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Redgrove, Peter (William)

REDGROVE, Peter (William)


Nationality: British. Born: Kingston, Surrey, 2 January 1932. Education: Taunton School, Somerset; Queens' College, Cambridge. Family: Married 1) Barbara Redgrove (marriage dissolved), two sons (one deceased) and one daughter; 2) Penelope Shuttle, q.v., in 1980, one daughter. Career: Scientific journalist and editor, 1954–61; visiting poet, State University of New York, Buffalo, 1961–62; Gregory Fellow in poetry, Leeds University, 1962–65; poet-inresidence, Falmouth School of Art, Cornwall, 1966–83; O'Connor Professor, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, 1974–75; Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow, 1985–87; writer-at-large, North Cornwall Arts, 1988. Awards: Fulbright fellowship, 1961; Arts Council grant, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1982; Guardian Prize, for fiction, 1973; Prudence Farmer award, 1977; Imperial Tobacco award, for radio play, 1978; Giles Cooper award, for radio play, 1981; Italia Prize, for radio play, 1982; Cholmondeley award, 1985. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1982; Queen's Gold Medal for poetry, 1997. Agent: David Higham Associates, 5–8 Lower John Street, London W1R 4HA, England. Address: One Arwyn Place, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 4BB, England.

Publications

Poetry

The Collector and Other Poems. London, Routledge, 1960.

The Nature of Cold Weather and Other Poems. London, Routledge, 1961.

At the White Monument and Other Poems. London, Routledge, 1963.

The Force and Other Poems. London, Routledge, 1966.

The God-Trap. London, Turret, 1966.

The Old White Man. London, Poet and Printer, 1968.

Penguin Modern Poets II, with D.M. Black and D.M. Thomas. London, Penguin, 1968.

Works in Progress MDMLXVIII. London, Poet and Printer, 1969.

The Mother, the Daughter and the Sighing Bridge. Oxford, Sycamore Press, 1970.

The Shirt, the Skull and the Grape. Frensham, Surrey, Sceptre Press, 1970.

Love's Journeys. Cardiff, Second Aeon, 1971.

The Bedside Clock. Oxford, Sycamore Press, 1971.

Love's Journeys: A Selection. Crediton, Devon, Gilbertson, 1971.

Dr. Faust's Sea-Spiral Spirit and Other Poems. London, Routledge, 1972.

Two Poems. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press. 1972.

The Hermaphrodite Album, with Penelope Shuttle. London, Fuller d'Arch Smith, 1973.

Sons of My Skin: Selected Poems 1954–1974, edited by Marie Peel. London, Routledge, 1975.

Aesculapian Notes. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1975.

Skull Event. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1977.

Ten Poems. London, Words Press, 1977.

The Fortifiers, The Vitrifiers, and the Witches. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1977.

From Every Chink of the Ark and Other New Poems. London, Routledge, 1977.

Happiness. Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, Priapus, 1978.

The White, Night-Flying Moths Called "Souls." Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1978.

The Weddings at Nether Powers and Other New Poems. London, Routledge, 1979.

The First Earthquake (single poem). Knotting, Bedfordshire, MartinBooth, 1980.

The Apple-Broadcast and Other New Poems. London, Routledge, 1981.

The Working of Water. Durham, Taxus Press, 1984.

A Man Named East and Other New Poems. London, Routledge, 1985.

The Mudlark Poems and Grand Buveur. London, Rivelin Grapheme Press, 1986.

In the Hall of the Saurians. London, Secker and Warburg, 1987.

The Moon Disposes: Poems 1954–1987. London, Secker and Warburg, 1987; enlarged edition, as Poems 1954–1987, London, Penguin, 1989.

The First Earthquake (collection). London, Secker and Warburg, 1989.

Dressed as for a Tarot Pack. Exeter, Devon, Taxus Press, 1990.

The Laborators. Exeter, Devon, Stride, 1993.

My Father's Trapdoors. London, Cape, 1994.

Abyssophone. Exeter, Devon, Stride, 1995.

Assembling a Ghost. London, Cape, 1996.

Orchard End. Exeter, Devon, Stride, 1997.

Selected Poems. London, Cape, 1999.

Plays

The Sermon: A Prose Poem (broadcast, 1964). London, Poet and Printer, 1966.

Three Pieces for Voices. London, Poet and Printer, 1972.

In the Country of the Skin (broadcast, 1973). Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1973.

Miss Carstairs Dressed for Blooding and Other Plays. London, Boyars, 1976.

The God of Glass (broadcast, 1977). London, Routledge, 1979.

The Hypnotist (produced Plymouth, 1978).

Martyr of the Hives (broadcast, 1980). Published in Best Radio Plays of 1980, London, Eyre Methuen, 1981.

