Grevel Lindop

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

CHARLES WILLIAMS IN PAPERBACK

I’ve just received the first paperback copies of Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. Very exciting. Pleasant too for readers, because they can now get the book for a sensible, indeed pretty modest, price: £12.99 for a 490 page biography with 36 glossy plates.

My first copies, with Aslan the Lion – the white lion trophy is the Mythopoeic Society’s Award for Inklings Scholarship, which the book won when it came out

The hardback was a handsome book, but at £25 you couldn’t expect many people except Williams fanatics to buy it. It has sold well enough but I suspect mainly to libraries, and those Inklings enthusiasts who couldn’t bear to wait!

I’m also pleased that Williams’s fame has developed since I wrote the book. I was keen to make this astonishing character and his remarkably rich work known to far more people, and this seems to have happened.

Stephen Barber has edited a new collection of his essays, The Celian Moment, from Greystones Press; Sørina Higgins has edited his remarkable unpublished verse drama The Chapel of the Thorn for Apocryphile a handsome new hardback edition of his novels is in progress; and Apocryphile has reissued the poems of Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars in the USA.

And John Matthews and I have edited his Arthurian poems – comprising all the poems on the Arthurian mythos which he published during his lifetime – for publication in the near future, with an essay by each of us.

Williams is increasingly being recognised as the remarkable writer, teacher and esoteric figure which he was, taking his rightful place alongside his more famous but less bizarre friends, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Lake District – A World Heritage Site

So: we’ve won it. What now? At the celebration for the Lake District’s winning of UNESCO World Heritage Site status, views were mixed.

One of the people who’d been most involved in the long application process – it took more than ten years – told me, almost in the same breath, ‘The Lakes should have this accolade because the place deservers it’ and ‘Now the real problems will start!’

I asked what he meant, and he replied ‘Tourism versus conservation.’ The UNESCO listing will draw more tourists, he believed, and that will put more pressure on the very environment they come to see. On the other hand, when I talked to a representative from English Nature, the conflict she immediately mentioned didn’t include tourism at all. It was ‘Nature versus farming’.

The truth is that no one quite knows, and the benefits and problems will come from any directions. Yes, ‘inscription’ (as it’s called) will bring more tourists from overseas: believe it or not, there are actually people who trek around the world collecting as many World Heritage Sites as they can! On the other hand, this may be reduced by things becoming more difficult for overseas tourists in the wake of Brexit. And if more overseas visitors do come, that may be good anyway because (again a result of Brexit) UK visitors may be spending less money. Though of course there might be more UK visitors because (Brexit again) it may not be so cheap or so easy for them to holiday abroad. And do it goes on.

On the plus side, World Heritage Site status may make it easier for conservation, environmental and creative causes in Cumbria to win funding, as their activities will sustain and justify the ‘inscription’.

Moreover, the Lake District has been made a World Heritage Site as a ‘cultural landscape’ – that is, not just because it is a beautiful landscape, but because it is a landscape that sustains, and is shaped by, a unique traditional method of farming. If the environment is damaged, or if the traditional sheep farming methods are imperilled, then UNESCO can threaten to take away the ‘inscription’. Both Liverpool Docks and the Tower of London sites are currently teetering on the edge of losing their status as World Heritage Sites because of encroaching inappropriate development. Losing world heritage site status can be expensive and shaming. It can be a protection for those qualities that won the inscription in the first place.

Local word has it that when the UNESCO people came to look at the Lakes, the two things that troubled them were low-flying aircraft, and the nuclear facility at Sellafield. It’s unlikely the RAF will increase the number of training flights going over. But the WHS might be a powerful weapon to use against the nuclear industry as it pushes to expand its activities in (and under!) Cumbria.

As for the vexed question of re-wilding, I’m cautious. In Ennerdale it has worked well. But much of the Lakes is not like Ennerdale. Where Ennerdale has a low-lying somewhat boggy landscape shaped by a river which often changes its course, other parts of the Lakes have become what they are now because of a balance between farming and natural processes. To clear out the sheep – known by some as ‘the white plague’! – and let the fellsides go back to the wild would be disastrous. The first result would be even vaster tracts of land covered with bracken, and valleys filled with an impenetrable waste of nettles and brambles. A landscape farmed for more than a thousand years doesn’t go back to ‘nature’ – because it is starting from an unnatural condition. The answer is to get the balance right. Enrich the environment where possible. Re-wild here and there judiciously. And – the one thing nobody wants to hear these days – be patient.

