Richard Caddel

Poet, publisher and editor of Basil Bunting

Friday 11 April 2003 00:00
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Richard Ivo Caddel, poet, publisher and editor: born Bedford 13 July 1949; staff, Durham University Library 1972-2000, Director, Basil Bunting Poetry Centre 1988-2003; married 1971 Ann Barker (one daughter, and one son deceased); died Durham 1 April 2003.

Richard Caddel was a poet and a champion of poetry as publisher, editor, anthologist and organiser. That he was not better known is perhaps due to a predilection for "edges", those areas marginalised by geography, commerce or choice which his friend and fellow poet Jaan Kaplinski called the "wandering borders".

Caddel was born in 1949 and grew up in Gillingham, in Kent, and went to read Music at Newcastle University, soon adding English and History. Basil Bunting was then the university's Poetry Fellow, and to one who had, as he later said, "started reading and writing poems for the excitement of the physical impact of words joined together", Bunting's example, and work, was a revelation. Caddel began to realise a poetry rich enough to mirror the actual world, compositionally complex enough not to need an external music.

In 1971, the year he graduated, Caddel married Ann Barker and after training as a librarian took up a job at Durham University Library. This was the time of the "British Poetry Revival"; the North-East was active in its own right, and Caddel was fundamental. He assisted Connie Pickard in running the Morden Tower reading series; he and Ann started their poetry imprint, Pig Press.

After some years commuting from Newcastle (his early poetry runs to the rhythm of local trains) the Caddels, with two young children, Tom and Lucy, moved permanently to Durham, where he set up the Colpitts reading series. Pig Press went on to produce many important and beautifully designed books from poets well and less well-known: Tony Baker, Robert Creeley, Roy Fisher, Lee Harwood, Barry MacSweeney, Carl Rakosi, Colin Simms.

Caddel quietly displayed a sense of reciprocity towards the poetry community; you are published, so you publish; you read, so you arrange readings – sociably and convivially. Friends and family activities and words find a home in his writing::

the work's all done kids

grown up through

all their teeth . . .

A poetry that in lesser hands might have been merely private or occasional was made able, through the generosity of attention to human detail, to speak in a wider social space. This work is gathered in Sweet Cicely (1983). His next major collection, Uncertain Time (1990), reflects the politics of the 1980s, setting "the realm of / false, muddled argument" against "that contact / with the world in which / (for which) / I live / . . .", the small delights of "voice, steps / little gusts, plants, things // we love in balance".

In the late 1980s Caddel took over the library's European Documentation Centre. This provided opportunities for foreign travel – and meeting local poets, fruitful contacts which led to readings and publications. When Durham University acquired Bunting's papers, Caddel was instrumental in establishing the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre, which promotes academic research and living poetry, hosting readings and lectures by the likes of Robert Creeley and Eric Mottram. With commercial interest in Bunting's work waning, Caddel's compilation of Uncollected Poems (1991) was an important piece of rescue archaeology which enabled his editing of Complete Poems (1994).

An enduring outcome of Caddel's commitment to contemporary writing is the acclaimed Other: British and Irish poetry since 1970, co-edited with Peter Quartermain (1999). A larger readership on both sides of the Atlantic could now encounter a poetry other than that of commercial, "high-street" presses. A broader poetic community was also reached by Caddel's founding, in 1996, the first e-mail poetry listserv in the UK, "British and Irish Poets", which he co-ordinated for five years.

In 1995 the Caddels' lives were radically altered by the accidental death of their son, Tom; away at university, he slipped and fell through an inadequately shielded stairwell. Much of Richard Caddel's remaining writing was to be coloured by this loss. For the Fallen (1997) is a hundred poems derived from the old Welsh Gododdin, itself a series of elegies for dead sons; Tom becomes one among others, set into "highstrung history". The closing words of Larksong Signal (1997), a book curtailed, are "So I / stumble to rest missing you, not twenty"; yet it opens celebrating his daughter Lucy's vitality: "you laugh, / are ardent / in what you do. // I love you / for that, too."

In 1999 Richard Caddel was diagnosed with leukaemia. He took early retirement from the library, and he and Ann closed down Pig Press. This was not, however, a retreat but a clearing of the decks; in the next couple of years he was to travel widely, not least to give readings. Translations started to appear – into Czech, Dutch and Estonian – and Magpie Words, a substantial "selected", was published in 2002. Its alphabetical arrangement shows the corpus as if it were a single poem, working through transitions and disjunctures, jumps and flows. "Counter" almost celebrated the white blood cells of his leukaemia: "too much / clogging the bee / dance step / stem cell leap . . ."; it concludes in a "signal / towards an unknown".

Harry Gilonis

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