Pybus, Rodney

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PYBUS, Rodney

Nationality: British. Born: Newcastle upon Tyne, 5 June 1938. Education: Rossall School, Lancashire, 1951–56; Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (exhibitioner), 1957–60, B.A. 1960, M.A.1965. Family: Married Ella Johnson in 1961; two sons. Career: Teacher, Aiglon College, Switzerland, 1960–61, and Firfield Road Boys School, Newcastle, 1961–62; journalist, Newcastle Journal, 1962–64; writer and producer, Tyne Tees Television, Newcastle, 1964–76; tutor in the Adult Education Poetry Workshop, University of Newcastle, 1974–76; lecturer in English and mass communication, Macquarie University, Sydney, 1976–79; literature officer, Northern Arts, Cumbria, 1979–81; tutor, University of Liverpool Department of Extension Studies, 1981–82. Since 1982 full-time writer. Australian editor, 1976–79, deputy-editor, 1991–93, co-editor, 1993–98, and since 1999 associate editor, Stand Magazine, Leeds. Awards: Alice Hunt Bartlett prize, 1973; Arts Council fellowship, 1982, 1985; National Poetry Competition, Third prize, 1988; Hawthornden fellowship, 1989; Peterloo Poetry Competition prize, 1989; BBC Wildlife Poetry Competition prizewinner, 1997. Address: 21 Plough Lane, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2AU, England.



In Memoriam Milena. London, Chatto and Windus, 1973.

Bridging Loans and Other Poems. London, Chatto and Windus, 1976.

At the Stone Junction. Newcastle upon Tyne, Northern House, 1978.

The Loveless Letters. London, Chatto and Windus, 1981.

Wall, with others, edited by Noel Connor. Brampton, Cumbria, LYCPress, 1981.

Talitha Cumi, with David Constantine. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1983.

Cicadas in Their Summers: New and Selected Poems 1965–1985. Manchester, Carcanet, 1988.

Flying Blues. Manchester, Carcanet, 1994.

Other Editor, with William Scammell, Adam's Dream: Poems from Cumbria and Lakeland. Ambleside, Cumbria Literature, 1981.


Manuscript Collection: Literary and Philosophical Library, Newcastle upon Tyne; University of Hull Library.

Critical Studies: "La Beauté dans l'Oeuvre de Rodney Pybus" by Alain Suberchicot, in Cahiers (Pau, France), 16, 1989; "Some Poets Now" by Jon Silkin, in The Life of Metrical and Free Verse in Twentieth-Century Poetry, New York, Macmillan, 1997.

Rodney Pybus comments:

Different historical periods and characters have often given me a means of focusing on the present. Through the use of personae I have tried both to make more personal and at the same time to distance my attempts at dramatizing my response to political and moral issues. I take it as a given that the world and the word are inextricable and that poetry in its many languages should never be thought of solely as matters of aesthetic concern.

More recently I have used birds and butterflies as images of nature and emblems of human desires and feelings. And I have experimented in the second part of Flying Blues with a new form, a verse novella told in letters, in an attempt to combine some of the energies of an unfolding narrative with an exploration of moral and artistic themes, to reclaim, in other words, some of the ground that poetry has ceded to fiction.

*  *  *

Many of the most successful of Rodney Pybus's poems are those that confront the extremes of contrast between the world of possibilities and the horror man has made of it: "Strange to think / The same language, the same letters / written by Hitler and Heine." This he manages via historical personae, sometimes ancient (Petronius or Procopius), sometimes more recent (Milena Jesenská, the friend of Kafka, or Yevgeny Zamyatin). The parallels between Nero's Rome and Hitler's Germany are telling, and the way of coping with them, enduring them, are similar. The adoption of either a carapace of stoicism or an urbane disdain is nevertheless vulnerable, for sooner or later life's acid will dissolve it or the jackboot smash it. Yet the spirit, manifest in an often oblique dignity, remains untouched: "I am the conscience that runs out."

This is not a cry of despair but rather a restatement of human dignity in its refusal to flinch from the truth. The language, too, especially in those poems set in ancient Rome or Constantinople, underlines this. The modern colloquialisms not only bring the situations into relation with the twentieth century but also are an expression of the sardonic intelligence that protects the mind from the horrors it encounters:

I despair, Caius, I despair!
Everything is in the hands
of that trigger-happy
paranoid lecher—
except me, thank heaven!

The poems in which the subject is external nature, for example, "Foxes" and "Stoop," are sharply observed and often hold the reader by means of startling images, as in "Greenfinch":

by hunger or habit, it jerks
its food out in a parody
of famine—broad bill
bashing into nuts,
then filching slivers
between the strings
as if they sizzled—
cocking its head
like that of a tiny
galvanised parrot.

The violence of "bashing," "sizzled," and "galvanised" forces the reader's attention.

But good as they are, these poems have the air of exercises, for others have treated the subjects, and as well, before. It is when Pybus explores the emotional world of the survival of individual values in a situation in which such values have collapsed or achieves an empathy with the exceptional, as in his poem on Samuel Palmer, "Summer's Lease," that he is his own man and writes poems that only he could have written.

John Cotton