Grevel Lindop

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

Linda Ryle’s Paintings


A visitor admires ‘Show Me the Moon’ (for the book cover, scroll down & look right!)


Roman and Egyptian art and artefacts inspire elements in some of the paintings

Coming face to face with Linda Ryle’s painting ‘Show Me the Moon’ a few days ago was a shock: I’ve been so used to seeing it as a 13 by 17 cm cover image on my book Luna Park that I’d forgotten quite how big it really is. Meeting it again in this new exhibition at the Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, was a pleasant surprise.

The painting – even more fascinating at its full size, naturally – draws you in hypnotically, with its affectionate yet slightly eerie rapport between woman and cat, and the tiny glimpse of the new moon in a limpid, radiant sky.

The sense of mystery, of magical meanings only half-revealed, is typical of Linda Ryle’s work (she’s also know by her married name as Linda Cooper), and this retrospective exhibition, Time Regained: 1975 – 2016 reveals these qualities as connecting elements running through some quite diverse work.


Linda Ryle in conversation at the opening

There are landscapes, figure paintings (with animals) , still lifes – often incorporating ancient Egyptian or Roman sculpture and other artefacts – and most recently detailed, almost trompe-l’oeil studies of little corners of domestic interiors: a spice cupboard; a flight of old, deeply-worn stone steps; a crucible burning with fierce flame and backed by black smoke.


Hand-painted belts – sought after by ’70s celebs in the King’s Road

There’s even a display of the wonderfully vivid and imaginative belts, hand-painted with animal forms, which Linda supplied to a King’s Road fashion boutique in the 1970s, and which were acquired by (amongst others) Elton John, Bianca Jagger and Britt Eklund.


What connects all of these works, along with a love of detail and an evocative use of colour, is a sense of symbolism, of contemplative and often disquieting meaning hidden within each image. It’sa world not unlike that of Leonora Carrington, who similarly loved to blend pagan imagery with encounters of animals and humans who had a more than normal rapport with one another. I’m inclined to think Linda deserves a place in the rich but elusive category of female surrealists, though the subtlety of her work is far from the simply bizarre or aggressively disruptive effects we might associate with mainstream (usually male) surrealism. Linda Ryle has a deep interest in Jungian psychology, and her work was exhibited last year at the Association of Jungian Analysts in London.


Strikingly, to me the most powerful works were the most recent. The meticulous representations of details of her eighteenth-century house in Cockermouth, such as a staircase leading down into a cellar, are extraordinarily suggestive: the apparently ordinary becoming a powerful symbol of something psychologically profound and (I think) more than a little disturbing. These are beautiful images; but don’t be surprised if you feel the hairs on your neck rising a little. In Linda’s work, the everyday becomes the slightly uncanny. It’s a remarkable achievement.


A glimpse of some of the quiet but intense and deeply suggestive later work

Time Regained: an exhibition of past and present work by the painter Linda Ryle runs at the Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, from July 14 until the end of October. Details from 015394 35280.

Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016)

Geoffrey Hill, who died last Thursday, was a magnificent poet – and sometimes a difficult one. He produced lines that haunted you, perhaps because they contained so much questioning, as well as so much music.

Geoffrey Hill

Sir Geoffrey Hill

His early books, King Log and For the Unfallen, contained poems that were truly haunting. The very first poem of his first collection was – perhaps – about the difficulty of religious belief but also about the fact that we need myth and see miracles all around us. Its lines and rhythms enacted what they talked about:


Against the burly air I strode,

Where the tight ocean heaves its load,

Crying the miracles of God.

Reading that, you can feel the battering of the wind against your face. You can feel the mass of the sea sliding and beating against the land. And then you notice the questions too: is it ‘I’ who am ‘crying the miracles of God’? Or is it the ocean?

There are lines that fascinate, full of magic even if you don’t understand them:

…And made the glove-winged albatross

Scour the ashes of the sea

Where Capricorn and Zero cross…

It was years before I realised that this referred to the Tropic of Capricorn and longitude zero, an actual place (it’s a remote spot in the South Atlantic). But what magical lines!

