Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Men in tights: Christopher Logue and the sense of History

Sometimes, bits you happen to read slide into each other and coalesce as a question. In this case, if it doesn’t sound too pompous, the question is of poetry, history, reality and “commitment”, the focus being the early work of Christopher Logue, a figure met so far in these posts only as a drinking companion to Burns Singer.

Devil, Maggot & Son

Devil, Maggot & Son

Plenty of copies survive of Logue’s first collection, Wand & Quadrant (1953), but none at sane prices, so on that I can’t comment. But reading his second, Devil, Maggot and Son (1956, though all written in 1953), I was taken aback by the pure medievalism of his poetic theatre – all kings, queens, beggars and towers, and at first glance a world away from his subsequent, plainly spoken, bad-boy-politics register. To be fair, Logue’s playing card world is often darkened by bitterness, just as his Yeatsey lyricism is sometimes “modernised” by an intrusive knobbliness, but even so …

I’ll give a couple of examples below in case you’re interested. Early Logue is an acquired taste, but it can be acquired.

So what’s going on here? This is not the Poundian collocation of historical episodes, nor the sacramental antiquarianism of David Jones, nor Geoffrey Hill’s splicing of centuries. Did Logue, in the afterglow of ‘forties neo-romanticism, simply assume the medieval as the default fancy dress for  an aspiring poet? Or was his vision of turrets and gallows intended for a mirror held to his and our times, in the same way that Henry Treece’s “warrior bards”, by his own account, stand for the very modern victims of the “God of Profit Production”? When Logue writes of “My Saxon tribe” does he mean the working class and assume that we understand that? Does he just expect us to get it?

X, Volume One

X, Volume One

In a merciless review of Logue’s Songs (1959) in X magazine (excerpt below), Anthony Cronin picks up on the problematic medievalism, among much else. In the same issue, Brian Higgins’s poems include a laconically caustic “letter” to Logue (also below), slyly questioning the nature of his social commitment; here Higgins refers to the establishment, in Logue-speak, as “the Normans”. (Higgins, who died in 1965 aged just 35, is a poet worth attention, whose voice arrives in unexpected ways. In Michael Hamburger’s words: “He is wholly original, writing as though he were the first poet ever, just beginning to discover the world and language.”)

Pound embraced Mussolini, Treece turned Tory romantic, Hill was accused of nursing a Victorian nationalism … It all suggests that a committed leftist voice might do well to avoid entanglement in historical other-worlds, lest they turn into national myths, which are by definition conservative. A more fundamental danger of (con)fusing the present and the past must be the leap of implication that, since it was ever thus and still is, it always will be; if nothing has changed, everything changes nothing.

Medieval monarchs and ramparts slip easily enough into those of ancient Greece, which might trigger related questions about Logue’s life’s work, his acclaimed version of Homer’s Iliad, modern anachronisms and all. But that’s another discussion. Interesting though, that Logue was pushed to start the Homer by radio producer D S Carne-Ross, formerly co-editor of Peter Russell’s reactionary review Nine, for whose shenanigans over Homer and popularism see this post.

Poems and excerpts follow.

 

Christopher Logue in youth

Christopher Logue in youth

From “Amateur Horoscope”

In the middle
of the four yellow candles
let the old King
lie in the halflight
dead.

In the middle
of four wetnurses
let the swaddling King
suck the udders of his kind;
for he is ignorant,
with hell before
or heaven behind,
according to the colour of your eyes,
or perhaps your back’s old rage.

Abel and Cain, here is the parable
to be ruled by a King or a Chairman?
Do both answers beg your question
Or is the question itself a beggar?

The King will learn to count,
but not his daily bread. And
they said of the old dead King,
‘He had a lazy heart.’
‘She had out of him
only coins and a bastard.’
‘The orchard he tended
had a gibbet in every sap.’
And the King heard all and wept
My son, son, from the tower
of his hangman’s mind.

 

A Suite for Jewels IV

I, diamond, brighter the new-day
on a thicket of drawn knives
newer than I, lie quiet in the dawn
a magnet to the flights of sun.
Plain, I split on my prism’s edge
white to incarnadine and again white
as the moonlight on Death’s finger.
Within my grasp the acorn and the forest
are chastised on a carbon anvil.
Flesh is my shame. A serf to gold
how often am I worn to idolise
making delight where there is no darling?
yet I in light outmatch my owner’s lust
my craftsman’s sight; my kingdom crowns
whatever King may be. I, illuminate,
only a ton can snuff my beam
or the hungry paws of a beggarmaid.

 

prince-charmingFrom Christopher Logue, Prince Charming: A Memoir, 1999

I assumed that Devil, Maggot and Son had died with Stols. Then a parcel arrived from Amsterdam containing twenty copies of the published book … Creamy paper, the text set in elegant Romulus. As I read them my heart sank. They were so arty. Who on earth could be interested in such stuff? They raised a recurring wish: that my head might somehow be attached to my neck by a sort of bayonet fixture, easily removable for a thorough clean and a good polish before being put back on …

… I said [to Peter Russell] my book no longer pleased me. In future my work would be politically committed. Those who did not work did not deserve to eat.

 

From Anthony Cronin, “The Notion of Commitment: An Aesthetic Inquiry,” in X 1:1, 1959

This resolute self-regard is the principal impression left by Mr Logue’s propagandist poems. They are glumly insistent that Mr Logue is the only one who cares:

Men of the future think of me
Living at a time when one by one
Our kings give way to businessmen,
Our poets wrote to make men bother less,
Our wisemen, fat with caution, spoke of death,
And most died twice from individuality,
In this time on earth given by men to me.

Apart from egotism, the passage displays only the threadbare nature of Mr Logue’s social thinking – the romantic cliché, worthy of Noel Coward, about kings giving way to businessmen, and the communist jargon about people dying twice from individuality – truer to say they are dead from mass-production …

… Many of the sentiments expressed in Mr Logue’s poems are undoubtedly admirable, if unoriginal; what is wearisome is the constant claiming of so much credit for possessing them. The language is a mixture of turgidity and old Georgian frivolity about kings and princesses with a few words like ‘turd’ and ‘shit’ thrown in, apparently in the hope of achieving an uncompromising modernity. The real modern world never appears; for all the indication the (mostly literary) imagery of the poems gives we might as well be living in the Middle Ages. We learn nothing from the poems about Mr Logue’s attitude to any of the difficult relations in life … The vivid lyrical gift which is supposed to provide the jam on the pill, the separable poetry, when not a fearsome misuse of Yeats (and some other very odd influences, including Dame Edith Sitwell), turns out to be a compound of all the sweepings of the Georgian anthologies. Here is Mr Logue in lyrical vein and the manner of Rupert Brooke:

For God’s sweet sake give me back part of that
I gave. Part of a part? One loving jot?
Child I am no Elizabethan hack
Spicing his dalliance in a sonnet’s pot …

… This remote moonshine, far removed from the sane speech of men ever or anywhere, presumably represents Mr Logue’s attempts to come to grips with what the apostles of commitment call, in a noticeable tone of self-congratulation, ‘reality’. Complacent, trivial and boring, it reflects nothing but an ultimate unconcern with life. Poetry as an expression of adult matters which involve other people is not Mr Logue’s concern.

