Crossley-Holland, Kevin (John William)

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CROSSLEY-HOLLAND, Kevin (John William)

Nationality: British. Born: Mursley, Buckinghamshire, 7 February 1941. Education: Bryanston School; St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, M.A. (honors) in English language and literature 1962. Family: Married Linda Marie Waslien; two sons and two daughters by previous marriages. Career: Editor, Macmillan publishers, London, 1962–71; Gregory Fellow, University of Leeds, 1969–71; talks producer, BBC, London, 1972; editorial director, Victor Gollancz publishers, London, 1972–77; English lecturer, University of Regensburg, 1978–80. General editor, Mirror of Britain series, André Deutsch publishers, London, from 1975; editorial consultant, Boydell and Brewer publishers, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1983–89. Lecturer in English, Tufts in London program, 1967–78; Arts Council Fellow in English, Winchester School of Art, 1983, 1984; Visiting Fulbright Professor of English, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, 1987–88, 1989–90. Chair Literature Panel, Eastern Arts Association, 1986–89; trustee and chair, Friends of Wingfield College, 1989; Endowed Chair in Humanities and Fine Arts, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1990–95. Since 1998 co-founder and chair, Poetry-nextthe-Sea. Awards: Arts Council award, 1968, 1977, 1978; Library Association Carnegie Medal, 1986; Nottinghamshire book award, 1999; fellow, Royal Society of Literature. Agent: Rogers Coleridge and White, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN. Address: Clare Cottage, Burnham Market, Norfolk PE31 8HE, England.



On Approval. London, Outposts, 1961.

My Son. London, Turret, 1966.

Alderney: The Nunnery. London, Turret, 1968.

Confessional. Frensham, Surrey, Sceptre Press, 1969.

Norfolk Poems. London, Academy, 1970.

A Dream of a Meeting. Frenshman, Surrey, Sceptre Press, 1970.

More Than I Am. London, Steam Press, 1971.

The Wake. Richmond, Surrey, Keepsake Press, 1972.

The Rain-Giver and Other Poems. London, Deutsch, 1972.

Petal and Stone. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1975.

The Dream-House and Other Poems. London, Deutsch, 1976.

Between My Father and My Son. Minneapolis, Black Willow Press, 1982.

Time's Oriel and Other Poems. London, Hutchinson, 1983.

Above the Springline. London, Francis Kyle Gallery, 1986.

Waterslain and Other Poems. London, Hutchinson, 1986.

The Painting-Room and Other Poems. London, Century Hutchinson, 1988.

East Anglian Poems. Colchester, Jardine, 1988.

Oenone in January. Llandogo, Old Stile Press, 1988.

New and Selected Poems 1965–1990. London, Hutchinson, 1991.

Eleanor's Advent. Llandogo, Old Stile Press, 1992.

The Language of Yes. London, Enitharmon, and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour, 1996.

Poems from East Anglia. London, Enitharmon, 1997.


The Green Children (libretto), music by Nicola LeFanu (produced London, 1990).

The Wildman (libretto), music by Nicola LeFanu (produced London, 1995).

The Wuffings, with Ivan Cutting (produced London, 1997). London, Runetree Press, 1999.

Other (for children)

Havelok the Dane. London, Macmillan, 1964; New York, Dutton, 1965.

King Horn. London, Macmillan, 1965; New York, Dutton, 1966.

The Green Children. London, Macmillan, 1966; New York, Seabury Press, 1968.

The Callow Pit Coffer. London, Macmillan, 1968; New York, Seabury Press, 1969.

Wordhoard: Anglo-Saxon Stories, with Jill Paton Walsh. London, Macmillan, and New York, Farrar Straus, 1969.

The Pedlar of Swaffham. London, Macmillan, 1971; New York, Seabury Press, 1972.

The Sea-Stranger. London, Heinemann, 1973; New York, Seabury Press, 1974.

The Fire-Brother. London, Heinemann, and New York, Seabury Press, 1975.

Green Blades Rising: The Anglo-Saxons. London, Deutsch, 1975; New York, Seabury Press, 1976.

The Earth-Father. London, Heinemann, 1976.

The Wildman. London, Deutsch, 1976.

The Dead Moon and Other Tales from East Anglia and the Fen Country. London, Deutsch, 1982.

Beowulf. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1982.

Tales from the Mabinogion, with Gwyn Thomas. London, Gollancz, 1984.

Axe-Age, Wolf-Age: A Selection from the Norse Myths. London Deutsch, 1985.

Storm. London, Heinemann, 1985.

British Folk Tales: New Versions. London and New York, Orchard, 1987; selections as Boo!, Dathera Dad, Piper and Pooka, and Small-Tooth Dog, London, Orchard, 4 vols., 1988.

The Quest for Olwen, with Gwyn Thomas. Cambridge, Lutterworth Press, 1988.

Wulf. London, Faber, 1988.

Under the Sun and Over the Moon. London, Orchard, and New York, Putnam, 1989.

Sleeping Nanna. London, Orchard, 1989; New York, Ideal, 1990.

Sea Tongue. London, BBC Publications, 1991.

