The Deadbury Poets' Society

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The Independent Online
I have very nearly decided to become a poet. It seems to me that for little actual output, your poet stands in a fair way to attract a great deal of admiration, do a bit of good, and generally forget the world.

The idea came to me after a dramatic evening in the Feathers in Ledbury. It began when Howard Pugh, the charismatic youngish auctioneer, sold off a scruffy black-and-white cottage near Dymock (near Ledbury) which even his own details described as being 'in need of total overhaul and refurbishment'.

I like the cut of Pugh's jib. He has clipped speech, clipped hair and steel caps on the heels of his shoes. He is sharp, but humorous. Months ago, he sold my very gaseous Danish wood-burning stove in one of his monthly odds-and-sods auctions in a local village hall, among all those Lovejoys. He is still smoking like a convict. The fag, habitually snug in his cupped hand, was behind his back between drags.

He did not alter his style just because the Feathers is mildly posh. 'No more, Sir? You are going to lose this nice property to the bid on the right of the room . . . ?' The eyebrow was raised, and the question was left hovering in the air like a curl of gunsmoke. Pugh's auctioneering style is the ideal mix of invitation and threat. Those of us who aren't bidding feel like gooseberries. The bidders are at least properly involved. They are in the game, for better or worse: we are just hoverers. We are like people who don't smoke or bet or flirt.

The cottage had the distinction of being lived in by Robert Frost, and Edward Thomas was persuaded to become a poet while walking the fields thereabouts with his American friend. My Ledbury chums and I had made a party of the sale: a couple of pints in the bar, and then up to the selling session in the rather too done-over and fluffy conference room. I would have liked it best, I expect, two or three incarnations previously, when it probably had no carpets and some brownish paint.

Someone rumoured to be a builder from Newport paid pounds 39,000 for the privilege of having an amazing amount of work to do, and will have his retirement dogged by assiduous American tourists. The new owners said they weren't especially poetic, but had just fallen in love with the place.

One or two of the county's arts mafia had decided to use the auction as a rendezvous for the formation of a new society, the Friends of the Dymock Poets. Ledbury is familiarly called Deadbury by its less enchanted citizens, so the Deadbury Poets' Society would have had a certain ring to it. However, I was too shy to say anything - let alone anything tart - and sat as good as gold while Herefordshire's poet in residence, or some such, said some useful things about poetry, some rather boringly PC things about life in general and read verse pretty well.

Suddenly it came to me. A woman was asking how many in the room wrote poetry, and quite a few hands went up. But not mine. Yet at 15 the versification fairly flew out of me, and nowadays I am quite often assailed by mad feelings of empathy and loathing and excitability which ought to be the stuff of sonnets.

Over the weekend, I was out cider-apple picking in the brilliant autumn sun with the boy who sells bulls' semen, and I tried out the idea on him. I thought he might guffaw. Not a bit of it. He said he liked poetry himself, and I am almost sure he said he liked to write it a bit, and that his girlfriend couldn't be stopped from writing it.

Emboldened, I asked him if he might come and help at a poetry-reading that I had agreed to give. He said of course. The scheme is this. A local sculptress and a painter friend are running a weekend of country air and painting lessons. It is all to go on in an exquisitely converted hop-kiln over by Bromyard. The last time I looked, the place didn't have a roof, but things have moved apace since then, we are assured. I and the bull-wanker and a truck-driver of the sculptress's acquaintance are going to do our (free) best to entertain the painter-punters on one of their evenings, after supper.

I suppose we will have to read some Robert Frost and others of his generation who were locals, at least for a while. I feel more comfortable with Amis, Ecclesiastes, Betjeman, T S Eliot and some of Auden. I will have a go at some Gerard Manley Hopkins. Perhaps some Larkin. I used to like Milton, and might try that.

I once heard Ludovic Kennedy recite some Donne - I think it was Donne - by way of warm-up before his Did You See? television show. That was one of the most powerful poetry moments I remember. Michael Winner and Beryl Bainbridge and I sat there preparing to say probably not very much into the camera, and Ludo's perfect, grand, dry voice spoke - it certainy did not intone or emote - terrible, deadly lines about how bloody and yet rich everything was. We were being mocked, in the countdown to showing off, and serve us right. And, of course, Ludo was showing off, too, because he knew exactly how to rattle off his poetry and arrive at the end of it just as he was cued in to say, 'Hallo, and good evening . . .' or whatever it was.

I am keen on a bit of swank but, of course, the excitement of poetry is how fearfully - as well as luxuriantly - exposed a poet, or even a poetry-declaimer, is. I think Mr Pugh would make a good member of our poetry-circus. He's used to standing up and challenging people to reach into their wallets. Touching their feelings ought to be a doddle compared to that. I am sure he would understand something as economical as poetry, and would not at all mind that it was not necessarily economic.