 

Brian Higgins, “A Letter to Christopher Logue,” in X 1:1, 1959

‘More days than sausages’, you said.
Well, one day I had four
And some thousands of words;
Mainly advice on Theft.

Brian Higgins by Patrick Swift

Brian Higgins by Patrick Swift

Thank you, Christopher Logue
(You well known classical translator)
Because of you I have moved towards action
Which is robbing banks.

Each day something drops –
From posters, from our pockets and ourselves.
Those who care for such serious matters
Will replace the posters.
As for our pockets – in time we may be lucky,
And God, or whoever arranges such things,
Will replace us when we die.

Since that day I’ve wondered
If four sausages were too many
To take from the Poet of Need.
Also how much you like my verses,
Wondered how long I will live,
How long my money will last.
I have several times been drunk,
Often lonely,
Written a play and songs to go with it.

I have done no mathematics
Received no money from the Government,
Bought what I need and sold nothing.

If you asked me, ‘What about the H-bomb?’
I would reply:
‘It will either burn us or bore us to death.’

If you asked me, ‘Are you for the rich or the poor?’
I would answer:
‘Those who are hungry are poorer than I am.
Let them find me, I will give them bread.
Those who are masters of employment
Know more than I do about riches.
If they pay wages they will grumble.’

I will say
‘I am for those who try to be artists,
Yet no doubt some who fail
Find compensations.
And those who succeeded,
Did they cut their throats from over-excitement
Or go mad through a joyful effulgence?’

If I became rich it would be through a literary accident,
If I stay poor – in our profession that’s no proof of failure.

Lastly, Christopher, a piece of advice
(Having read your instructions and stopped drinking milk)
Remember the English do not shoot
Satirists and attackers of the official order,
But we have yet to meet with a dangerous Laureate.
If the Normans change their policy
Be sure they will pick one they know will attack.

 

(Unnecessary bibliographical appendix: according to Logue’s memoir Prince Charming, the first edition of Devil, Maggot and Son was published by A A M Stols in the Netherlands. Subsequently Peter Russell (poet, publisher and editor of Nine magazine) prevailed on Stols to print “a small English edition” on his behalf. However, my copy of the Stols version is inscribed “Second Printing” while my otherwise identical Russell version is not. Each claims to be limited to 250 copies and each has the same numbered page to that effect dated September 1956. Not that it matters a hoot. Mind you, Logue’s memoir also has Stols dying during the production of the book, but in fact he survived until 1973. So much for memories.)

An exhumination of some work in progress

This is what I believe they call a holding letter. Five and a bit years back, this blog was mostly a matter of thinking aloud: bish, bash, bosh, done. But as the content has leaned more towards the researchable, a backlog has built of stuff to be tidied up and rounded off. And some of these unfinished explorations have involved generous input from others who have kindly got in touch.

So please bear with me.

twg-smallerThough what remains of his Irene is safely paged up above, I still need to do the full business on the extraordinary and now invisible Terence White, aka Terence White Gervais, Gervas d’Olbert, Gervas White, Terence Gervais-White etcetera, organist, composer, poet in five languages, orientalist, Joycean disciple, rough sleeper, possible heroin user and much else. To be going on with, my thanks to Louise Prey for this great pic of TWG in (worryingly) a clerical collar. This is only the second image of the man I’ve yet come across. But Terence needs rescuing, and it is in hand.

Then there’s the need to say a little more of the remarkable Melville Hardiment, poet, painter, soldier, educator, school magazine pioneer, and the man who introduced William Burroughs to LSD, or tried to. (Already touched on as Wyndham Lewis’s “Mr Gartsides”.) Thank you, Sophie Bissmire, for the memories and the photos. It will get done.

My recent attempts to figure out the person behind the extraordinary ‘forties images of Stanley Jackson were left a bit hanging. The revelation that there were not one but two Stanley Jacksons is thanks to conversations with Jackie and Eloise Hendrick, daughter and granddaughter of one Stanley, to whom I’m very grateful. We may now be in a position to disentangle the strange coincidences that have confused these two artists, so a stab at something definitive(ish) on The Two Stanleys is somewhere on the horizon.


What else? More could be said on the anarchist poetry of Alex Comfort and George Woodcock. In fact, ‘forties writing as a whole still has a lot to yield. And mention of Mr Gartsides reminds me that I’ve been meaning to get to grips with the vexed history of school art teaching, from Ruskinesque daffodils to the Marion Richardson child-centred revolution to the “spots and dots” of Kurt Rowland and the sub-Bauhaus reaction. (Though that has an ironic colouring, now that this low life government has wiped Art from the UK National Curriculum …) And a load more besides.school-art-booksIt’s all in the pipeline.

Homeric warfare: re-righting the Classics

The 'Betty' letters

The ‘Betty’ letters

As well as interesting marginalia, a bonus of buying second hand books is finding unexpected stuff tucked between pages, so I was chuffed recently on acquiring a set of the early ‘fifties poetry review Nine to find various fliers and cuttings hidden within, plus three letters to the original owner of the magazines from the classical scholar, translator and academic W F Jackson Knight (brother of literary critic Wilson Knight). One of these throws an interesting light on the methods of Nine and of its pugnacious and reactionary editor, the poet and self-appointed disciple of Ezra Pound, Peter Russell.

Eleven 'Nines'

Eleven ‘Nines’

The letters are to a “Betty”, probably an ex-student of Jackson Knight’s (though not, as I first thought, the classicist Betty Radice, later an editor at Penguin Classics). “JK”, as he signed himself, maintained a vast correspondence with ex-students and others, so it’s annoying but hardly surprising that my unidentified Betty makes no appearance in Wilson Knight’s exhaustive and exhausting 1975 biography of his brother, which I now plan to employ as a doorstop or flower press.

Much of the contents of the letters is shrill and slightly flirty chatter (JK never married), but in February 1950 he wrote to acknowledge a letter that Betty, who clearly had some close association with Nine, had inserted with a prospectus for the review:

“Naughty to put a letter in for 1d! How I liked it though. I wishd you were here.

