Friday, 24 April 2009

At home with Ted

When we were away in Yorkshire in the Easter holidays we stayed just outside a little place called Mytholmroyd (a few miles west of Halifax in West Yorkshire). Some of you will think of a poet straightaway when you hear that place name (whilst some of you may just think 'how the heck do you pronounce that..?') because Mytholmroyd is the birthplace and childhood home (until he was 7) of one Ted Hughes (1930-1998). If you don't believe me here's the photographic evidence (hope you can read it - it says 'Mytholmroyd - Birth place of Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate, sponsored by someone or other...):



We didn't stay in this part of Yorkshire because of the Hughes connection - I've never been what you might call a huge Hughes fan and anyway it was my beloved not-particularly-fussed-about-poetry Mark who found the cottage online (highly recommended - find it here). We just wanted a place near enough to Leeds (and all our friends and family there) but at the same time somewhere different (and quiet) for some exploring (and relaxing...). What's more we managed both of those activities, I'm pleased to report.

It's a long time since I lived in Yorkshire (we moved north in 2002) so I had forgotten that the area around Mytholmroyd (the Calder valley) couldn't be more different to where we live just now in Angus, Scotland. Angus is coastal, quite sparsely populated, relatively flat and open and known for its fishing (the Arbroath Smokie...) and its soft fruit and potato farming. Calderdale, on the other hand, is very hilly, intersected by various rivers and canals and known for its (now converted) mills and rows of tightly-packed and precariously-balanced terraced houses. I remember the area as quiet and sleepy but these days a lot of it is being developed and there is loads of flashy house building going on (“it's all commuter belt now” I heard someone say and I presume they mean for Leeds and Manchester mainly, though Halifax and Bradford will have their commuters too). Hebden Bridge, for example, is just along the road from Mytholmroyd and I remembered it as a bit scruffy and hidden away but now it is filled with traffic and smart new shops and cafés (some very nice ones too, it must be said, even if it did all look a bit too much like York or Harrogate or a million other places). I didn't go up to visit Sylvia Plath's grave at nearby Heptonstall this time (I've been there twice already) but it is one of the main tourist stops in this part of the county. Funny how we love graves...me as much as anyone...I've written heaps of poems about graveyards...nearly did a book of them with a photographer friend at one point!

But no graves this time and if I thought about any poet, it was not Plath but her one-time main man and husband, Ted Hughes, instead. As I say I've never been a big fan of Hughes poetry particularly but I can feel that changing a little and I have to say I quite like it when I feel a poet (living or dead) creeping into my mind...baby step by baby step. My interest in Hughes was first stirred when I had to teach one of his poems to GCSE (Standard Grade) students back in the mid '90s (I was doing some freelance tutoring...I've never been... constant enough to be a full-time teacher). I liked the poem and found it quite exciting to teach (it was 'Wind' which you can read here) but then I didn't really think about Hughes again until I kept hearing other people singing his praises so very loudly and insistently. First I heard the simply wonderful children's writer Michael Morpurgo enthusing about Hughes at StAnza a couple of years ago (Morpurgo and Hughes were friends, more or less neighbours too I think in Devon). Then there was that other Northern English poet Simon Armitage - he's often to be heard talking about the Hughes influence - and then recently didn't one of you (Deemikay) say he was your favourite poet ever or something (not quite - see comments)? All this means that bit by bit I have found myself lingering a little longer on Hughes poems in anthologies, thinking things like 'hmm, well, maybe...'. I haven't got a lot further than that I will admit but I have at least been thinking about getting further... and I have also been doing my best to put away all the rest of Hughes (the very loud image of him as Mr.Totally Manly McMan, the moody photos that are all eyebrows, jaw, floppy fringe and ridiculously OTT stare, the famous well-for-heavens-sake-if-you-wed-after-four-months-what-do-you-expect marriage....) and just think about the words of the poems. Then last week – there I was in his own home land (as it were), sitting in the lovely garden of our rented cottage and looking at the steep hills, sharp valleys and wild moor-tops and at the many wandering paths that make their way around all this and thinking something fairly vague and murky about Hughes and the place and... well...intensity, I suppose. There's something quite magical about the whole area ('Wuthering Heights' country very close by too of course) and then there are the Yorkshire accents round there which are just tremendous (never have so many vowels been so thoroughly whacked about the head...I love it!).

Hughes' voice on recordings, on t'other hand, is not as Northern as you might expect. I suppose he was of the generation that was taught less regional accent was better than more...maybe it's something to do with that. Here are some excerpts of him reading from 'Crow' (published 1970) to give you a taste of his sound.