Strange Country Details

Bizarre signpost to Snipe House Farm (plus This, That and the Other Way!)

Exploring the countryside, I often notice and photograph quirky details – and then don’t know what to do with the pictures. So, unashamedly, this post will simply be a collection of strange or intriguinbg little things I’ve spotted here and there! Reflecting on this reminded me of my favourite book in the old ‘I-Spy’ series: I Spy the Unusual. It contained things like a thatched telephone kiosk… Not sure how many of those you’d find nowadays. Even in the 1950s you’d have got the full number of points for that one, I think.

Nothing quite so unusual here, but never mind. My prize for the oddest goes to this weird signpost on a path near Lamaload Reservoir. Quite amusing the first time you see it, but surely a very expensive joke for whoever put it up? That beautiful woodwork must have cost a fortune.

Next is a pair of Henry-Moore style natural sculptures on top of Kinder Scout. There are many more where these came from, but they look so companionable together!

Natural sculptures among the Tors on Kinder Scout

Then there’s this wonderful old threshing machine I found under the viaduct near Bosley in south Chesire. It must be a good hundred years old – it looks like the kind of thing Tess and her friend got so exhauster with feeding in Tess of the Durbervilles: a fascinating piece of industrial archaeology just rotting away in the nettles at the edge of a field.

 

 

Ancient threshing machine: just needs a traction engine to get it going!

Abandoned ship: by the causeway to Roa Island Cumbria

The next item isn’t really a country detail but I’m fond it and it puzzles me. It’s one of several derelict hulks left apparently to rot just off Roa Island near Barow in south Cumbria. Doesn’t it have any salvage value? Why has it been left here to disintegrate? A strange evocative sight of this weird, end-of-the-world place!

 

Then – back to the countryside – there’s an odd place in the Dane Valley where someone seems to have built a snall sheepfold (or something) around the trunk(s) of a three-trunked tree. I’ve never quite worked out what this is supposed to be for.

 

Stinkhorn: you may not haver seen one, but you’ve probably smelt it.

I can’t resist adding a photo of my favourite fungus: a stinkhorn. Very hard to find, though you can often smell them in woods from about August on. I tracked this one down following my nose, and it was a classic!

 

Root cutter at Crag Cottage, Eskdale

Finally, another indication of my love for old farm machinery. This, I think, is a root cutter: it sliced up turnips, swedes etc so that stock could eat them as winter feed. This one was rusting in a field just below Crag Cottage in Eskdale, former home of Hugh Falkjus, naturalistr and fisherman who used to entertain the poet Tom Rawling here for sea trout fishing holidays.

Tpom Rawling has a poem – ‘Rootcutter’ – which could even be about this very machine: it begins ‘Scrap iron among nettles, / A wheel, the drum it used to turn…’ and he remembers using one as a child on his uncle’s farm. Could this be the very one that suggested the poem much later, on a visit to Falkus? Maybe.

 

I may add other pictures in due course, but these are for a start!

GRATITUDE for 1964

Over the holidays I found myself remembering earlier Christmases, and realising how important Christmas 1964 had been for me – and how grateful I am to my parents for making it so.

I was 16 then, and my parents had got into the way of asking me what presents I’d like for Christmas. Extremely kind of them, and kinder still not to turn a hair when I asked for some fairly unusual things – especially unusual in those days, I suspect!

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Threefold magic: here they are, battered but still in use

What they gave me, and what I must have asked for, though I don’t recall the asking, was: (a) a set of Tarot cards; (b) a copy of The Golden Bough; and (c) a copy of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess.

They gave me all of them, and with the enthusiasm of youth – and a youth still in the process of discovering, or making, a self, I wrote my name in all of them. Three different versions of my name, in fact. With the date. And that’s how I know that all these wonderful things arrived at that particular Christmas.

christmas1964

Those gifts led to a great deal. I’ve been interested in Tarot ever since, and at some periods of my life reading Tarot on a regular basis. It helped me to appreciate Charles Williams’s novel The Greater Trumps far more deeply than I could otherwise have done. And I’ve just had the honour of reviewing Cherry Gilchrist’s excellent book Tarot Triumphs for Quest magazine in the US.


