Redgrove resurrection

When Peter Redgrove died in 2003, it was, well almost, as distressing as the death of John Peel a year later. Both were gods that had hung over me forever, affably dispensing their regular and barely-changing product which I sipped like a moth (except I hadn't really listened to John Peel for fifteen years, but it was good to know that I could if I wanted.) And when they were dead they were really dead: theirs were products that could only be drunk fresh, and never again would we catch even one more John Peel show, never again have that feeling of receiving a new crate of foaming Redgrove - in paperback - and slamming it down (like that thunder-water glass) on the kitchen work-surface.

OK, so I do still have the books. The best poetry ones, I think, are In the Hall of the Saurians, The First Earthquake and Under the Reservoir, which are a trilogy from the late 1980s. Some of Redgrove's very best poems are from earlier than this, but the books in which they appear are more diffuse. I don't rate My Father's Trapdoors (1994) so high, but Assembling a Ghost (1996) is good. These were all publications from High Street publishers (Secker & Warburg, Cape): in other words, you could find them in Waterstone's. In the meantime other books appeared via small presses. They're wilder and more undisciplined. Abyssophone (1995) from Stride is a marvellous collection. What the Black Mirror Saw (1997) is also from Stride and is also marvellous, though here the poems are in prose. Lineation has very little meaning for this poetry. Redgrove's final collections (From the Virgil Caverns, Sheen, and The Harper) mainly use a 3-phase broken line that may have come from Williams or Tomlinson. Wherever it came from, it was a mistake; but only inasmuch as it makes the poems more tiring to read. Eventually your eye and mind co-operate in finding a strategy for drawing the nutritive Redgrove poem out of the loose typographic straw-pile.

At some point I must have used the jacket of Abyssophone as a base for super-gluing. I've made a real mess of it, but that seems like testimony to how intimately I've lived with these books; they were never on shelves. Here's how the book starts:


    Palpitations - the moth-beats
    Of the heart in the clambering weather
    Wrestling with itself.

    The moth lies down on the windowpane full of light
    In its bath of lights.

If you're already familiar with what Redgrove does, then those opening lines operate like a high-speed shuttle to the coalface. In fact, they kick off so many chemical reactions that I'm not sure if I've ever properly read them before; never really felt that prickly sweat.

Of course the poem's not content to leave glass between us and the moths, so out we go into the night, eventually the moths eat us and we fly away on their wings.

    None of the wicked will understand,
    But the wise shall understand.

which is a loose quote of Daniel 12:10, (slightly apropos resurrections) and I don't know why but it seems like a perfect ending. Maybe those books are still twitching after all.

They say you can write your own Redgrove poem quite simply by 1. Using the present tense. 2. Telling a story that involves going through a door. 3. Using the word "great".

I leave the great house
And cross the gravel in apple light to my car.
The great grey cloud advances over the sky.

Well, you get the idea. (I know, I cheated a bit with the apple light.)

Actually, that's another thing I like about Redgrove's poems, I'm always laughing at them; even at the same time that I'm walking around brooding about palpitations, the clambering weather and the moths.

There's a good sample of Redgrove's poems here, courtesy of Crescent Moon. It happens to include my favourite Redgrove poem ever, but I'm not going to tell you which one it is.

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