Can I, if I subscribe, have the first issue of NINE? What chances to keep it going? Can you work together with The Wind and the Rain and be the Criterion, and get safer – you two the only two? What hope of getting hundreds and hundreds of my little friends into nine-print? No – only good ones, who deserve it – and only the pieces which should be printed. I don’t care about just another mag. I do care about the right one (prospectus looks good), which really serves the right causes and above all the divine niceness and brilliance of the sort of people you and I know who we mean by which. Grammar OK?”

'JK' in the early 'fifties

‘JK’ in the early ‘fifties

JK’s letters, wrote Wilson Knight, “drive the informality of epistolary writing to the limit.” No doubt Jackson Knight wrote as he spoke; it’s always a slight shock to realise that some people of a certain class really did talk like this. The Wind and the Rain, a rival literary review run by Neville Braybrooke, had recently printed a piece by Jackson Knight on his favourite author, Virgil. He did indeed go on to subscribe to Nine, to which he was also to make a single ill fortuned contribution. So was Nine to prove the right sort of mag, serving the right causes, and run by the right sort of people? Well, it was “right” in one sense.

“The Right is to-day, everywhere the Underground Resistance!” shouted Peter Russell in issue 2 of Nine. Reacting to what they saw as a poetic decade of undisciplined and introverted Leftist neo-romanticism, Russell and his editorial board – poets G S Fraser and Iain (later Ian) Fletcher, editor and classical translator Ian Scott-Kilvert and classical critic D S Carne-Ross, afterwards a Third Programme producer – banged the drum for a return to objectivity, order, tradition and form. In this post-war re-invigoration of the great literary tradition, translations from the Classics were to play their part. Even so, Nine was happy to print poems by Charles Madge, Ronald Duncan, George Barker and others positioned well outside its programme, though it was not always an unstrained fraternisation. For Russell, if not for his co-editors, these literary standards were of a piece with his maverick political rightism.

Peter Russell, drawn in 1950 by Wyndham Lewis

Peter Russell, drawn in 1950 by Wyndham Lewis

In the event, it wasn’t too long before the wheels fell off. Issue 1 of Nine had appeared in the Autumn of 1949. Oddly, all but one of the editorial board vanished abruptly from the title page after issue 7 of Autumn 1951, leaving Russell to manage the final four issues solo. What happened?

His ‘seventies collaborator William Oxley later recounted Russell’s version of the crash, given twenty years afterwards. Two highly unpleasant reviews by poet Roy Campbell, loose cannon and elder statesman of the maverick right, had “blown apart” the board; one of a book by Stephen Spender, the other of:

“… some translations done by an eminent professor of whom Campbell wrote: ‘We do not expect poetic talent from a translator, let alone a professor, but we are entitled to insist on elementary scholarship.’ The editorial board of Nine, apart from Russell himself, were ‘all aspiring professors looking for safe jobs in universities,’ and they refused to countenance the publication of Roy Campbell’s offensive review.”

This “offensive review”, of J B Trend’s translations from the Spanish of poems by Juan Ramon Jimenez, eventually appeared in Nine 9, with a note by Russell explaining that it had been rejected by “the then editorial board”, and first printed in The Catacomb, the scurrilously reactionary (and loss-making) review run by Campbell and his son-in-law Rob Lyle, but bailed out by Tate and Lyle sugar money – “catacombs financed by saccharine,” as Christopher Logue put it.

“Though it is difficult to imagine what literary motive can have prompted the publication of this book,” fumes Campbell, “the political motive sticks out a mile.” His “review” then veers off into the familiar Campbell rant about the Spanish Civil War, “gun-shy poets” such as Auden and Day Lewis, the Iron Curtain and so on. It’s not hard to see why the board had cold feet.

On top of all this Russell’s co-editors, their suspicions aroused by an unpaid printer’s bill, had accused him of having his hand in the till, while a fire destroyed the contents of Nine’s office in 1951, postponing issue 7. Thereafter frequent appeals for renewals of subscriptions couldn’t prevent disastrous delays to later numbers. Nine finally gave up the ghost in April 1956.

'... the MS was altered ...'

‘… the MS was altered …’

But there may have been other behind-the-scenes unpleasantnesses that contributed to its break-up and decline. One is disclosed by Jackson Knight in a later letter to “Betty”:

“Re P[eter] R[ussell] – I did draw back a little. I didn’t seem to be much wanted. And when I’d done something asked of me actually during a week end of hundreds of miles, arduously, the MS was altered to make me disapprove when I’d approved of something – rewritten. So I couldn’t sign it. I don’t know if it was printed. I’ve never had this happen in 33½ years otherwise. I am not cross. I know something of the literary fight and literary code. I just keep away when I can, having seen the way the wind blows. Yet I received a N[ine] actually today.”

The “something asked of me” was a review of half a dozen Penguin Classics translations; this did appear in Nine 6 (Winter 1950-51), but under the pseudonym “Classicus”. (Clearly Knight was never sent a copy.) The books he had reviewed included two prose versions by E V Rieu, co-founder and editor of Penguin Classics, Homer: The Iliad and Virgil: The Pastoral Poems. (Rieu’s previous, ground breaking Homer translation, The Odyssey, had been the opener for the series.)

The offending article

The offending article

Of the Virgil, “Classicus”/Jackson Knight approves most warmly: “ … as felicitous as any modern English prose version .. can be expected to be … The most fastidious reader … will find nothing to blame.” And “Classicus” even heads off the predictable charge of dumbing down: “If this is ‘culture for the masses’ – and I think it is – we must have more and more of it …” All the other books are thoroughly approved, except for one, Rieu’s Iliad.

Here his opinion appears inconsistently damning: “Homer is eminently rapid, eminently plain and direct, and eminently noble … Dr Rieu’s prose Iliad satisfies the first two conditions … but fails to satisfy the third. Of the supreme grandeur of his original he manages to convey very little …” And that’s about all “Classicus” has to say on the book. This has to be the section altered by Russell to censor Knight’s original, more generous approval of Rieu’s Iliad. But why?

In our post-Classics culture it’s not easy to appreciate just what was at stake, and how threateningly communistic Rieu’s approach might appear to some. As Sun Kyoung Yoon explains in a 2014 article in The Translator:

Rieu … translated Homer in an egalitarian spirit, in line with a trend which was gaining ground in the aftermath of the Second World War. To bring Homer to the widest possible range of readers, Rieu chose to transform his epics into novels … emphasising narratives and characters … his Odyssey, in particular, was a major landmark in popularising the Classics: the huge success of Rieu’s Penguin edition proved that Homer could be made accessible to anyone.

img_0005Popularised perhaps, but hardly popular with Peter Russell. In a stand-off between accessibility and “grandeur,” his elitist instincts knew no doubts. The issue of Nine that carried the censored review by “Classicus” also promised forthcoming numbers on Latin and Greek literature, “to re-establish creative contact with the past.” Translations were solicited that should not “sacrifice poetic vitality to accuracy, nor accuracy to poetic vitality.” For Russell, Rieu’s egalitarian translations met neither criterion. In the event these special numbers did not materialise; in humiliating Jackson Knight by tinkering politically with his review, Russell made sure of that.

