Grevel Lindop

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

THE JANUARY MAN

I’ve just finished reading Christopher Somerville’s entertaining, vivid and thought-provoking book, The January Man. In outline, it’s an account of the year, month by month, describing a walk (or sometimes several walks) in a different part of the United Kingdom for every month.

Somerville is well known as the Times walking correspondent, so he’s ideally qualified to guide us, whether it’s on the Norfolk coast or the remote island of Foula in the Shetlands. But his book is about much more than walking.

Besides beautifully-written observations of nature – trees, birds, insects, fungi – as the seasons turn, the book explores Christopher Somerville’s many enthusiasms: it’s full of fascinating reflections on music and poetry, ecology and folklore, tall stories, old buildings, modern farming and a thousand other things. At one moment, Somerville is recreating a youthful hitchhiking expedition that took him and a friend all the way to Istanbul; the next, he’s recreating a long-gone country fair in Wiltshire, now almost forgotten but a few short generations ago so important that half a million sheep and 750 tons of hops were sold there annually, and cheese was traded by the ton.

As if that’s not enough, the book sketches – lightly and engagingly, in touches that build up month by month into a vivid portrait – memories of his father, a taciturn man who never spoke much about his quietly courageous war service, and even less about his top-secret work at GCHQ. Walking together on long-distance footpaths was, mostly, the closest father and son came to shared communication. It’s all perfectly judged: moving and fascinating without any sense of emotional overspill. Quite an achievement, and one that will touch a verse with many of us whose parents were from that emotionally-reticent generation.

Christopher’s website is at www.christophersomerville.co.uk – For a link to order the book, see foot of this page.

As a bonus, the book introduces us to Dave Goulder’s great folksong, ‘The January Man’, from which it takes its title. I can’t find Martin Carthy’s performance of that fine song (the version mentioned in the book) so I’ll put in a haunting version by the Albion Christmas Band with some charming if slightlky kitsch astrological imagery (no offence – as I wrote once in a poem about Mexico, in some contexts ‘kitsch is authenticity’!).

The January Man is definitely one of my books of the year: the perfect Christmas present for anyone who loves walking, or the countryside, or loves odd facts and surprising stories. Add a beautiful cover painting, and a link to download a free walking guide from Christopher Somerville’s website, and what more could you ask? I’m already realising how lazy I’ve been this year. The shortest day will soon be past; and then I swear I’ll lace up my boots and be on the move again. Thanks, Christopher!

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.

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!

dsc03067

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.

Linda Ryle’s Paintings

DSC03019

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

DSC03024

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.

DSC03021

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.

DSC03023

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.

DSC03025

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.