And, without wishing to end too abruptly, that's all I've got for now...some rambling thoughts on the old Iron Man. I can't even say I have any favourite Ted Hughes poems yet or anything. Indeed this may be just a passing phase of interest – a little dalliance - and soon I'll be back where I feel more comfortable... with Larkin and his jazz records, grimy windows and mundane misery. Or maybe not. Change can be good, after all, can't it? Who wants to like the same stuff forever?

x

43 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Sorry we didn't meet up when you were down here. I heard from Dominic that there was a chance we would.
I prefer Plath to Hughes - I was going to say that she is a bit more upbeat - I find Hughes a bit sombre - but the trouble with Plath is that they might seem upbeat until you start looking into them. Blackberrying is a good example, all those hooks tearing at her.

Rachel Fox said...

Sorry not to meet you too...next time! We always have so much to fit in in terms of family visiting that there is little time left...and then this time we set off late due to illness...and Dominic was away...

But next time - for sure! Maybe next time we'll stay somewhere on your side of Leeds. Maybe you even know someone with a cottage we could rent (dog friendly). I'm not sure right now when our next Yorkshire trip will be...but it will be within the year.

And I love your use of 'upbeat' for Plath...possibly the first time that word has been used for her writing! I can see now a new edition of 'Ariel' with 'a bit more upbeat than Ted Hughes' on the front! My world is so much sillier...

x

deemikay said...

Ooo... not only about Ted, but about Elmet as well! That's almost too spooky a coincidence. I didn't click/know that you were in that particular region. I'm even more tempted to get the photos/poems book in Borders this lunchtime now... but I've also been tempted by the gorgeous big book of his children's poems you can get.

Now, I never said he was my favourite poet. I said he wrote the poem that I regard as my favourite ("Wodwo")... But there are two reading events in my life that changed things substantially for me - once was first reading Borges, the other was reading an anthology of Hughes in the library when I should have been studying (it started me writing poems again after 5 years of disgusted non-writing).

On the whole, I prefer Hughes - he wrote about things that interest me more (from nature to myths) and his range and ambition was greater than Plath's (but is that just because she died young and he had more time?)

But I try not to get involved in the whole tedsyl (sylted? silted?) melodrama...

Oh, and Adrian Mitchell wrote a funny nature poem "with apologies to Ted". :)

I feel a trip to the bookshop at lunchtime coming... photos or children's poems? Hmmm... I'm tending towards the latter!

deemikay said...

I found the Mitchell poem:

Another Attempt at a Nature Poem, But Don't Worry, TedThe vixen springs
The sparrow sings
The mole grins in his trap
The eagle swings
Her brazen wings
The bunny has a crap

deemikay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Fox said...

Oh sorry, D, if I misrepresented your TH feelings! I think we have that children's book of poems (present for Our Girl from friends). Said Girl is story mad though and only asks for poems when there is absolutely nothing else to be read (although she quite likes Roald Dahl poems...just as I liked Belloc in my time). I'll just read the Hughes book myself maybe...perhaps today.

And yes, no more mention of Plath in this post. I thought about not mentioning her in the main body of the post but it's kind of hard not to - the grave is such a well visited site in that area and I was talking about that side of things (tourists visiting etc.).

But I did want this to be Ted not Syl so let's keep it that way...resist the temptation to bring her in, people! She does get her fair share of mentions pretty much everywhere (not that they're much good to her now of course...as far as we know).

And the Mitchell poem is fab. I laughed.So good you put up twice...

x

Rachel Fox said...

put it up twice...I mean.
x

deemikay said...

My finger must have slipped! Hence twice. Oops.

You didn't misrepresent me, I must've given the wrong impression. But I do like him. And I know it's "untrendy" to like either amongst the literati. "Far too popular amongst the non-poetry classes! Hmph! Hmph! They've never even heard of Ashbery!"

I think I may have a hughes-a-thon this weekend to annoy them.

I can feel another Poets Cornered coming up... And you inpsired an Emily Dick. one that's coming up. :)

Colin Will said...

The Hughes poem that made the biggest impression on was Hawk Roosting. I thought he tried to get inside the tiny mind of the predator and give voice to its thoughts. An achievement, I thought. I've never felt inclined to take sides in the Ted/Sylvia business. It would be like getting involved in friends' divorce by proxy, and I don't see the point. Two major talents.

Rachel Fox said...

Now Colin...I said this is Ted's post...no more mention of the first missus!

Here's the poem Colin mentions if anyone wants to read it right away. I like this bit:

"For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living."

and it reminds me of a poem I was reading at Dick Jones' blog yesterday and a 'hill of bones' that cropped up there.
Bones, bones, everywhere...
x

deemikay said...

