A Lucid Dreamer: The Life of Peter Redgrove, By Neil Roberts
Out from the shadow of Ted
Sunday 15 January 2012
Here's a sentence you don't expect to see in the biography of a major poet: "Once Peter defecated on the sunroof of a parked car."
Redgrove was in his early thirties at the time, a teacher at Falmouth School of Art and a heavy drinker. Tellingly, Redgrove is "Peter" throughout Roberts's matey biography, just as his wife, the poet Penelope Shuttle, is always "Penny". This is a substantial and detailed life of a 20th-century poet always overshadowed by his friend Ted Hughes (Roberts thinks unfairly).
After a few early shocks (a sibling death, a mental breakdown, affairs), Redgrove's outer life was uneventful, tied to the lecture room and the study. Working from diaries and notes, Roberts therefore adopts a psychological approach, dedicating the bulk of the work to Redgrove's feverish compulsions, first and foremost of them "the Game", a lifelong sexual fetish involving rolling in mud. There's lots more strange stuff: physically resembling the occultist Aleister Crowley and fearing and hating his actual father, Redgrove once seriously investigated the possibility that his glamorous mother had had an affair with the Great Beast.
Apart from the abundant verse, which poured out of him from his Cambridge days onwards, he is probably most famous for The Wise Wound (1978), a taboo-busting study of menstruation written with Shuttle. Roberts makes clear that the subject was more of an obsession for the husband than the wife. For the rest of his life he plotted his emotions and activities on a "menstrual mandala".
All of this might go under the heading "too much information" were not the poems genuinely groundbreaking. Readers of this biography will continually want to consult the companion publication, a huge Collected Poems edited by Roberts (Cape, £25), which is almost dizzying in its creative plenitude and intellectual scope.
Along the way, Roberts conjures up a host of fascinating literary figures, such as the poets Martin Bell, Jon Silkin and the critic Philip Hobs-baum. The narrow focus can come as a surprise; given that Redgrove knew Sylvia Plath personally, it's strange that her death seems to have left no impact, and the copycat suicide of Hughes's next partner, Assia Wevill, isn't even mentioned. Roberts seems keen to play down the two poets' association, perhaps for fear that mighty Ted might take over.
But there's no chance of that. This is a portrait of a charismatic figure who awed and even frightened people with his crushing gifts; yet Redgrove had a humble side too. Drawn ever deeper into the occult, the venerable writer took a correspondence course in Wicca and submitted essays which were rather condescendingly ticked and marked. Although he soon gave up the course, his lack of ego is endearing. As Roberts shows, he wasn't afraid to look foolish, which gives him a paradoxical grandeur. It certainly makes this biography mind-bogglingly entertaining.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The truth about 'girl things': Three cheers for Heather Watson's honesty
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Men behaving badly: Urinating while standing, 'manspreading' and the gendering of selfishness
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd