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?
San Juan and Masca
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