My favourite book was perhaps Tenebrae, and its sonnet sequence An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England. A sequence full of the most beautiful images: ‘Where wild-eyed poppies raddle tawny farms’ ‘horseflies siphon the green dung’; ‘the crocus armies of the dead/rise up…’ Hill combined a profoundly questing intellect with a wonderful gift for phrases and images; and yet he questioned and reflected on the meaning of every word he used. He used language so well because he didn’t trust it.


Geoffrey Hill at the grave of Charles Williams in Oxford


When he heard I was writing a life of Charles Williams, a writer about whom he was enthusiastic whilst clearly also seeing his faults, he was immensely encouraging, but he didn’t stop at encouragement. He laboriously copied out – by hand – all of Williams’s annotations in a copy of Kierkegaard he owned, and sent them to me. He heralded the book in the opening words of his valedictory lecture as Professor of Poetry at Oxford; and when it came out he reviewed it in the TLS – a quirky, impartial review, whose opening words were ‘I welcome the appearance of this book though not unreservedly.’ – a sentence that made me laugh aloud, it was so characteristic.

And he sent me the wonderful photograph I reproduce here, of himself at Charles Williams’s grave. He looked like Merlin, whose voice he had used in one of his earliest poems: ‘I will consider the outnumbering dead:/For they are the husks of what was rich seed…’

I met him two or three times. He was kind, genial, funny, and quite without self-importance. As great a man, I think, as he was a poet.

The Giant’s Ring

Last week I was in Belfast for the Belfast Book Festival. While I was there my old friend Daniel Roberts (Reader in English at Queen’s University) took me to the Giant’s Ring, a local henge monument dating from the Neolithic era (c. 4000-3000 BC).

Giants Ring

The Giant’s Ring, near Shaws Bridge, Belfast: the chamber tomb barely visible at the centre

A beautiful and amazing place: it consists of a raised circular bank (technically, the ‘henge’) 180 metres in diameter, with a passage tomb – the kind of thing we might think of as a ‘dolmen’ or ‘cromlech’ – in the centre.

I was fascinated because it’s so much like Mayburgh Henge just outside Penrith in Cumbria. The main visible difference is that Mayburgh has huge ash trees growing on top of the circular bank, so that shape is not quite so obvious. Mayborough is 117 metres across, and long ago it had four standing stones at the centre. Now there’s only one, but I wonder if those four were also the supports of a passage grave once upon a time?


If so, both monuments would be of the same type – perhaps public assembly arenas, around the tomb of an important ancestor?

Naturally I couldn’t resist getting inside the tomb, where (having paid respect to the ancestors) I was invited to present Daniel’s dog Tipoo with a biscuit. (Thank you for the photographs, Daniel – and for taking me to this amazing and beautiful place! I’m surte Tipoo enjoyed it as much as I did.)








CHARLES WILLIAMS: Restoring a Lost Poet

For too long, the major poetry of Charles Williams has been hidden away – obtainable only in expensive or rare second-hand editions. But that is about to change. I’ve just finished working through the proofs of The Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams – which I’m editing with Arthurian and Celtic scholar John Mathews.


The book will contain the full texts of Williams’s two major collections – Taliessin Through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944) – together with all the other poems on Arthurian themes that Williams published during his lifetime.

At last, readers new to Charles Williams (1886-1945), or those who know only his remarkable spiritual thrillers (War in Heaven, The Place of the Lion, All Hallows Eve and the rest) will be able to sample these remarkable, deeply original and thrillingly vivid poems on the Arthurian world and the Grail, which have been almost unobtainable for so long.


‘The Damsel of the Sanct Grael ‘ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The poems are deeply original. Portraying Logres – Arthurian Britain – as an autonomous kingdom within the Byzantine empire, they depict the establishment of the kingdom, many of the most dramatic events of its history (Merlin’s summons to Arthur to become king; the Battle of Mount Badon; the achievement of the Grail; the madness of Lancelot; the Table’s fall through the treachery of Mordred; and much more) in a wholly original modern style.

