Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Tom Rawling: A Lake Poet Rediscovered

For me, the most exciting poetic event of 2010 was the rediscovery of the superb Ennerdale poet, Tom Rawling (1916-1996).

Ennerdale Water - part of Tom Rawling's home territory

Rawling, who spent most of his life as a teacher and died in Oxford, came from a family that had farmed in the Ennerdale valley, Cumbria, for centuries. He was the son of the village schoolmaster.

He left the valley early but kept contact with his native region and his extended family, and returned often for fishing trips. He was an expert salmon fisherman, and worked with the naturalist and fishing-writer Hugh Falkus studying not merely the catching of sea-trout but their mysterious life-cycle.

Rawling only began writing poetry when he retired from teaching, but what poured out then was a rich and powerful flood of poems about his Ennerdale childhood, his memories of the farm and the village, and about fishing. The poems are vivid, sharp and close to the earth – and they bring to life a whole world, social and agricultural, much of which has vanished from the Lakes.

He had success with two books (Ghosts at my Back, 1982 and The Names of the Sea Trout, 1984) and got to know many of the leading poets of his time – Ted Hughes was a frequent fishing companion, Anne Stevenson encouraged his work, Seamus Heaney wrote friendly notes and comments on draft poems – but then somehow his work was forgotten.

Rawling's poems and memories: A vital part of Lakeland culture rediscovered

But late last year, thanks to pioneering work by Cumbrian writer Michael Baron, the Lamplugh and District Heritage Society (not usually a major poetry publisher) issued How Hall: Poems and Memories – A Passion for Ennerdale (£7.50), together with a superb CD (£5.00) of Rawling’s passionate, hypnotic voice reading his own poems.

Anyone who loves poetry por Lakeland needs to know these poems. As Chris McCully and I wrote in the magazine Trout and Salmon (my first venture into a fishing magazine – I haven’t held a rod in 50 years! – )

“Rawling’s grip on the texture of rural Cumberland life was both sensory and philosophical. Writing of ‘Clipping Day’ he remembers

the ewe’s flesh flinching

as shears neared the throat

for the first cut into the rise

where new wool pushes off its past

in order to repeat it.

Often the recollections have a richness that rises to celebration, the glimpse of a good world charged with benevolent power that hints at the Biblical:

A good summer

was a full barn. Carts came, turned back empty,

came again, ironshod hooves struck cobbles,

a mare snorted as she charged the rising causeway,

winged shelvings swayed with the load,

wheels rattled. Then thunder, the barn floor

booming under fetlock-feathered Clydesdale feet.

A confirmed atheist, Rawling would have repudiated any religious overtones here but the sensory precision of his work (that ‘fetlock-feathered’ Clydesdale) would have earned respect from possibly the greatest nature-poet ever to have written in English, Gerard Manley Hopkins. And always there’s the accuracy. Architecture-buffs reading the last excerpt would recognise that ‘causeway’ as the stone ramp up to a raised Lakeland granary…

“[And Rawling's fishing experience] bore fruit in poems like ‘Night Fisherman’, where sight is extinguished and the world slips all the more sharply into relief:

Now touch is master, blindman fingering

of reel and rod, the hook’s keen point.

Feet shuffle-feel the ground,

delicately crunch gravel;

body poised ready to reach

beneath the mirror of the pool…”

Here’s one more poem, in full:

Sloe Gin

for Seamus Heaney

Let the first hard frost
expose the spiny twigs
reveal the bare-black fruit.
Reach through jutting thorns
for the blue-hazed sloes,
ignore the blood on your wrist.
Needle-prick to the hard stone,
watch their transfusion seep
through the gin. Each day
an agitation of the jar,
and after many days of alchemy,
decant this ruby in your glass
to taste silk-sliding fire
of frost and thorns
and bitter fruit.

From The Names of the Sea-Trout (Littlewood Arc, 1993)

Besides the new collection, How Hall and the excellent CD (both available from stanandmarina@aol.com or bobnet.64@btopenworld.com) several of Rawling’s original books and pamphlets are still just about available, new or second-hand, so I’ll add the links here. If you want to catch up with possibly the finest 20th century Cumbrian poet (and yes, he stands at least equal to Norman Nicholson) then you need to read them. For me, they helped to make 2010 a memorable year for English poetry.

And now, here’s to creativity – yours, mine, everyone’s – in 2011! Happy New Year.