Hawk Roosting is an excellent poem. And it's quite fascisitic - it could just have easily been called Hitler Roosting. Which *is* nature in so many ways. That, I suppose, was Hughes biggest achievement. He shows us what nature is like and how it works when there are no humans around - and he did it by giving animals human-voices.

Atheist that I am (but an unconventional one) I always feel that odd spiritual energy that exists-where-humans-aren't when I read him...

(I was going to use the word "shaman" somewhere in there but chose not to...)

deemikay said...

Oh, and Rachel - if you do read his children's book, read "A Cranefly in September". I love that one.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes...I have a poem title 'We are dogs'...poem yet to make its appearance...happens like that sometimes. But I know what you mean.

Plus anybody (like me) whose British history is rubbish and wants to see what Elmet might be can go here to see what Deemikay is talking about (that and a Hughes book now has that name...his history was not so rubbish...well, we all have our strengths and weaknesses...).
x

deemikay said...

Oops... I shoulc have said what Elmet was. It was the last surviving independent celtic kingdom in England before those pesky Anglo-Saxons took over; it covered those parts of Yorkshire Hughes was from.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, maybe we should have known...I've lived most of my life in the north of England but didn't know (she wears her ignorance like a badge, I tell you!). Damned big badge...anyway...
x

deemikay said...

Nah, it's only saddo-freaks like me that are into that kind of thing. Ask most Scots what Dalriada was and they'll give you a funny look or say it's the name of a pub or a street.

(On the saddo-freak front... on my week off next month I was thinking of doing a tour of Pictish stones on the East Coast.)

Rachel Fox said...

Well, loads of them are near us so come and visit! I can probably tell you more about Pictish stones than I can English history so maybe one day I too will be a saddo-freak (proper educated person who knows about more than TV and pop music). Maybe.
x

BarbaraS said...

Oh this is great, Rachel. The photos are smashing and I confess to liking TH more and more as I get older. I've got his Letters, which came out last year (?) & have been meaning to read it. Now I've an excuse.

See, no mention of herself in this comment whatsoever ;)

Rachel Fox said...

I thought you meant the book of poems 'Birthday Letters' from a few years back but then I realised you meant an actual book of his letters that was published more recently. Doh! It sounds interesting...posts as you read it please!
x

shug said...

The Thought Fox is a brilliant poem. I think he's a great poet but he's not one of my favourites. I like my poets less self reliant.

Rachel Fox said...

Now that is an interesting comment...
What must it be like to be self reliant? Brilliant? Or lonely? Bit of both?
x

deemikay said...

Oooh... I think I'm self-reliant. Yikes.

Maybe I will pop in and say hello. :)

deemikay said...

PS it's both.

Colin Will said...

It's times like the present when I realise that, however self-reliant I like to think I am, fundamentally I'm dependent on everyone around me. And that's a good thing.

Rachel Fox said...

How did we end up on this? Uncle Shug - it was you!

I used to be self-reliant (or at least under that illusion) but then for the past...nearly 15 years I have been anything but (in fact at times I'm not sure there's even been a self to be reliant on!). Recently I have been trying to get (at least) some of it back. Hard work though.

And now back to poetry...I've been reading the Ted Hughes poems for children over lunch. So far I like 'Main Thing about Badgers'...but then I am a sucker for a good title. Some times a good title is enough for me...
x

deemikay said...

Self-reliance isn't always a choice, not is it always thrust upon you. Some people are just made like that. I remember reading something by Les Murray about Bruce Chatwin - he had eyes that said "I will leave you", because he didn't need anyone. LM also uses the same phrase in his big verse novel (Fredy Neptune) about Lawrence of Arabia.

Oh, and I got the book at lunchtime. I like the way it's arranged with younger children at the beginning, older children at the end. The last ones are just normal-TH-poems, I'd say - nothing particularly childlike about them.

Susan said...

"sponsored by someone or other" LOL

I haven't run into much Hughes at all but had another peek after your post; I think I could grow to like him though nothing's grabbed me at first.

Sounds like a good trip!

Rachel Fox said...

Yes it was a good trip..it's weird when somewhere that's been home for so long becomes a holiday destination! I lived in Yorkshire for about 13 years as an adult (plus the odd years here and there in North Yorks. as a child) but now it is many things but it isn't really home. It makes for such a different experience. And Our Girl (who now takes Scottish accents for granted) was quite amazed by some of the very strong Yorkie accents in, say, Halifax. Her face was a picture and she would say to me in her fairly hard-t-pin-down voice 'Mummy, is that a Yorkshire accent?' (and I would reply 'aye, lass, that it is'). Or something.
x

Sorlil said...

