Fine Tuning

The Colour of Radio: Essays and Interviews, Peter Redgrove
edited by Neil Roberts
(Stride, 264 pp., 12.95)

This fascinating sequence of essays and interviews illuminates the poetry of the late Peter Redgrove; more than that, it restores for a while the pet theories, philosophies and themes of a fascinating, enquiring writer, who somehow dropped out of 'the canon' during parts of the 1970s and 1980s. Many of these are poetic ideas - although not programmatic theories in the academic sense - whilst others are interests in psychology, occult and pagan theories and the gender divide.

The first two-thirds of the collection comprises a sequence of interviews, mostly from the 1980s and 1990s, in which Redgrove explores his methods and the development of his interests, followed by a handful of literary essays. These are carefully chosen, being on figures like W.B.Yeats and Ted Hughes, writers whose own practice is relevant to Redgrove's own mythemes and images. Additionally, discussions on the competing mythologies of Hughes and Plath and Robert Graves' The White Goddess will interest anyone stirred by the deep, subconscious roots of poetic symbols and themes.

The voice which comes across is enquiring, but spiky, open to possibilities, but not unwilling to be blunt where necessary: the photographs in Hughes' volume
River, for instance, are dismissed as presenting 'an embalmed or chocolate-box appearance' - especially, one might add, when placed alongside Fay Godwin's incomparable black and white studies in the original Remains of Elmet. Readers of Hughes and T.F.Powys are hereby directed to these pungent, telling, brief considerations. 

Similarly, those who know Redgrove's poetry will not be surprised to see familiar poems referred to as touchstones of his craft: 'The Idea of Entropy at Perranporth' and an extremely precise commentary on the late 'My Father's Trapdoors' sequence, for instance. Redgrove's own analysis of his working methods is fascinating, though his theories on menstruation and paganism are working at the far end of the eccentricity scale: for this reason, his assessment of Yeats' 'automatic writing' is instructive.

His interests in depth psychology, his meetings with John Layard and his partnership with Penelope Shuttle, and the striking way it came about - all the accounts of this build up a valuable picture, with very little repetition, for future studies and biographies; any attentive reader of Redgrove will want to buy this volume. One minor caveat: a scholarly volume like this deserves an index.