But we are in Cold War territory here. And the fracture lines of the times were as liable to appear in the pages of the little magazines as anywhere else, as this minor classical spat demonstrates.

Recommended for use as an anvil

Recommended as a flower press

Jackson Knight died in 1964, his reputation as a scholar and a gent unblemished, apart from an enthusiasm for spiritualism that led him to consult the shade of Virgil himself to advise on his 1956 Penguin translation of The Aeneid, the “Supreme Poet” even dictating answers to JK’s questions directly in Latin to his medium Theo Haarhoff; in séances Virgil appeared to Haarhoff’s niece clad in his laurel crown.

Peter Russell died in 2003 after a long, hugely prolific and generally penniless career as a professional poet. His later work, under the influence of his “mentor” Kathleen Raine, moved away from the vaunted objectivism of the Nine years to a gushy, “vitalist” and often confessional Neoplatonism. His anticommunism never wavered.

‘A day is two halves’: Thomas Good’s ‘Carrion’

Thomas Good by Matthew Smith (detail)My recently posted profile of the sadly neglected but gratifyingly jagged poet Thomas Good (intro post here, also) mentions his contribution in the ‘thirties to that mammoth intercontinental compendium of the surreal and the Joycean, Eugene Jolas’s transition magazine. This turns out to be a short prose piece, published in the final issue, number 27 of 1938, among an assortment of texts grouped as “Hypnologues and Paramyths.” A note states that Good sent this from London, so it must have been written very shortly before his move to France after his breakdown in 1937. Curiously, this is the same issue of transition to which Terence White (aka Terence White Gervais) contributed. I should have tracked this down before, but here it is anyway and in due course I’ll add it to the Thomas Good pages above. It’s the earliest piece of his writing that I’ve yet found, by several years.

transitionFor me this chopped and feverish piece of automatism sits among the “hypnologues”. It’s striking that the earlier part echoes Good’s personal anxieties at the time, with its mentions of firm loins, a priest withholding absolution, Lazarus, an anchorite and so on. Yet the last two paragraphs contain a number of proper names (Mackenzie, Whipsnade, The Waste Land !!) that suggest some cut-up method using magazines or newspapers. However it was made, it certainly stretches the notion of narrative to screaming point, though it’s odd how quotable it is in places: “Each leg is severed for patent privacy …” Even aphoristic: “Benevolence is only one ounce in the kingdom of truth.”

Two possible typo’s: “cenotaur” in the middle of the first paragraph must surely be for “centaur,” and I have no idea what a “speehoo” might be in the final section, though a “speeho” is apparently an uproar in Scots.

When I first read this, I found myself feeling sorry for the baby ant which is castrated …

 

THOMAS GOOD

Carrion

Dry lanes he came through without sugar in stomach and temptation in coldness. He looked and called and no answer. He spoke and said: “You yellow cuckoo, only touch my bellysprings and you’ll find I’m randy enough. I’ll pink straight if they don’t leave me now, or when they hear my body crackle.” Not to speak of the apple-orchard and blossom to cover her. Firm loins broke his goose-step, and there were crazy children singing into his ears, asking him to murder them, because the priest withheld absolution. O, never will he stink yet until Easter, with seven lines crossing his brow, and if the five angels who sleep by Lazarus’s tomb have not kept quiet how much ranking will be in the bye-pass of Heaven. Now the twin-monster is harnessed to a star, and the bite of a tooth in her left breast. She saw the seven storms and breathed out gold-dust to the cenotaur. There was a crack in the eyeball and white men strangling a negro baby near the furnace. So I said: “Never answer while these bloodlips rouse stealth in the keeping of pig-sties. For benevolence is only one ounce in the kingdom of truth.” There were five pears adjacent to the snowdrop, and where the crane draws wheels, Satan made his meal of abdomens. Only the anchorite had any salt to his pie and left no sting in the serpent’s mouth. The acrostic was numerical and eleven bases of brimstone led to the gossamer pavement. Travelling by his side I heard the snapping of ribs, and demented stallions were exercising magnetism in shovelfuls by any road curious eaters may have taken. A day is two halves and few women have goat’s milk, but when two angry girls stripped the priest, he shaved his bones to sawdust. He said: “I’m in Chancery now and doubletwisted if Abel gives no quarter.” Now the discourse was ready to be given:

“O, lapwing in heaven of time carry a countenance of grim odour through the bays. Alias Mackenzie is a softer reef than a pinnacle and swallowed mud is no tether to a liaison. Fume in equal paces, left, left, right and left again, and tell no dead games in season by choking berries in Whipsnade. In streams of gloom two straps had soaked in steam. Dromedary counts steps to Druid arches and Clovis holds no distaff.”

Now I stand where no echo manipulates water, or trifle soothes brain-fag. I have asked in three-four time if Bartimaeus singed his tail in the waters of Eden, and if several apricots sit swaying in Gotha. Each leg is severed for patent privacy and eleven bends of the head strike the end of a season of chamber madness. In the court of the triremes Abjacus castrated his baby ant and an uncouth bandy-legged giant manoeuvres by firelight. We kept swaying through bedrock till the sweep of dunes left a billycock hat to signal where the tide had reached. Twenty fathoms below Ann’s curse, foul stench set jaws in motion, and, cleaning the stirrups, we plunged into the spume again. And so on. Until they sailed into the archer’s last ride and knocked twice into farthing spoons, all frosty in the daydream. This is the speehoo on hot drops when no cream spins round the hoop. Have you to beg on carrot roads or sweep stale ditches? Give five hoots by the pear-tin and send the scarab flying to the hatchway. Care for the two bitches lifting the curls from the rancid butter and no ginger will stand baking. For crying Smith will not bill The Waste Land and Joseph is stripping the muddle by the oak beams and clover.

Hatted and piped: photographing The Enemy

“I hope you will forgive me for speaking plainly,” wrote artist and author Wyndham Lewis to an unnamed London photographer in 1949, declining to buy the publicity shots he had commissioned. “Several are unspeakable … One or two are what might be described as photographic insults. Needless to say, I can make no commercial use of them … Of course I am sure you produced these photos with the best of highbrow intentions. But there it is. I have not exaggerated the displeasing impression, and in some cases the horror induced … P.S. Probably you ought to have a bigger camera.”

