This weekend I led workshops for those who had won Northern Writers Awards, at Highgreen Arts. Getting there was an epic journey in itself – first the train to Newcastle, passing the Angel of the North; rattling over the Tyne. Then a minibus for an hour and a half over sloping fields into Northumberland, the landscape of Basil Bunting’s saints and Vikings: grass roughened by clumps of heather and copper ferns and drystone walls, ponies and sheep parting to scamper off as we approached. The Croatian taxi-driver confessed to me how sinister he found it, heading deep into such remote countryside, as mist began to pool and thicken. But when we got there Highgreen was a lovely, homey manor house. There was a fire and fish-pie in the oven. I ran a deep bubble-bath and re-read Briggflatts.
Bloodaxe (named after the Northumberland warrior king Eric Bloodaxe, in tribute to Bunting) has an office in one of the house’s converted barns, and it was interesting to visit it after years of just writing the address on envelopes. Neil Astley generously gave me a stack of new books (including Karen Solie’s stunning selected, The Living Option, which I’ve already nearly finished) and gave the students a talk on the current state of publishing. Otherwise, there were the grounds to explore, their trees bright with pink apples; there was sticky toffee pudding and red wine; and there were hours spent talking about poets and poems. One student, Andrew, leant me his copy of Ted Hughes’ Selected Translations so I could read a poem by the Hungarian Ferenc Juhasz, ‘The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries Out at the Gate of Secrets’. It’s about the relationship between a mother and her son, and has stuck in my mind all week. The book turned out to be full of other delights too – not least an extract from Orghast, Hughes’ attempt to create a new universal ur-language out of sounds. As someone interested in Nonsense poetry*, I’ve always been intrigued by this attempt to take nonsense deadly seriously, but had never seen any of the text before – to satisfy your curiosity I copied out this extract:
Prometheus: NE KHARETHAS
Man: KHSHMAIBYA, GEUS, URVA, GEREZHDA, KAHMAI, MA, THWAROZ HDUM, KE, MA, HAZASCHA, REMO, AHUSHYA, DERESCHA, TEVISCHA, NOIT, MOI.
So there you go. Lots of CAPITALS. And is it me or does TSHUYO sound a bit like Ted Hughes? Anyway, as I’m writing this I’m at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire, about to teach an Arvon, so will have a chance to imbibe a bit more of Ted’s spirit…
*By the way, this Sunday, when I’m back in London, I’m talking about Nonsense poetry with Murray Lachlan Young (who has written his own nonsense verse) at the Hendricks Carnival of Knowledge. Tickets are £12 but include a delicious gin-based cocktail.