work will benefit from these observations on the disciplines of preparation and Caddel’s assertion that “poetry comes out of a sound”.

My own sense of why people go to the High Street is that they are drawn there by the need for resonances when in love, when bereaved and when in need of some humorous or telling commentary on factors impinging on their lives. Caddel certainly speaks to the first two. I found myself impelled to read Magpie Words aloud: from the kettledrum beat that commences For the Fallen: A Reading of ‘Y Gododdin’ (an elegy for his son) to the gripping early English rhythms of its later sections when he could have been translating the funeral rites of Scyld from the Beowulf epic: “no man warned or gloried / or kin well garnered / no man thuds mirthwards / a fresher mime-clue / chill a bloodier chill...” in which, as in Fantasia in the English Choral Tradition and Ground, he makes a music out of language and memory. And if it is love that’s sought, he offers annual Valentines to Anne his wife: “Your voice in this room / has been with me / / all I want to remember of / waking / ...”.

As for the prolific Alan Halsey himself and The Lives of the Poets ­ Johnson will be turning his vast bulk in his grave ­ he has co-produced with Martin Corless-Smith yet another piece of what would otherwise have been idiosyncratic work. The pieces present a playful, tongue in cheek erudition which is likely to excite plenty of passing admiration though I am less certain about insight. Not too many clues for first degree students although some of those might be inclined to try and pass a piece or two off as their own in an exam script or college rag. I was reminded again of the High Street and wondered whether this amusing set of observational pieces was also a demonstration of just how ephemeral and impenetrable poets and their poetry eventually become. I enjoyed the piece on Byron and there are some witty epitaphs here: on Skelton for example and also Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey which reminded me of the Arundel Tombs (Larkin remains on the High Street: I went out and checked) ­ even though Surrey lies in splendid state in the church of a small but delightful Suffolk town ñ as well as Caddel’s passion for the northern landscape: “Observatory Hill in Durham, in May, looking down over the field of Cuckoo Flower towards Durham Cathedral with the cathedral city of Durham”. The Cathedral and the prison at Durham provide key sequences for Bill Griffiths’s latest collection which West House Books presents in a purple and black dignity. Not that you would expect to pick this up in the High Street. It is, like much of Richard Caddel, a demanding read though containing some revealing imagery along with its rigorous language. The ambiguity of the cover image should be taken as preparation for the disorientation Griffiths offers from his Durham: a visit to Durham Gaol
experience: his section headings are something of a silken thread to assist the exploration of the prison’s labyrinth. I particularly like the section Glacier: “It was the Glacier of Eyes. / Wide, transparent sights, packed in the traverse of ice, / Firm in foot, / Birds above, and cameras / So I stumbled.”. I also enjoyed the separate A review of vegetables sequence. It makes market shopping a whole new experience: “The sweet mood / scent / womanly cauliflower / mist of stalk / ...”; and “they soul’s shell is PARSNIP / woody / rough-smile / something of the ground / and piercingly aromatic it is / an oil / a power / pervades the world, longest / the wine. / ...”. Plenty more delights available from PEASE, THE SPROUT, LEEK, BEAN, POTATO etc.

         © Gordon Read 2003