It seems that getting your press photos done (essential for the artist or writer in the public eye) was not always trouble-free. In the past, Lewis had successfully used George Charles Beresford, noted society photographer and a mate of fellow painters Augustus John and William Orpen. In 1913 Beresford snapped Lewis as moody bohemian, fag dangling from lower lip; in 1917 he did him proud cutting a dash in uniform. And in 1929 he captured Lewis in his current Enemy persona, arsing about with a big hat, a pipe and a plaster pillar.

Big hats, of course, were a standard signifier of artisticness in this era, though the pipe was Lewis’s touch. His Tyro figures of the early ‘twenties all have hats, as do many of his self-portraits; the pipe appears in his last drawing of himself, from 1938, and had an outing in the newsreel of the T S Eliot Royal Academy scandal of that year. In the “Enemy Interlude” in Lewis’s fiercely rambling poem sequence One Way Song (1933), the Enemy persona is noted as “cloaked, masked, booted, and with gauntlets of astrakan,” but also in a “large black steeple-hat,” completing the association with cartoon anarchists and banditti.

I’ve noticed a few images from this shoot, but like best the full length studied-casual-with-faraway-gaze-and-column shot (left). Somehow it encapsulates modern but classical, ironic but serious, visionary but engaged. A cropped head and shoulders variant appeared in number 3 (1929) of Lewis’s one man review, The Enemy, captioned “A recent photograph of the Enemy, Mr. Wyndham Lewis,” while a similar image, minus column, was used in his Blasting and Bombardiering (1937). It’s a version of the former, ex some newspaper photo library, that turned up on eBay recently, finding its way to me for the price of a coffee (below, right).


But look closely: what I actually have is a photo of that photo. To “improve” Lewis’s riskily diagonal posture, the original print has been tilted and re-photographed, the re-photographer’s bench being clearly visible in the triangular gaps created at each corner. This, then, is a new photograph of a cropped print of an original photograph. (To push things a bit more in a John Berger direction, what you’re seeing here is a digital image of an upload of my scan of that photo of a print of a photo; the reader of the time would have viewed a grainy screened reproduction of it on newsprint.)

Now a final irony. For much of his career Lewis was plagued by frequent confusions between himself and his namesake, the humourist D B Wyndham Lewis, “Beachcomber” of the Daily Express and then Daily Mail columnist. At one point Lewis even claimed that Lord Rothermere of the Mail had “invented” DB to plague him, in revenge for a dinner party quarrel. On the reverse of my photo is a faint agency stamp and a picture editor’s typed label:

In the News.
D. WYNDHAM LEWIS.,
The wellknown author.
MAR 1940

The “wellknown” identity is confirmed in ink. I’ve no idea what DB was up to in 1940 to be “in the news,” but at the time our own P Wyndham Lewis, now eleven years older than his photo, was having a very grim time in a dreary mock-Tudor hotel in Toronto (a transatlantic wartime experience later mirrored in his harrowing novel Self Condemned ). A silver lining, perhaps, that he was thereby denied the opportunity to catch his own carefully constructed brand subjected to “photographic insult” in whichever English paper it was that carried this misidentified image.


All of which reminds me that I’ve been meaning to do a piece here claiming Lewis and One Way Song as an early progenitor of hip hop. Yes, from The Enemy to Public Enemy … One day before too long, perhaps.

Garman-Ryan collection under threat at Walsall

Here we go again.

Quite a few posts on this blog have been focused around the excellent New Art Gallery in Walsall, a prestigious building opened in 2000 at a cost of shed-loads, which houses an extraordinarily fine permanent collection based around the amazing Garman-Ryan Collection given to Walsall in the ‘seventies by Kathleen Garman, Jacob Epstein’s widow and a Black Country girl born and bred. The Gallery also houses an important Epstein archive.

Astonishingly, the future of the Gallery is now in jeopardy. Under severe financial pressure from the government’s austerity programme, the Lib-Lab coalition running Walsall Council is floating a draconian withdrawal of funding which, it seems to me, would bring inevitable closure. More detail down below, but meanwhile, if you’re interested, here are some readable links with fuller stories, including (end of the list) one to a petition to save the Gallery:

BBC news     The Art Newspaper     The Guardian   The petition

Finally, as promised, the small print. Here’s the relevant bit from the Council’s horrific “Summary of Revenue Policy Savings by Portfolio for Consultation.” (Click to enlarge if need be, or skim down to my closing comments.)

doc-combo

So, a £100K kick up the bum next year to wake things up, then a year’s grace, then in 2019 the £470K subsidy will be reduced at a stroke to £80K. No matter how they dress this up as an “opportunity” (don’t they always?), I just can’t see enough “new business” or “philanthropic support” arriving by then to plug a gap of such proportions, even with sensible trimming. Something brave and creative is needed from the Council here, with a commitment not to go for closure while solutions are being found.

A note on “environmental implications”, further on in this document,  anticipates the Gallery building being “disposed of”. What happens then to the collection? I’ve no idea what legal provisions may have hedged in Kathleen Garman’s gift to the Borough, but if they’re not watertight and more, I can see Sotheby’s rubbing their grubby hands already.

I’ve no intention of allowing this issue to hijack the blog as happened with Mandergate a couple of years back, but if a campaign coalesces somewhere beyond the existing petition page, I will post a link.

The bad and better days of Thomas Good

You know those moments when you trip over a poem by an unfamiliar name and think: blimey, who’s this? A while ago, I turned a page in Fred Marnau’s apocalyptical review New Road 1945 to discover:

THOMAS GOOD
The Trappist

In a lean country suckled by forgiveness
Nailed to bleak courage and the percussive breeze
Bends the hooded man, scarecrow of tailors,
Humming death’s harlotry and the private grave.

Who loving farther mountains tracked the bloody avenue
Coddled atonement and the sword insulted,
Brief’d by no reason on earth insured the triple girdle
Sprinkled wishes like ashes on the changeless floor …

… One window opening in the village of remembrance
Where the smooth lady guilelessly inclines,
Unmanacled of vows the tonsured dandy starts
Electrified as by the sudden glass of Chartres.