As for The White Goddess, I sat up reading it every night between Christmas and New Year, utterly enchanted and fascinated. It made me want to read Robert Graves’s poems. I hadn’t read any modern poetry before, but together with The White Goddess those poems got me hooked. I wanted to write poems too. Graves’s books made me a poet, setting me on course for a lifetime. And in the 1990s I edited The White Goddess, working at Graves’s former house and getting to know the wonderful Graves family, and many Graves scholars. Again, life-changing.

And Frazer? I have to admit that I’ve only read The Golden Bough right through once. It doesn’t quite have Graves’s verse and excitement. Nor do I wholly believe Frazer’s theories about the universal dying-vegetation-god cult any longer. With Ronald Hutton, I suspect that it’s our own secret religion, more than that of the ancient world. But how we need it! I’ve dipped into The Golden Bough many times to find details related to Graves, TS Eliot and other authors and things. And I really, really will try to read it once more in this life!

Nice to see that in 1964 you could buy a new 756-page hardback for thirty-five shillings! That’s £1.75p in today’s money, or about $2.15.

But what great foundations for an imaginative life! Blessings on my kind and understanding parents who listened to me and gave what Yeats might have called ‘the right twigs for an eagle’s nest’. I may be more of a jackdaw, but I’m still busy trying to build that nest, 42 years later. Happy New Year, all blessings to you, and may all your gifts prove as fruitful as these did for me!

The Moons: artwork & anthology

I’m very pleased to be able to include this beautiful graphic rendering of my poem by artist Linda Richardson(https://www.facebook.com/linda.richardson.942?fref=ts) with discussion by poet and priest Malcolm Guite (http://www.malcolmguite.com). Malcolm has included the poem in his very fine anthology Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany and it appears as one (untitled) section in my sequence ‘Silver’ in my recent book of poems, Luna Park.
I’m delighted with both Linda’s sensitive commentary on the poem and Malcolm’s discussion of it in his anthology. Lovely when a poem takes off like that into other minds and brings such rewarding responses!

The Moons by Grevel Lindop

Discussion by Malcolm Guite, artwork by Linda Richardson

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

The Moons, image by Linda Richardson

Here is the poem set for the 2nd December in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, The Moons comes from Grevel Lindop’s  latest collection of poems Luna Park (which I highly recommend!) and is used with his permission.

You can read my brief essay on this beautiful poem in Waiting on the Word, and click on either the title or the ‘play button below to hear me read it. Linda Richardson writes about her image:

‘Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.’ These final words were the ones that jumped out for me as I responded to this poem, and also Malcolm’s comment, ‘offered to a companion in the darkness of our common journey’. So my starting point was night time, the soul’s time, when light gleams through our consciousness in dreaming. The poem spoke to me of memory and the sharing of life with someone, not the immediacy of sense experience. To paint a moonlight image was too immediate so I let the words literally gleam in white ink on black paper. In this way I felt that it was keeping the integrity of the poem, that our memories are uniquely our own, and we will recall them either for enriching or impoverishing our lives and the lives of those who are on our common journey.I noticed that it was she who saw and brought him to seeing. It was the feminine leading the masculine away from the desk of the intellect, to step out into the dark womb of the night and to apprehend a phenomenon of nature, the wonder of the reflected light of the sun at night. I am left with the wonder of the contrasts in our lives, the light and dark, the male and female, all the many different parts that form one body and one spirit.

 

The Moons by Grevel Lindop

Too many moons to fill an almanac:

the half, the quarters, and the slices between

black new and silvercoin full –

pearl tossed and netted in webs of cloud,

thread of light with the dull disc in its loop,

gold shaving afloat on the horizon of harvest –

How many times did you call me from the house,

or from my desk to the window, just to see?

Should I string them all on a necklace for you?

Impossible, though you gave them all to me.

Still some of their light reflects from memory.

Here it is, distant gleam on the page of a book.