Tales from Europe. London, BBC Publications, 1992.

Long Tom and the Dead Hand. London, Deutsch, 1992.

The Labours of Herakles. London, Orion, 1993.

The Green Children. London, Oxford University Press, 1994.

The Old Stories: Tales from East Anglia and the Fen County. Cambridge, Colt Books, 1997.

Short! A Book of Very Short Stories. London, Oxford University Press, 1998.

The King Who Was and Will Be. London, Orion, and as King Arthur and His Court, New York, Dutton, 1999.


Pieces of Land: Journeys to Eight Islands. London, Gollancz, 1972.

The Norse Myths: A Retelling. London, Deutsch, and New York, Pantheon, 1980.

The Stones Remain: Megalithic Sites of Britain, photographs by Andrew Rafferty. London, Rider, 1989.

Editor, Running to Paradise: An Introductory Selection of the Poems of W.B. Yeats. London, Macmillan, 1967; New York, Macmillan, 1968.

Editor, Winter's Tales for Children 3. London, Macmillan, 1967.

Editor, Winter's Tales 14. London, Macmillan, 1968.

Editor, with Patricia Beer, New Poetry 2. London, Arts Council, 1976.

Editor, The Faber Book of Northern Legends [Northern Folktales] (for children). London, Faber, 2 vols., 1977–80.

Editor, The Riddle Book (for children). London, Macmillan, 1982.

Editor, Folk-Tales of the British Isles. London, Folio Society, 1985; New York, Pantheon, 1988.

Editor, The Oxford Book of Travel Verse. Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1986.

Editor, Northern Lights: Legends, Sagas and Folk-Tales. London, Faber, 1987.

Editor, Medieval Lovers: A Book of Days. London, Century Hutchinson, and New York, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988.

Editor, Medieval Gardens: A Book of Days. London, Garamond, and New York, Rizzoli, 1990.

Editor, Peter Grimes: The Poor of the Borough. London, Folio Society, 1990.

Editor, The Young Oxford Book of Folk-Tales. London, Oxford University Press, 1998.

Editor, with Lawrence Sail, The New Exeter Book of Riddles. London, Enitharmon, 1999.

Translator, The Battle of Maldon and Other Old English Poems, edited by Bruce Mitchell. London, Macmillan, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1965.

Translator, Beowulf. London, Macmillan, and New York, Farrar Straus, 1968.

Translator, Storm and Other Old English Riddles (for children). London, Macmillan, and New York, Farrar Straus, 1970.

Translator, The Exeter Riddle Book. London, Folio Society, 1978; as The Exeter Book of Riddles, London, Penguin, 1979.

Translator, The Anglo-Saxon World. Woodbridge, Suffolk, Boydell Press, 1982; New York, Barnes and Noble, 1983.

Translator, with Susanne Lugert, The Fox and The Cat: Animal Tales from Grimm. London, Andersen Press, 1985; New York, Lothrop, 1986.

Translator, The Wanderer. Colchester, Jardine, 1986.

Translator, The Seafarer. Llandogo, Old Stile Press, 1987.

Translator, The Old English Elegies. London, Folio Society, 1988.


Manuscript Collections: Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds; Lillian H. Smith and Osborne Collections, Toronto Public Library.

Critical Study: "Word-Formation and Poetic Language: Non-Lexicalized Nominal Compounds in the Poetry of Kevin Crossley-Holland" by Jean Boase-Beier, in Functionalism in Linguistics, edited by Rene Dirven and Vilem Fried, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 1987.

Kevin Crossley-Holland comments:

(1974) If the society reflected in Old English poetry now seems alien, many of its moods are wholly familiar, essentially English: an out-and-out heroism, a dogged refusal to surrender, a love of the sea, an enjoyment of melancholy, nostalgia. In translating it, my staple diet has been a nonsyllabic four-stress line controlled by light alliteration. There are plenty of cases, though, where I have not conformed to this pattern; my concern has been to echo rather than slavishly to imitate the originals. My diction inclines to the formal, though it certainly is less formal than that of the Anglo-Saxon poets; it seemed to me important at this time to achieve truly accessible versions of these poems that eschewed the use of archaisms, inverted word orders, and all "poetic" language. I have not gone out of my way to avoid words that spring from Latin roots, but the emphasis has fallen naturally on words derived from Old English. My translations are, I believe, faithful by and large to the letter of the originals, but it is the mood I have been after. And if I have not caught anything of it, then I have not succeeded in my purpose.