O senseless sense. O far too clear division
Of sense and spirit (if these unhallowed deeps be true).
O riper worm, shocked into penance and the holy wax,
Adjourn, the eminent pillar of St. Simon cracks …

… and four more stanzas of the same – tough stuff, dense and jagged, disciplined in form but slippery in syntax, if not consistently secure then certainly compelling, and unlike anything on neighbouring pages. Here (as in much of Good’s poetry, as it turns out) the force of the full impression is in despite of the many particulars that resist ready understanding. Compacted images are piled in without respite, and associations are often puzzling, as if at one or two removes, implying invisible connections that may or may not exist. For instance, in stanza one we can see that the breeze is percussive, but how can the hooded monk be said to be nailed to it? But yes, of course he must be. It works.

good-photo

Thomas Good in 1968

And there are obscurities, such as the “triple girdle” in stanza two, which can surely be only a triple Girdle of Venus, the line associated in palmistry with lasciviousness and nervous temperament; it is the “tonsured dandy” whose hand discards his deadened desires like ashes. The poem concerns a dreadful tension between spirit and bodily senses, culminating in a violent release from Catholic guilt. Is this, despite first appearances, confessional? If so, who was Thomas Good? Just the one poem in this book, but ninety pages later, the same name introduces his own translations of Apollinaire, so here, clearly, is someone to be reckoned with and to be pursued.

Nothing by Thomas Good – poet, priest, critic, teacher and Francophile – has ever been anthologised or is currently in print. His Selected Poems appeared posthumously over forty years ago in an edition of 250. (“The Trappist” is not among them.) In The Fortnightly Review last year Peter Riley listed Good among those “now unknown names” once endorsed unhesitatingly by Nicholas Moore. In a footnote to a volume of letters of William Carlos Williams he is shrugged off as “a relatively minor British poet and critic.” For J H Prynne, in a 1974 poetry review in The Spectator, he is “another serious and unread poet of [the ‘forties] generation” – a condition Prynne helps perpetuate by neglecting to get around to any actual consideration of Good’s poems.

But the more I re-read Good’s work, the more I tune into it, the more I’m convinced that here is a poet of stature and interest who has been unjustly and sadly overlooked.

out-of-circumstanceIt’s fortunate that Good’s friend and literary executor Michael Hamburger, the careful editor of his 1973 Selected, included there Good’s substantial “Autobiographical Note,” which informs a  short write-up by David Collard in the Record of Pembroke College, Oxford (here, jump to page 103) whose Archives now house Good’s papers, “rich and so far un-researched.” I’ve not visited Pembroke, but in what follows I’ve drawn on the “Autobiographical Note” and on a summary of the Good papers, for which I’m extremely grateful to Amanda Ingram, Pembroke’s archivist. (The Archives’ site is at http://www.pmb.ox.ac.uk/archives.)

To continue with a profile of Good’s life and work, go here. To jump directly to a selection of his poems, go here. Or use the Thomas Good tab up above for both pages.

‘The language of a world where meanings defeated any common syntax’: Joyce Cary meets Gerald Wilde

As an addendum to my previous post on the painter Gerald Wilde (go here), I give you the best part of an article on Wilde by Joyce Cary, author of The Horse’s Mouth and creator of the incorrigible, penniless and visionary painter Gulley Jimson, with whom Wilde fiercely identified.

nimbusThis appeared in Vol 3 No 2 (1956) of Nimbus, the literary review created by Tristram Hull, and edited at the time by him and David Wright. I’ve omitted the more general passages where Cary expands on the issue of artistic originality and so forth, which, to be honest, are pretty skippable. This piece is not excerpted in the 1988 October Gallery monograph on Wilde, and I don’t see it online, so here we are. Included here are the four illustrations: a fine photo of Wilde by Gilbert Cousland, and three black and whites of Wilde paintings, one then owned by Cary.

Here, Cary’s startling characterisation is of an artist as a complete original, beyond tradition, outside all context, and so an apparition, a revenant, a dweller in another world. One wonders how Wilde felt, reading about himself as a rattling spectre … But it’s a fine piece of writing, about a great and neglected painter. The Art UK site now shows just five paintings by Wilde in public collections, two owned by Oxford colleges. It’s better than none.

(Throughout the original, oddly, Gulley is spelt as “Gully,” which I’ve corrected. A note on personalities mentioned – the Davins: Dan and Win Davin. Dan Davin, author, then working for Oxford UP. Winnie Davin was Cary’s close friend and literary executor. Ronnie Syme: Ronald Syme, classicist and historian, then at Brasenose, Oxford. Father Gervase Matthews: Gervase Mathew[sic], Dominican theologian, Oxford lecturer.)

 

JOYCE CARY

GERALD WILDE

The first time I met Gerald Wilde was, I think, about 1949, in Oxford, at the Davins’. It was late in the evening. There was a crowd of people in the room, Ronnie Syme, the historian, was one, and I think Louis MacNeice was another, certainly I know I was sitting by the fire conversing on some historical matter with Father Gervase Matthews, when I heard a queer noise and saw in the middle of the room, a figure strange even in that gathering place of poets and professors, of dreamers in all dimensions.

Gerald Wilde

Gerald Wilde

At first glance, in the dim light, Wilde seemed like a spectre. His long, dead-white face with its hollow cheeks was like a mask of bleached skin on a skull, his arms seemed but bones, hanging loosely in the sleeves of an enormous coat whose crumpled folds gave no room for flesh. The arms, too, were extremely long, so that the bony hands almost touched the floor. It was as if this skeleton had but half risen from the grave.

All this figure was in violent and continuous agitation, and with a movement that seemed by itself preternatural. It was this shivering, shaking which, more than anything, gave, at the moment, the sense of visitation from another world. Ghosts in fiction are still dignified appearances, they either stand still like Hamlet’s father, or they glide; only Giselle is allowed feet, but as she flies, she trails them like a bird. The spirits of books and plays are imagined to exist in white robes whose folds must not be disarranged even by the most tragic emotion. They are like the aesthetic ladies of the eighties who had no waists and who were not permitted even to die except in a liberty pose.

'Head' 1952, oils

‘Head’ 1952, oil

But how much more fearfully ghostly was this apparition that shook in every joint, whose enormous pale eyes were full of an excitement equally extravagant – whose very words sounded like the language of a world where meanings defeated any common syntax.

Startled, I began to get up. I could not make out what was happening, or if Wilde was speaking to me, only that he was staring at me and his stare was urgent. But at the same moment, he flung out his arms and plunged forward, knocking over a table of glasses and bottles with a crash which seemed to astonish and bewilder him. He stood gazing at the floor.

Win Davin then jumped up, touched his arm, and he went out with her. She came back in a moment, laughing, and said that Wilde had gone to bed. The broken glass was swept up, the carpet mopped, and the party went on as if nothing had happened; that is to say, in a general murmur of conversation which had no more reference to Wilde’s event than the rustle of garden leaves to a firework.

I had been ready to think the man drunk, but afterwards, when I was going away, Win Davin assured me that he was stone sober. The stare, the trembling, the strange sounds which resembled speech to the ear but not to the mind, were due simply to the shock of the unexpected, and a clash of ideas all insisting on immediate expression.

