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W. S. Graham

W. S. Graham: Speaking Towards You

Volume: 43
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 215
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  • Book Info
    W. S. Graham
    Book Description:

    Graham’s work was published by T. S. Eliot in the 1940s and 50s, but as a major post-war poet, his work has received astonishingly little critical attention given its prestige and influence. This collection of essays covers all aspects of Graham’s work – its critical reception, recent influence and its relations with other developments in the arts, in particular the work of the St Ives School of visual artists. It includes some biographical material (brief reminiscences by and interviews with those who knew him) and discussions of the material contained in several collections of manuscripts. Nothing so far published has paid attention to these manuscript collections or to the large number of uncollected poems published since his death. Neither has enough been written about Graham’s importance to poets of the 1980s and 1990s. ‘I first read a W. S. Graham poem in 1949. It sent a shiver down my spine. Forty-five years later nothing has changed. His song is unique and his work an inspiration.’ Harold Pinter

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-440-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. 1 Introduction: Contacting Graham
    (pp. 1-8)

    W.S. Graham lived nearly all his working life in the far west of Cornwall and had little to do with literary circles, either in London or elsewhere. In the 1940s, he published three collections with small presses before T.S. Eliot took him on at Faber and Faber. He published two collections with them –The White Threshold(1949) andThe Nightfishing(1955). After that, despite the good reception thatThe Nightfishingreceived, he seems to have been forgotten by his publishers. Another volume did not appear until 1970 even though Graham had been writing and publishing quite frequently in the intervening...

  7. Listen. Put on Morning
    (pp. 9-10)
  8. 2 ‘Listen’: W.S. Graham
    (pp. 11-24)

    W.S. Graham remains an anomaly. Praised during his lifetime by T.S. Eliot and published by Faber and Faber (Graham – jokingly – called them ‘Fibber & Fibber’), he is nonetheless most admired and respected by those poets and critics who disdain mainstream poetry publishing and who style themselves as renegades. In Iain Sinclair’s anthology of so-called ‘elective outsiders’,Conductors of Chaos(1996), for example, Graham is one among the five poets of ‘previous generations’ nominated as significant father figures. The others are David Gascoyne, Nicholas Moore, J.F. Hendry and David Jones.¹

    To a certain extent, therefore, Graham straddles the great divide in...

  9. From The White Threshold: 4
    (pp. 25-25)
  10. 3 Graham and the 1940s
    (pp. 26-42)

    W.S. Graham and Dylan Thomas met in 1942 in Glasgow when Thomas stayed for a week in David Archer’s house.¹ Archer, sometime bookshop owner and publisher of the Parton Poets (including David Gascoyne and George Barker as well as Thomas and Graham), was independently wealthy and a very generous patron to a whole crowd of Glasgow bohemians, as he had previously been in London when he owned and ran the Parton Street bookshop, the centre of the London poetry scene in the late 1930s. He moved to Glasgow to get away from the blitz, opened another bookshop and the Scott...

  11. The Nightfishing: 5
    (pp. 43-43)
  12. 4 ‘Roaring between the lines’: W.S. Graham and the White Threshold of Line-Breaks
    (pp. 44-62)

    W.S. Graham is clearly a poet influenced by Wordsworth’s way with lines. In Book XIII of the 1805Prelude, the poet contemplates the sea of mist surrounding Snowdon, in particular a breach in the sea through which the sound of rushing water can be heard:

    a blue chasm; a fracture in the vapour,

    A deep and gloomy breathing-place through which

    Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams

    Innumerable, roaring with one voice!

    (1805 Bk XIII, ll. 56–59)¹

    Wordsworth, as Christopher Ricks has shown, is the principal innovator after Milton in the use of line-break white space.² Here Wordsworth tropes...

