Grevel Lindop

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

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.

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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.

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‘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.

MANCUBAN MONDAYS!

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.

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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:

http://www.carltonbooks.co.uk/books/products/travels-on-the-dance-floor-one-mans-journey-to-the-heart-of-salsa-1

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!).

 

WHO WAS CHARLES WILLIAMS?

Ever since I began writing Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, people have been asking me ‘Who was Charles Williams?’

Well, I wrote the biography to make him better known, so the question is fine with me. It’s exactly what I want people to ask.

As my title suggests, he was one of the group of Oxford writers known as the Inklings – the other most important members being C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield. Charles Williams attended the group regularly during World War Two, when his workplace – the London office of Oxford University Press – was evacuated to Oxford to avoid the bombing.

But Williams was more than that. He was, I believe, a major poet, with a brilliant sequence of poems on the Arthurian legends. In fact he was the major English Arthurian poet of the twentieth century.

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He was also a pioneering author of supernatural fiction. His seven novels, cast as thrillers but with serious messages, all concern the breaking through of the spiritual dimension into daily life in extreme ways – demonstrating that, as TS Eliot said, for Williams ‘there was no barrier between the spiritual and material worlds’.

Williams was both an influential Anglican theologian and deeply involved in the occult – a member of a secret Rosicrucian fraternity, The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, and in contact with magicians of the Stella Matutina, an occult group descended from the more famous Order of the Golden Dawn.

Lindop.22.jpgLess dramatic but also important is the fact that Williams was an influential publisher. He worked his way up from humble proof reader to senior editor at OUP, running the World’s Classics series and the Oxford Standard Authors. As such, he more or less decided which books would be regarded as classics by the reading public, and had a huge effect on public taste. And he pushed ahead the project of publishing the Danish philosopher/theologian Søren Kierkegaard in English, at a time when Kierkegaard was unknown in Britain and America.

As a hugely popular and charismatic lecturer at Oxford during the war – a job he did alongside his publishing work – he inspired a whole generation of future teachers, and poets including Philip Larkin, Sidney Keyes, John Heath-Stubbs and Kingsley Amis.

In my biography I explore all these areas but also take the reader into the secret world of Williams’s occult rituals and magical activities, and his intense and complicated love-life, which was also wrapped up with the bizarre practises arising from his involvement with magic.

I hope you will enjoy Charles Williams: The Third Inkling and find it as exciting to read as I did to research and write. It’s a dramatic story full of new information, much of it from interviews with people who knew Wiliams, or from archives never before opened to scholars. If you’d like to buy the book at 20% discount, just go to www.oup.com/uk and use the code TREVNT14 at the checkout.

Otherwise just click on the poanel at top right on this page and it will take you straight to Amazon, where you can order it for immediate delivery.

 

Three Books for 2015

 

By sheer chance, I have three books coming out in the coming months: two new ones, and one fully revised and updated. It wasn’t planned that way, but that’s how the timing has worked out.

I’ll be giving talks and readings related to all of them this autumn: once I have full details I’ll post a new ‘Readings and Talks’ page with times, places and other details.

In August, Sigma Press is bringing out the 3rd edition of my Literary Guide to the Lake District. The book, which won Lakeland Book of the Year award when first published, is a comprehensive guide to where authors have lived or stayed and what they have written about the Lakes from ancient times up to the present.

Besides thorough coverage of places connected with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome and all the usual suspects, it deals with the Lakeland places visited by D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas and countless other poets, novelists and writers. Plentifully illustrated, and with maps, it’s geographically arranged by area so you can follow its routes, or browse in it as you travel. Or just enjoy it as armchair tourism!

For this new edition I’ve re-checked the routes, added new material and rather than try to give opening times I’ve added the web addresses of places open to the public. I’m proud that the book on first appearance was described by Melvyn Bragg as ‘a treat’ and ‘a book-lover’s feast’. I think the new edition presents it in its best shape ever. I’ll put ordering details here as soon as I have them: design has been finalised and proofs returned but I see Sigma haven’t got the book in their online catalogue yet. Maybe there’s a delay? Updates as soon as I have them!

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In October, OUP are publishing my biography Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. as there’s a lot of information about the book on the web already, I’ll just quote from the publisher’s description of the book:

Novelist, poet, theologian, magician, and guru, Charles Williams was an extraordinary and controversial figure who was a central member of the Inklings – the group of Oxford writers that included C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Williams was the strangest, most multitalented, and most controversial member of the group, and his friends and admirers included T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and the young Philip Larkin. This biography draws on a wealth of documents, letters and private papers, many never before opened to researchers, and on more than twenty interviews with people who knew Williams. It vividly recreates the bizarre and dramatic life of this strange, uneasy genius, of whom Eliot wrote: ‘For him there was no frontier between the material and the spiritual world.’ The book also sheds light on the characters of the period, and adds surprising new dimensions to our knowledge of the Inklings.”

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And in November, Carcanet Press are publishing my collection of poems, Luna Park. This collects my poems from the past seven years or so, together with a prose essay about my visit to the extraordinary city of New Orleans, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Here’s an outline of the book:

“Drawing on themes of magic, dreams and the nocturnal, Grevel Lindop’s new collection of poems ranges in subject from the hidden histories of words to the folklore of yew trees, and in place from a haunted English library to a derelict Australian funfair and the streets of Mexico City. Including ‘Shugborough Eclogues’, a twenty-first century take on the country-house pastoral, and sequences on the darker and brighter aspects of love, Luna Park deploys an original viewpoint as well as a wide range of traditional and modernist skills in verse. The book ends with ‘Hurricane Music’, Lindop’s prose memoir of a visit to New Orleans in the aftermath.”

 

St Patrick’s Cave

 

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St Patrick’s Cave: interior, with view out to sea

Just back from Anglesey, where we stayed near Camaes Bay with our grandchildren. There’s something magical about Anglesey: a strange, subtle and beautiful atmosphere that feels as if you’ve entered an enchanted Otherworld.

Much of the countryside looks dull from a car; but get out and walk a hundred yards and you’re in fields and woods that seem out of another era. It’s as if nothing has changed for centuries, and you can just step into it. I always find it very inspiring for poetry too.

Having meadows and seacliffs right next to each other is wonderful too. You go from sheets of bluebells and blossoming hawthorn thickets to sheer cliffs with lichen-covered rocks and clumps of seapinks, with a sheer drop to the sandy beach,  in a mere footstep or two.

St Patrick's Cave Anglesey

The cave mouth is the dark shape left of centre. The Dalai Lama, visiting a few years ago, said it was the most peaceful place on earth!

This time we stayed in an old house beside a church built in the mid-5th century. Just round the corner and down the cliff face was St Patrick’s cave – where the saint is said to have taken refuge after shipwreck. It looked precarious but I soon found out that it was easy enough to climb down the cliff into the cave. A wonderful place to meditate! And, as local legend says women used to go to a sacred spirng there to wash their faces and become more beautiful, it seems likely that in preChristian times it was sacred to a Goddess – no doubt Bride, the Celtic Goddess of springs and wells. A magical place!