'Rocky Landscape' 1949, oil

‘Rocky Landscape’ 1949, oil

Wilde was a painter who thought of himself as a Gulley Jimson in the world, and seeing me unexpectedly, he wanted to explain, all at once, his feelings about the book, about Gulley, about the relations of artist and public.

Since then, he has talked to me on all these matters, with the detached tentative air rather of polite conversation than obsession. He has, by nature, gentle manners, a soft voice, he is eager to agree with you – he has no idea of cutting a dash with startling opinions; he says what he believes, and what is true, and what is true is always a platitude.

We would agree quietly that a really original artist is never popular; that he always has had, and will have, a long fight for recognition; he is lucky to get it in his lifetime.

It is true that Wilde’s position resembles that of Gulley Jimson. In the trilogy, Wilshire is the conservative broken by the creative revolution; Gulley is the original creator defeated by conservatism. Gulley was an original artist and that means that he had no school, that he was alone.

'Figures in Arches' 1930-49, gouache

‘Figures in Arches’ 1930-49, gouache

I do not mean by an original artist one who turns out variations of Picasso, Mondrian, Klee, Kandinsky, thirty or forty years after the prototypes. Imitators get plenty of appreciation. Critics are used to them and are not afraid to analyse and compare their works.

It is the painter who does not imitate, who is a true creator, who will have a long fight for recognition …   [ … ]

I have often thought how true to the fact was that first apparition to me of Gerald Wilde, in the Davins’ sitting-room; he seemed like a revenant from another world of spirits, and so he was. He came to us out of a dream that he could not even describe, or explain – he could only paint it. For such a world, that realm where the original visual artist lives as naturally as we in our familiar conventions, is so alien to that of the judgement, of the critical reason, that judgement and reason themselves are barriers about it. A painter like Wilde is born to his own visionary dimension, and it is one necessarily so alien to his contemporaries, that it is equally hard for them to conceive it, or for him to describe it. [ … ]

I have lived now for some years with Wilde pictures, and I can vouch for the force of the novelty. And their impact is that of an original, a great art.

By an original art I mean one that adds to my visual imagination, a new dimension; by a great art, one that moves greatly and profoundly. [ … ]

You cannot classify Wilde’s art. It is not representative; and neither is it abstract. It conveys the most powerful impressions by means of form and colour of which the relation is not so much to an actual world of objects as to the real world of fundamental and universal experience.

I cannot explain what I feel before the grand and strange complex of Wilde’s Rocky Landscape, of his Green Seascape, of the landscape that he has never named, that I call the Woman on the Shore, or his Creature. But for me they belong emphatically to the category of great art. And they are profoundly original.

Dunstan Thompson’s wavering football

Is it just me, or is there an issue with the declining quality of recent academic writing? (I don’t say “research,” as that implies a sense of direction and originality that might preclude some of it.)

img_0001I’ve been reading D A Powell and Kevin Prufer’s editing of essays and other bits on Dunstan Thompson, an uncommonly interesting American poet who came over here as a GI in the ‘forties and stayed. (Unsung Masters series, Pleiades Press, Missouri, 2010.) Tramping through “Battles in the Boudoir: Thompson’s Intimate Metaphors of War,” by Heather Treseler (Presidential Fellow at Notre Dame, Postdoctoral Fellow at Cambridge, Mass), I came across this, regarding Thompson’s magnificently titled “In All the Argosy of Your Bright Hair” of 1947:

“The poem begins as a graveside elegy … The first lines are full of funereal keening:

Whom I lay down for dead rises up in blood,
Drawn over water after me. His wavering
Football echoes from the ocean floor. Blow,
Ye winds, a roundabout. These bully sailors flood
My eyes with tears, treacheries.

The poet stumbles slightly here in his mixture of maritime and homely images; a ‘football’ sent up from the ocean floor seems, at best, a rather odd gift from Neptune and one strangely placed among watery ‘tears’ and ‘treacheries.’ But by the second stanza, Thompson’s ‘argosy’ has been righted in its waters.”

Quite apart from the clear fact that the opening lines, while they mention death, are no sort of elegy and involve zero “keening,” what the dickens is this about a “wavering football”? Ms Treseler has been watching too much college sport from her window. It’s “footfall.” With an eff. And it’s clearly printed as such in the “folio of poems” included in the very same volume, as well as in the original edition. The mannered aesthete Thompson may have fancied footballers, but he would have run a mile from the object itself. In these lines, the “dead” lover returns revived to stalk the unwilling poet. (And to bed him too, as what was lain down now rises again in blood. Thompson was partial to a bit of double entendre.) There’s absolutely no need for the poet to “right” the wobbling argosy, which was never in danger of capsizing; it’s the critic who’s capsized here. And while on the “right the argosy” comment, don’t you rather weary of that sort of waggish conceptual punning that academics resort to when they run short of real perceptions?

Two pages on, Treseler tackles Thompson’s “Lament for the Sleepwalker,” telling us that it –

“… features the speaker’s heart as a predatory cat, prowling the outdoors for the figurative carrion of an erotic connection. The poem begins in dramatic apostrophe:

The lion is like him and the elusive leopard:
Nine lived, he ranges – killer cat – my heart.”

Sorry, but what apostrophe? Thompson does not address his own heart here. Treseler has mistaken the dashes for commas and read this as if it were:

“Nine lived, he ranges, killer cat, my heart.”

Which could identify “he” with “cat” with “heart.” But it ain’t so. The heart is not subject, but object. He, the other, the lion-lover, the killer cat, ranges my heart. It’s a simple enough inversion, but the misreading knocks out Treseler’s whole understanding of the poem.

In the same poem, perhaps enchanted by Thompson’s adopted Englishness, she takes the “green courts” where the predatory lion-lover “eats green meat from the green dead” as “worthy of the Windsor palace.” Windsor? Where did that come from? And this despite the green moss, green jungle and bamboo of the previous two lines. I’m afraid it’s simply not that sort of court. Just an open space. I’m only surprised that we don’t have a tennis ball bouncing in to maintain the sporting metaphors.