Pike, The Horses, and Full Moon and Little Frieda are probably my fav Hughes poems.

On account of his imagery he should probably be one of my favorite poets but he isn't, somehow I'm rarely in the mood to pick him up. I find him a bit grandiose in the tone of many of his poems and that bores me.

I've just finished re-reading his Letters, they really are a great read - full of little writing gems and the letters to his children are lovely.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Sorlil, I think the reason you rarely pick him up is probably somewhat in tune with my reasons for keeping away over the years too. I've watched (and listened) too much comedy..I don't hear his voice reading the poems sometimes...I hear Jennifer Saunders or someone instead...and then the moment is gone!

But I am trying to get to grips with him and I will look up those poems you've picked out.

All these different reactions to Hughes are so interesting, informed, honest and downright entertaining - this really is the best book group in the world!

x

deemikay said...

Full Moon and Little Frieda! How could I forget that... I love that one. And I've stolen its main idea *so* many times. ;)

I quite like those Hughesian Grandiosities... though I can see why many would hate it - SERIOUS poet takes this world (*and* others) SERIOUSLY and speaks SERIOUS things. He expects you to take him SERIOUSLY. It can get a wee bit ridiculous...

For light relief I'd go here. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I've been thinking about Ted and the seriousness and all that this morning (since reading Sorlil's comment). Partly what he had of course was that huge (and partly manly) confidence that gives off this scent - 'this is what I am going to do - you can either come with me or not...but here I go anyway - strength, power and decision are mine...rejoice!' Now some people are attracted to that and go with him and other people say 'oh, that all makes me feel a bit uncomfortable...I mean I like some seriousness but you seem to be taking the piss, if you don't mind me saying so...so I'll just go off this way and think about stuff for a bit...you stride on...I'll maybe catch up with you later...' He makes me want to go and read some Emily Dickinson (whose poems he really liked incidentally). Or yes D, listen to the Conchords (at their best they are fantastic!).

But I am still enjoying trying out something very different. It's like wearing someone else's clothes.

x

deemikay said...

When it comes to the "Are you serious?!" stakes I'd put him, Billy Blake, Walt Whitman, even Emily herself. There are loads of others.

It's all a matter, as you say, of whether the reader wants to go for the ride.

I may have to reciprocate in the trouser stakes and read some Nick Laird. :p

Rachel Fox said...

That's a smashing last sentence...and people will have to go to your archives to know what the hell we are talking about! It's all in there somewhere.
x

Rachel Fox said...

And on seriousness...go and read this lovely interview with comedian Omid Djalili in the Independent from Thursday. It contains a quote from one Brendan Gill (who I'm presuming is this man though I've never heard of him before) - "not a shred of evidence exists in favour of the idea that life is serious."

Worth a look.

x

Dominic Rivron said...

Your Mythomroyd sign reminded me of Oldham - just over the hill, in a way, from Mythomroyd. The sign there, apparently, once read "Oldham: home of the surgical support bandage".

I'm a right sucker for the South Pennines as hills. Did you visit Stoodley Pike? It's not far from where you were.

Rachel Fox said...

Great Oldham trivia, Dominic!

If we did go by that hill we didn't know its name. We did some dogwalking but no real walking...too much visiting to fit into the 6 quick days. Always so much to get into our England trips these days!

x

Ken Armstrong said...

That cottage looks great, I just want to go there now please.

Graveyards are great,not in any macabre way, just for seeing the stories on the stones and in the care/neglect of a person's little patch.

You should put The Graveyard Book on your reading list, it's good. I enjoyed The Crow; 'Black...'.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I was very late to Gaiman but I am planning to read more and soon. Very soon.
x

Liz said...

Hi Rachel,

Your trip sounds good - know what you mean about holidaying where you once lived - we are having a sort of family reunion in August down the road from my mum and dad's and have rented two cottages ...it'll be weird having our house up the road!

And Hughes - have his 'Birthday Letters' and dipped into it a few years ago - enjoyed it - must give it another 'go'....oh and much enjoyed his voice on the 'crow' poem!
x

Rachel Fox said...

Hi Liz
Welcome back!
x

Luxury Cottages Yorkshire said...
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Red Bird said...

Wow, just reading all the comments has been quite the learning experience for me. I admit not being familiar with Hughes at all (excpet for the basics- you know)but I found this post quite interesting and the video amazing- what a wonderful voice and poem!
I could spend quite a lot of time here, reading all this fascinating stuff!
Thanks, Rachel- (my sister's name, BTW)
x