*  *  *

In Kevin Crossley-Holland one encounters a poet whose vision covers a wide sweep of history, one to whom remote past and immediate present reveal themselves as a continuous, related process. He is an accomplished translator of Old English literature, and his work demonstrates a definite kinship with the Anglo-Saxon poets and an admiration for the traditional virtues embodied in their writings. The qualities of rugged individualism, stoical endurance, loyalty, and truthfulness appear constantly in his poems, celebrated in a hard, laconic style pruned of all superfluities. Crossley-Holland has a storyteller's gifts, and such works as "Dead Moon," a retelling of East Anglian folktales, or his superb version of Beowulf for younger readers are proof of his ability. As a poet, he uses language that is at once spare and richly descriptive, with an inspired use of alliteration that is rendered effective in contemporary as well as historical contexts. In common with earlier writers, he is aware of the unyielding strength of the earth and of those bleak landscapes where man must either adapt or struggle to survive. Poems like "Hills" and "Fortification" emphasize the harshness of nature, its intractability to man, and his efforts to change it: "No little people come out of that hill. / It is gaunt grey whale. / Taking light, killing it, offering nothing." Yet for all their grimness, Crossley-Holland sees these forbidding regions as places of magic and is irresistibly drawn to them, regarding them as in some way essential to his own fulfillment and growth: "Yet here I come. Here alone I cannot sham. / The place insists that I know who I am."

This image of wasteland as heartland is further reinforced in Crossley-Holland's collections The Painting-Room and Other Poems, Waterslain and Other Poems, and East Anglian Poems. The last two works in particular reaffirm the poet's spiritual identification with the bare, marshy Norfolk coast, where land and sea merge uneasily together at the mercy of fierce winds and tides. Crossley-Holland's vision of his adopted homeland is tough and unsentimental, but this does not prevent him from finding beauty there: "The blue hour ends, this world / floats on a great stillness. / / I can only guess where marsh / finishes and sky begins, / / each grows out of the other." Yet even here danger lurks, the tide encroaching slowly to drown the last outposts of land, as when in "Shadows" the poet watches the sun set over the marsh: "O most loved when almost lost, / This most uncommon common place, / / Still at dark mysterious, / My sea-threatened wilderness." Making frequent use of half rhymes and tersely worded couplets, Crossley-Holland celebrates the elemental, untamed wasteland as something set apart from human life, a force that defies and outlasts man but at the same time continues to exercise a compelling hold upon him. Again and again he is drawn back to "this flux, this anchorage," which fuels his own growth as a writer: "Here you watch, you write, you tell the tides. / / You walk clean into the possible."

Practical and physical in his approach, an amateur archaeologist collecting history's evidence, Crossley-Holland has an outward toughness countered by his sensitivity when dealing with human relationships, the tenderness toward loved ones shown in such poems as "Rapids" or "A Wreath." He loves riddles, and humor surfaces occasionally in his work, as seen, for example, by his wry appraisal of three pretty archaeology students in "A Small Ritual." Able to portray the acts of heroes when required, he is also wary of hymning their glories. "At Mycenae," with its evocation of shepherds and flocks untroubled by the strife of gods or kings, reaffirms his commitment to more common lives. His writing concentrates on the universal themes of love and death, loneliness and exile, whether that of the Saxon "Wanderer," or the aging survivor of the British Raj in "Postcards from Kodai." Crossley-Holland's poems sometimes appear to compose themselves from a mass of fragments, the sharply observed images coalescing to form a distinctive whole. With equal assurance he presents visions of bare hillsides and remote marshlands, the reflections of a monk in pursuit of salvation, the terror of an old woman faced with death. In "Neenie" the random, disconnected utterances of his dying grandmother are made to take on the nature of a revelation: "I listen and think you are telling something / Greater than its parts, a breath and sum / of life itself, the ego dispossessed."

In Crossley-Holland's collections The Language of Yes and Poems from East Anglia love of family and community are further confirmed in such poems as "Still Life" and "Eleanor with Field Flowers," while elsewhere the poet ranges wider with tributes to the long-vanished Anasazi women of the American Southwest or, in "Alfred in the Alps," with visions of a Saxon king at a moment of crisis. Crossley-Holland calls up personal images and memories from references on a Victorian tithe map, hears music in unofficial venues during the Aldeburgh Festival, and visualizes an overgrown field as a Viking war host. His poetry reflects his abiding distrust of words for their own sake, the hollow promises of politicians denounced in the title poem of The Language of Yes. Instead he strives to reach and release the core of meaning that lies beneath sound or speech, striking resonances from harsh Old English materials, the "earth-words" evoked in "Translation Workshop: Grit and Blood," where he essays a translation of "The Battle of Maldon." Never losing his wry humor, he pokes fun at himself in "The Fox and the Poet," where he and his literary fellows are seen as a kind of vampire: "They are shape-changers. They dream and devour. / They translate you and take away your power." All the same, Crossley-Holland's is an intent, serious quest whose purpose is effectively stated in "One End of Singing" as a search for "not what words signify, but what they are, / each itself, each singular."

Poems from East Anglia brings together items from seven collections with some previously unpublished poems and celebrates the spiritual landscape that pervades so much of its author's writing. Central to it are the twenty-five poems from Waterslain, snapshot portraits of locations, characters, tales, and memories through which the atmosphere of the vast, bleak stretch of marsh and sky echoes with hypnotic power. Again Crossley-Holland creates affectionate family pictures and ponders the nature of his work, deciding that unease and discomfort are essential to his muse. "To the Edge," a new poem that ends the collection, reminds the reader that the poet's quest continues: "To an innocent page, damp and salty, and this fitful / pen / / To the edge that's always uncomfortable."

—Geoff Sadler