But you get the point. Let’s give it up and hasten on a few pages to “I Can Only Promise Poems: Finding Dunstan Thompson” by Katie Ford (Professor at Franklin and Marshall College). This proceeds to take a look at some of Thompson’s later, overtly Christian poems:

“Probably the most heavily liturgical of the poems is ‘San Salvador,’ which has perhaps only one moment that breaks from Christian formulas of belief:

… Dear Host, sole owner of the house He built,
Who, coming unexpected to the door,
Knocks, and, if answered, breaks the chain of guilt,
And lets the soul go free to live once more;
Shepherd, who seeks His torn and filthy sheep,
Rejoicing when the longest lost is found;
Father, who sees the broken wastrel creep
Towards home, and, running, lifts him from the ground …

It’s the little ‘broken wastrel’ that feels new to me, although it participates in the parable of the lost sheep.”

img_0002No, no. It doesn’t. Quite apart from Ford’s persistently sloppy use in this essay of the term “liturgical,” confusing formulas of language with formulas of belief, the “broken wastrel” is not “little” and it’s NOT A BLOODY SHEEP. (Excuse my shouting, but …) Thompson announces the shift from one saying or parable of Jesus to another with a series of divine titles: Host, Shepherd, Father. “Father” flags up the jump from the lost sheep to the Prodigal Son, and it’s this son, of course, who is the broken wastrel who creeps towards home, to be met by his father running to meet him. Not a little sheep. No way then is this image a “new” or “one moment” departure from an orthodox narrative or register – quite the reverse.

Katie Ford also is fond of conceptual puns, rambling them out in sequence to take us, imaginatively, to nowhere and back. Bizarrely, her opening thoughts in this essay conjure up the “cathedral” of the ocean depths, from which the earliest living creatures emerge onto dry land to escape the dangers of the deep: “Imagine crawling out of the ocean,” she invites the reader. Er, no thanks. This then drifts  to social Darwinism, to the ascent of Christianity under Roman rule (the “cathedral” again, cleverly), to the ascents and descents of canons of literature, and thence, finally, to the critical neglect of Thompson’s poetry; “There’s a fight for life,” she tells us, “going on in every discipline, system, business and art.”

Uhuh. Maybe so. Cranking out more “research” is the surest way to survive, I’ve no doubt. But you do wonder just how red in tooth and claw some universities can be if these two essays represent winning quality. Yes, there is some better stuff in this book and no, I’m not just picking on these two contributors because they happen to be women, and yes, I know, it’s only one book, and yes, we all make mistakes, and yes, I am being curmudgeonly about relatively minor points, and agreed, there are more important things in the world to get worked up about, and yes, I’ve nearly finished ranting now. But it would be reassuring for the future of English studies if those who earn their modest crust by analysing poems on our behalf could learn to read and understand them before they arrive at the point of publication.

Thompson may turn up in a proper post on this site some day. Meanwhile, he’s easily Google-able. Here’s a good place to start.

Leslie Hurry’s palace of wisdom

In 2011 I posted here on a first, rather breathless, encounter with the ‘forties paintings of Leslie Hurry. He was clearly still working well into the 1970’s (he died in 1978); I may be missing something, but I still can’t see any recent monograph – is there really no big, glossy volume on this extraordinary artist?

coverThis lack makes Paintings and Drawings by Leslie Hurry (Grey Walls Press, 1950) still a useful source, at least, up to that point. The book’s intro is by the “prolific and proletarian” Jack Lindsay; this is sympathetic but none too informative. Lindsay wastes several pages trying to set Hurry into some sort of mega history-of-art context, but then fails to locate him as a painter within the movements and networks of his own times, as if his development were some purely personal, hermetic affair. But the book does have 38 plates, though only two are in colour; despite the black and white, it seems worthwhile to scan a few here below. (Click to enlarge.)

Sketch for Self-portrait, drawing, 1945

Sketch for Self-portrait, drawing, 1945

The paintings give out all sorts of echoes. Hurry may have opted to work in detachment from organised surrealism, but his relations in that respect are obvious. Absent from much of the imagery is the standard post-cubist scaffolding, so that his figures often have a ghostly flaccidity, as if their bones had been carefully extracted. They swell, contract and flop like jellyfish. This watery, or airy, looseness is reminiscent of David Jones, and the earliest image in the book, a watercolour of a Breton mass from 1939, is strongly Jones-like, both in style and content. While some later figures show rather more structure, a constant Picasso borrowing throughout is the familiar multi-angled face, though in Hurry’s hands this becomes more an image of simultaneous ambivalence than a trick of animation across adjacent moments.

To my mind, his allegorical images of famine and so forth are the least successful. When Hurry does Agony it veers into cartoony; a 1945 watercolour titled Atom Bomb is awkwardly sub-Guernica. To compensate, the scenery designs are a pleasure; they are richly fantastic, and relate closely to the baroque obsessiveness of Robin Ironside.

Jack Lindsay’s introduction to the book rounds off with his own poem, “The Bough of Sweetness,” dedicated to Hurry:

O difficult regeneration of suffering men
on the star-anvils in Stepney and Glasgow clanging
Mass meeting Strike Prague Five-Years-Plan Shanghai
also the slight chime of a flower perfected
and the livid eyes of fear caught in a word
Steadily the hills close round
with the doves of dawn and the nearing annunciation …

Personally, I find Lindsay’s poetry more interestingly symptomatic than successful, though this does at least represent a clumsy attempt at a verbal equivalent of Hurry’s violent conjunction of the visionary and the political – all very ‘forties, very apocalypse.


In his introduction to the book, Lindsay gives us little by way of Hurry’s biography. Born in 1909, trained at St John’s Wood and the RA School of Painting, emerging in 1931, murals, landscapes, a loss of purpose followed by a “desperate retreat into his lonely self” at a cottage in Thaxted, a spell in Brittany and Montmartre in 1938, from these periods of crisis a move into his mature work, beginning with more geometric configurations but soon evolving into more organic forms, theatre work starting with Hamlet at Sadlers Wells in 1941 – and that’s about as factual as it gets. His Wikipedia page adds not a lot more beyond the interesting detail that his father had been a funeral director, a career path the son rejected.

At the time of my previous post there didn’t seem to be much of Hurry online, but matters have since improved. Copyright restrictions at the Tate site have been lifted, so his artist page there now shows six works, including  This Extraordinary Year, 1945, which called to me when it was on the wall at Tate Britain. Much of Hurry’s work was watercolours; these don’t qualify for the Art UK site, which now offers six paintings, of which four are portraits including two variants of himself, though not the self-portrait shown in this post. Beyond these sources, a Google image search will throw up a couple of dozen additional items from galleries and so on, not counting costume or set designs. Enough to go at.

I find it hard to account for the relatively low profile of such a remarkable British painter, particularly given recent stirrings of interest in the neo-romantic phase. Hurry’s tense, highly strung images layer up beyond exhaustion those twitchy, compulsive marks and fragments until they hiss and sing in a sort of maximalist coherence, hard won against the odds by forcing overwroughtness through to a point of virtue. For once here, the road of excess does lead to the palace of wisdom.