Wikileaks Is the Shape of the Future

Did you go to a pub, club, or restaurant last night? Did you stand around in the street, maybe, talking to friends? If so, there’s quite a good chance that a picture or video of you is already somewhere on the internet – even if you didn’t yourself post pictures on Facebook or another networking site.

You may not be at the front of the picture: quite possibly you were just walking by or standing a few yards behind, when someone aimed the camera at someone else, and you just happened to get into the frame. Have you ever been ‘tagged’ on Facebook in a picture you didn’t even know had been taken? if you’re under about 35, the answer’s probably yes.

Did you get any spam in your email today? If so, someone you don’t want to have your address has already got it, and will pass it on. Did you send an email today? If so, the recipient can forward it to someone else without your knowledge.

What has all this got to do with Wikileaks? More than you might think. The fuss being made about the site by governments misses what I believe is the real point. If Wikileaks gets suppressed, in a matter of months (or weeks or days) other websites will spring up doing the same thing. Now that, thanks to computers and the internet, any document can be copied in a microsecond and sent around the world in a few seconds more, it is simply becoming impossible to keep anything secret.

Anywhere you go now there will be someone with a mobile phone, video camera or digital camera – usually all three rolled into one. When I was in New Orleans last spring, my friend Ken took a few pictures – as I thought. Once I was home, I found that he’d in fact made and edited a video with clips showing many of the things I’d done, and the people I’d met, during my visit. I don’t object at all, in fact I’m pleased. But I didn’t know it was being done, and by the time I did it was on YouTube. I’ve also become quite used to turning up as a bit-part player in other videos turn up on YouTube and elsewhere – as well as being tagged in photos I never knew were taken. As Ken says succinctly, ‘Video is the new paper.’ I’ve slotted in the video above in case you’re interested.

The accusations of torture at Abhu Ghraib came out because people with mobile phones took pictures. Now the police routinely check out Facebook for evidence against criminals, and they quite often find it.

Almost none of us is untraceable now: your bank card, your mobile phone, your store cards, and the countless CCTV cameras in the street mean you can be traced just about anywhere. The truth is that to a great extent privacy, like copyright and for the same reasons, is already dead. Government secrecy is going the same way. It’s simply too easy for things to get out.

Whether this will lead to better or worse things, I have no idea. It’s only just starting, and time will tell. But the bigger issue behind Wikileaks is simply this: nothing can be kept secret any more, least of all a document. What happens to Julian Assange is not going to change that. Rather than being pro or con him, maybe we need to think about that bigger picture.

Mojito Magic at Tower Ballroom

Salsa band ‘Mojito’. Blackpool Tower Ballroom December 2010 from Simon Lowe on Vimeo.

Mojito warming up for the show

Local salsa band Mojito gave us another wonderful night at the Tower Ballroom Blackpool on Saturday. Almost everyone from Manchester salsa was there – big contingents from Les and Lorraine’s ManCuban and from Sola Salsa’s Spreadeagle Tuesday Rueda clan as well as lots of old friends from Opus, La Tasca and elsewhere.

Amanda with Rohan Brown - Why do they find this guy so irresistible? (Note to self: Wear black tie next time...)

Mojito were well on form with their typical chunky, authentic Cuban sound, excellent percussion from Christian Weaver and Rich Silwa and fine brass, keyboards and the rest from other great musicians I sadly don’t know by name.

And there were two vocalists – Damien and a friend who again, regrettably, I don’t yet know personally but hope to get introduced to. The vocals were as crisp and inventive as ever, with lots of neat little dance setps and Damien’s sense of comedy and verbal invention well on display. It’s wonderful to see these guys enjoying themselves so much on stage and it’s very infectious too.

The crowd was heaving, the sprung floor was bouncing

I hadn’t been to the Tower Ballroom before and it really is stunning: the vast height of the ceiling reminds you of a cathedral and the whole place is overrun with lavish flowing gold ornament and these incredible ceiling paintings – ladies with Chinese partasols flying through the air, people in carnival masks and holding lutes floating serenely among the clouds – it reminded me of the opium dreams of my favourite writer, good old Thomas De Quincey.

A wonderful setting. With the music powering away – long, inventive, exciting songs with plenty of improvisation and plenty of that sexy rumba feeling to them – it was a marvellous evening and I was sad to leave.

Check out Mojito on Facebook for news of their Christmas party, and don’t forget they’re also playing at Hollingworth Lake on 27 December just to blast away any post-Christmas sleepiness and head us for the New Year in dynamic style! ¡Feliz Navidad, amigos!