  13. From The Dark Dialogues: 4
    (pp. 63-64)
  14. 5 Abstract, Real and Particular: Graham and Painting
    (pp. 65-84)

    In 1956, Graham moved to the St Ives area of Cornwall where he lived the rest of his life. He had lived there before, in a caravan at Germoe between 1943 and 1947, and at Mevagissey in 1948–49. During these earlier stays, he had made contact with several artists connected to the St Ives school: Ben Nicholson, Sven Berlin and Bryan Wynter. The last of these became a close friend. When he settled in Cornwall permanently, Graham became part of a loose-knit artistic community which included (as well as Wynter) Terry Frost, Michael Snow, Karl Weschke, Alan Lowndes, Nancy...

  15. Implements in their Places: 35–38
    (pp. 85-85)
  16. 6 Syntax Gram and the Magic Typewriter: W.S. Graham’s Automatic Writing
    (pp. 86-106)

    W.S. Graham’s unpublished writing is, arguably, an attempt to escape from the fixity and impersonality he associates with printed text, to bathe in the sea of language without freezing to death in the Arctic of the completed poem. That is one of the reasons why there is so much of it. The late unpublished writing constitutes almost an alternative oeuvre to the poems ofMalcolm Mooney’s LandandImplements in their Places, one whose creative energy and radical technique represents a remarkable avant-garde challenge to the institution of literature.¹

    The late Robin Skelton’s archive of Graham manuscripts, now in the...

  17. From To My Wife at Midnight
    (pp. 107-107)
  18. 7 Dependence in the Poetry of W.S. Graham
    (pp. 108-130)

    ReviewingThe Nightfishingin 1956, James Dickey wrote that W.S. Graham was ‘the most individual and important young poet now writing in English’.¹ Graham was then 38 years old. His poetry, and his literary life, would seem to have been expressions of independence. In a review ofThe White Thresholdfrom 1950, Edwin Morgan saw Graham as remaining ‘undistracted and unwooed’, while Calvin Bedient in 1974 assumed that ‘[his] cultivated eccentricity argues the right to stand alone’.² But independence had its price. Others have seen Graham’s poetry, at least up toThe Nightfishing(1955), as only too dependent on the...

  19. From Dear Bryan Wynter
    (pp. 131-131)
  20. 8 Achieve Further through Elegy
    (pp. 132-158)

    When Edwin Morgan was called up to do military service in 1940 he destroyed most of his correspondence, including all but one letter from W.S. Graham. The sole survivor was a crumpled page that Morgan salvaged for his essay ‘A Poet’s Letters’. Edwin Morgan chose to begin the tribute to his friend with this early letter because ‘it show[ed] two things which were always important to Graham: the reading aloud of poetry and the influence of music.’¹ That small remnant of correspondence is a fitting point of entry for my essay too because of the differing notes on which it...

  21. Letter X – My dear so many times
    (pp. 159-159)
  22. 9 Graham and the Numinous: The ‘Centre Aloneness’ and the ‘Unhailed Water’
    (pp. 160-184)

    W.S. Graham’s poem ‘The Constructed Space’ inMalcolm Mooney’s Landhas become something of a landmark for readers of his poetry. Here Graham, despite his frequent refusals to offer easy interpretations of or explanations for his writing, seems to be providing a remarkably concise enactment of what so often happens, or nearly happens, in it. In line with much of his other work, what happens in ‘The Constructed Space’ has to do with the limits of speech, with the attempt to approach the other that is hoped to exist beyond the limits of the self, and with the discovery of...

  23. From Johann Joachim Quantz’s Five Lessons
    (pp. 185-185)
  24. 10 The Poetry of W.S. Graham
    (pp. 186-194)

    Although he has not reprinted all his early poems – there are a fair number omitted fromCage Without Grievanceand2ND Poems, andThe Seven Journeysis not represented at all – the uncompromising chronological arrangement of his ‘Collected’ presents Graham’s readers with a dense initial verbal blast or barrage redolent of the whole heady iconolatry of the 1940s, and they must persist through these vatic voluntaries until they reach the clearer air ofThe White Threshold(1949),The Nightfishing(1955), and the later work of the 1970s. In the early poems, the word is king but meaning is not; and...

  25. Further Reading
    (pp. 195-196)
  26. General Index
    (pp. 197-202)
  27. Index of Graham’s Works
    (pp. 203-205)