Feature Articles

RICHARD CADDEL (1949-2003) by Neville Keery

(Poetry Ireland News, May/June 2003)

History decides who the great poets are.

Although I had known Richard Caddel since 1993, I only became aware of his status in the world of poetry when Sean Carey, in a lecture to the National Poet’s Convention last year, referred to him as a likely great of the modern movement.

Through working professionally with Richard at meetings in Europe where we were both specialists in European Union documentation, I gradually came to know him as a poet, an editor and publisher of poetry, and the Director of the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre. I learnt that his Pig Press had published from his home in Durham collections by the Irish poets Maurice Scully and Catherine Walsh, and that some of his own work was published by Randolph Healy’s Wild Honey Press in Co. Wicklow. He spoke warmly of a reading given in Dublin’s Winding Stair bookshop.

Richard’s concept of poetry as song made reading and performance important to him. He mobilised all his energies for readings. Although the onset of cancer had led some years ago to withdrawal from a number of professional obligations it was completely unexpected that death should silence him just weeks before a British Council-sponsored visit to Prague (April 2003).

Richard was often extremely generous in correspondence with people like myself who he knew were interested in poetry and were anxious to learn more. He could also be very direct and curt. I will miss the incisive messages arriving on Bunting Centre postcards. Each e-mail communication ended with the Briggflatts quotation: ‘Words! Pens are too light. Take a chisel to write.’

It will be of considerable value to scholars seeking to assess the importance of Richard Caddel that a collection of his slelected poems from 1970-2000, Magpie Words, was published by Alan Halsey at West House Books in 2002. Such schlars will also be helped by the republication of Anthony Flowers’ conversations with Richard Caddel, Quiet Music of Words, revised to coincide with the publication of Magpie Words. The poet was clear, however, that his latest collection was for readers rather than scholars. You can hear his sense of humour in the observation made in the sparse notes. Writing of readers and scholars he notes that ‘the two groups are district in my experience.’

Magpie Words carries the epigraph ‘Kind sirs, I could tell it all but every word is true.’

The poet tells us that he has chosen a ‘sequencing device’ rather than a chronological approach. He is anxious to make clear that any perceived ‘difficulties’ in his work are there because he ‘wanted them that way.’ ‘Reading the poems out loud will get round most of the tricky bits...’ he advises.

His notes shed some light on his writing experiments. One is an exercise in cut-up. Others owe debts to choral music and to poetry in the Welsh language. His final note, on the suite ‘Writing in the Dark’, talks on an ongoing exploratory methodology: ‘Some (rare) fine evenings in England, and others in Japan, together with a hand-hed Psion with a backlit screen, enabled me to sit out late and make the initial notes for these poems literally in the dark.’

Readers are now left in the dark, sad that a poet of such commitment and integrity is gone. I hope history may find a place for Richard Caddel.

Neville Keery’s new suite of poems, Temple Hill, was presented at a recent reading in the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre, Dublin.

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