Radio Plays: The Nature of Cold Weather, 1961; The White Monument, 1963; The Sermon, 1964; The Anniversary, 1964; The Case, 1965; Double Bill, 1965; In the Country of the Skin, 1973; The Holy Sinner, from a novel by Thomas Mann, 1975; Dance the Putrefact, music by Anthony Smith-Masters, 1975; The God of Glass, 1977; Martyr of the Hives, 1980; Florent and the Tuxedo Millions, 1982; The Sin-Doctor, 1983; Dracula in White, 1984; The Scientists of the Strange, 1984; Time for the Cat-Scene, 1985; The Valley of Trelamia, 1986; Ashiepaddle, The Three Feathers, The Juniper Tree, The One Who Set Out to Study Fear, The Master Thief, and The Flounder, all from stories by the Grimm Brothers. 1987; An Inspector Named Horse, 1997.

Television Plays: Mr. Waterman, 1961; Jack Be Nimble (Leap in the Dark series), 1980.

Novels

In the Country of the Skin. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1972.

The Terrors of Dr. Treviles, with Penelope Shuttle. London, Routledge, 1974.

The Glass Cottage: A Nautical Romance, with Penelope Shuttle. London, Routledge, 1976.

The God of Glass. London, Routledge, 1979.

The Sleep of the Great Hypnotist. London, Routledge, 1979.

The Beekeepers. London, Routledge, 1980.

The Facilitators; or, Mr. Hole-in-the-Day. London, Routledge, 1982.

Short Stories

The One Who Set Out to Study Fear. London, Bloomsbury, 1989.

What the Black Mirror Saw. Exeter, Devon, Stride, 1997.

Other

The Wise Wound: Menstruation and Everywoman, with Penelope Shuttle. London, Gollancz, 1978; as The Wise Wound: Eve's Curse and Everywoman, New York, Marek, 1979; revised edition, London, Grafton, 1986.

The Black Goddess and the Sixth Sense. London, Bloomsbury, 1987; as The Black Goddess and the Unseen Real: Our Unconscious Senses and Their Uncommon Sense, New York, Grove Press, 1988.

Alchemy for Women: Personal Transformation through Dreams and the Female Cycle, with Penelope Shuttle. N.p., Rider Books, 1995.

Editor, Poet's Playground 1963. Leeds, Schools Sports Association, 1963.

Editor, Universities Poetry 7. Keele, Universities Poetry Management Committee, 1965.

Editor, with John Fuller and Harold Pinter, New Poems 1967. London, Hutchinson, 1968.

Editor, with Jon Silkin, New Poetry 5. London, Hutchinson, 1979.

Editor, Cornwall in Verse. London, Secker and Warburg, 1982.

*

Manuscript Collections: Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin; Brotherton Library, University of Leeds; Sheffield University Library.

Critical Studies: "Peter Redgrove" by Paddy Kitchen, in Times Educational Supplement (London), 24 March 1971; "Peter Redgrove" by Marie Peel, in Books and Bookmen (London), April 1973; "Ways of Booming" by Douglas Dunn, in Encounter (London), September 1975; interview with Jed Rasula and Mike Erwin, in Hudson Review (New York), autumn 1975; "The Voice of the Green Man" by Anne Stevenson, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 18 November 1977; "Peter Redgrove Issue" of Poetry Review (London), September 1981; "Not Mad or Bad" by George Szirtes, in Quarto (London), January-February 1982; "Summer Cobwebs" by Peter Bland, in London Magazine, February 1982; interview with Michelene Wandor, in On Gender and Writing, London, Pandora Press, 1983; "Scientist of the Strange: An Interview with British Poet Peter Redgrove" by Philip Fried, in Manhattan Review, 3(1), summer 1983; "The Poetry of Dreams: An Interview with Peter Redgrove" by Valerie Sinason, in Changes (London), 1(4), 1983; "Interview with Peter Redgrove," in Poetry Review (London), June 1987, The Lover, The Dreamer and The World—The Poetry of Peter Redgrove, Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press, 1994, and "Dance of Being: The Poetry of Peter Redgrove," in British Poetry from the 1950s to the 1990s: Politics and Art, edited by Gary Day and Brian Docherty, London, Macmillan, and New York, St Martin's Press, 1997, all by Neil Roberts; "Control of the Life-Sources" by A.S. Byatt, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 12–18 August 1988; Peter Redgrove—A Flood of Poems, edited by Jeremy Robinson, N.p., Crescent Moon, 1994; "Singing the Real: The Later Poetry of Peter Redgrove" by Paul Bentley, in English (Leicester, England), 44(179), summer 1995.

*  *  *

"The most ordinary people have the most extraordinary dreams, and in them have a capacity for understanding and adaptation far beyond their waking lives," Peter Redgrove wrote in a review in the Guardian (12 April 1979). "Why do we so taboo the dream life when it is so plainly a continuum with the waking creative imagination?"