The poems are challenging at times – they use a modernist style as demanding as that of T.S. Eliot or the late W.B. Yeats – both of whom admired Williams’s writing, though Yeas probably knew only his prose. But they open world of magic and vision to the reader. As critic Naomi Royde-Smith wrote at the time, the poems, if you let them work on your imagination,

become at once lucid and alarming. They take on the concrete value of a popular ballad…the efficacy of a rune. The mind cannot escape from them. In sleep they return, not with the echoes and remembered imagery of their own themes, but evoking other shapes and other associations. It is as if, steeped in the lore of Taliessin, the poet had acquired a bardic gift and, whether he knew it or was involuntarily possessed by it, had exercised it in the physical inspirations and respirations proper to the full exercise of his manifestly occult prosody.

The Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams will be published first as an e-book, and later, we hope, as a physical volume. It won’t be available for some months yet but we are moving on steadily towards publication. It’s another step, following my biography Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, towards bringing Williams back into the mainstream as an important and indeed central twentieth-century writer.


This week, for the second in my series surveying Manchester salsa classes and events, I’m looking at Mancuban Salsa – especially their Monday evening classes.

mancubanlogo[1]Les and Lorraine of Mancuban were among the earliest teachers to offer Salsa in Manchester, and their classes are still up there with the very best of the Cuban Salsa scene. In fact they’ve gone from strength to strength, thanks to regular visits to Cuba to work with leading professional Cuban dancers. This means that they have a wealth of authentic experience in Rumba and Orishas as well as in mainstream Salsa and are able to teach all of these.

Monday evening classes are at the Ape and Apple pub, 28-30 John Dalton Street, Manchester M2 6HQ (Beginners and Improvers 7:15; Intermediate Salsa/Casino Rueda 8.00; Advanced Cuban Salsa 9.00; dancing 10-11. £5 per class, two classes for £9). Amanda and I have been fairly frequent attenders at these, and always get a lot out of them.


Stylish dancing between classes @ the Ape and Apple

Lorraine’s an inspiring teacher who works to a very high standard, yet manages to do it without being intimidating. She’s an enthusiastic and encouraging teacher for beginners; and for the more experienced, she has a sense of how to help dancers develop and improve by gentle attention to small details. Lorraine’s years of experience with many kinds of Cuban dance give her a depth of knowledge which is genuinely rare in the UK.

Les, besides having a similar level of experience with Cuban dance, is one of the most purely entertaining teachers I’ve come across (readers of my book Travels on the Dance Floor will spot him there as the teacher ‘who could have made a living as a stand-up comedian’!). At the advanced level he tends to specialise in teaching quite intricate moves – there’s always that ‘little bit on the end’ that I find quite challenging, being a bit of a slow learner myself. But the advantage is that even if you remember only a quarter of a move, you usually come away with something new that you can actually use on the dancefloor.

The Rueda classes often include elements of Orisha dances – the Afro-Cuban dances associated with the West African gods brought to Cuba by the slaves and fused into the Cuban religious culture of Santería. This is truly valuable, because Salsa gets its spiritual dimension from the elements of Afro-Cuban religion that find their way into the music and dance. You may not know it, but many of the tracks you dance to in clubs or classes have lyrics about the Santería gods: this is spiritual music that’s completely at home in a secular context. (I have a theory that this is one reason Salsa is so addictive: it works on levels other dances don’t reach!)


The venue has a good wooden dancefloor, and Les’s sound system is outstanding – both he and Lorraine do a lot of DJing – and there’s a fair amount of time for free dancing between and after the classes. It’s a notably friendly crowd so newcomers at all levels get a warm welcome.

Other points to consider: Classes are upstairs in a pub; if you want a drink you’ll need to bring it up from the bar downstairs. And we tend to be on Cuban time here: classes often run over and things are fairly relaxed, so don’t expect your class to start and finish exactly on time!

If you want to learn more about links between Salsa and the Afro-Cuban gods, or simply escape February in the UK for a Salsa tour of the Caribbean, try my book Travels on the Dance Floor (currently available at 30% off) – just follow this link:

Other Mancuban classes to note: Friday 10 a.m. to 12 noon at Langworthy Cornerstone, 451 Liverpool St, Salford M6 5QQ: Casino Rueda and Afro-Cuban, mixed levels, £6; and Sundays 3 pm  at The Jam Inn, 537-539 Wilbraham Rd, Chorlton, Manchester M21 0UE: Cuban Son, £5 (a really unusual class, which I’ll write about in a future post!).