This continuum has always been a preoccupation of Redgrove's work, and most of his later poetry has had the free associations, the astonishing, surreal proliferation of details, and the magical transformations of plot and image we associate with dreaming. But even in his early poems Redgrove was concerned to explore that tabooed interface where the ordinary domesticated ego feels both appalled and exhilarated by the sweeping energies of an exuberant and amoral instinctual world. The house, invaded by apparently alien forces that turn out to be an essential part of its being, is a frequent symbol of this process. In the fine poem "Old House" the richly kinetic verbs and boisterous syntax record such an invasion with ambiguous enthusiasm. The man, trying to sleep but afraid of it (as in so many of these early poems), seems at first to be threatened by a dark, deathly force, suffocating in the debris of the past. It is not the past, however, but rather the future that terrifies, as the last line of each stanza indicates, speaking of a child not yet born and of the father's dread of bringing it into such a world. Only with the reassurance of the last stanza, which reduces his terror to a "silly agony" as his wife turns in her sleep and calls to him, does he learn "what children were to make a home for."

In poem after poem this theme is repeated, in "Expectant Father" and "Foundation," for example, or in "Bedtime Story for My Son," which turns in the end into a story aimed at reassuring the father as much as the child. The house seems to be haunted by the voice of a small boy. It finally becomes clear that the ghost is not the past but the future pressing into existence. The voice comes "from just underneath both our skins," and the poem concludes, like so many of these early ones, on a carefully prepared note of discovery, educating man and wife into love, procreation, and time, which carries as its obverse a grasping of the supersession latent in all fulfillment. In these early poems it is the tension between domesticity, responsibility, and the worried paternal ego in the hard-earned house and the spawning, heady, but anarchic powers of the instinct that makes for their success. The emotional strain of keeping the spiritual house in order gives the poems a linguistic resolution and vigor and a sense of contained energies. But the strain also breeds those nagging, fretful ghosts that haunt the early works, lurking in corners and unused rooms and in "Corposant" in a moldy larder. In "Ghosts" the realization to which the poem works in its last lines is that the terrace is haunted, after ten years of marriage, not by anything external but by the "bold lovers" themselves with their "hints of wrinkles. /Crows-feet and shadows," haunted, "like many places with rough mirrors now. /By estrangement, if the daylight's strong."

Later poems are more at ease, using a flamboyant and vertiginous whirl of language and imagery to communicate their sense of the vibrant energies of the natural world. "Lazarus and the Sea," in Redgrove's first volume, presages this development, initiating the theme of Orphic descent that is at times to overwhelm his poetry. Lazarus, dredged "back to my old problems and to the family" out of "the tide of my death," is resentful of his savior, feeling uprooted as if by some hostile judgment that charges him "with unfitness for this holy simplicity." An antinomian desire for return to such "holy simplicity" lies behind much of the later poetry. In The Weddings at Nether Powers, as the title suggests, the theme is still strong. In "Pleasing the Black Vicar" Redgrove speaks of wanting "to accept /The presence beyond the altar, beyond appearances," a wish that also lies behind the macabre yet strangely translucent parable of the emperor who wishes to be flayed in "The Son of My Skin" (Three Pieces for Voices). A note to The Weddings at Nether Powers tells us that "the poems descend, and return with something not thought or felt before." In a sense this is not just a descent into the unconscious of nature, into dream and the lost continent of the carnal body, but it is also a descent into the unconscious language, which has always for Redgrove been corporeal, tangible, fleshly.

In Redgrove's poems we move, as in "The House in the Acorn," through a series of opening and beckoning doors, losing ourselves in a more and more mysterious world where dimension and proportion are lost, a world where, as in "Dr. Faust's Sea-Spiral Spirit," "The roses have learnt to thunder" and "The plain pinafores alert themselves /And are a hive of angry spots," passing though the ritual mysteries of language as we go through the metamorphoses of a nature in which all is flux and entropy, creation and de-creation, decomposition and renewal. In "The Case" Redgrove offers a line that sums up this double process of discovery and return, in which all changes and all remains the same: "It was like a door opening on a door of flowers that opened on flowers that were opening." In "Power" he tells us that "we rose out of magma where power put his finger, /And the lines show." In "The Force" a mill wheel that produces electricity from a mountain beck becomes a symbol of the relation of consciousness to its unconscious sources: "It trembles with stored storms /That pulse across the rim to us, as light."

In The Apple-Broadcast electricity and water are again linked. Water is the Heraclitean flux that "makes her way, accustomed, /Into all places." In poem after poem it assumes a multitude of forms, traveling along the food chain and infusing the cells of animal and plant and human being alike in an electrochemical transfer of energies. The "apple broadcast" of the title is revealed in "Dream Kit" by a pun that blooms into literalness. Television and radio sets are "materialising cabinets" in which a reality in flux is made manifest: "The whole /Earth's atmosphere is a pond /Of trembling waves." But television is only an artificial dreaming kit compared with the dreaming mind "that pushes its tumbler /Into the river that flows /Under the skin." From the opening poem of the volume, with its wine glass left out on the patio overflowing with "thunderwater" greedily gulped down by the poet, to the title poem, which closes the volume, the poet is a divine for whom "Water is everywhere, and I think with it, /And remember with it" ("From the Life of a Dowser"), translating its broadcasts into speech acts and poems and his own life. Thus he propagates (again in a double sense) that message inscribed in the DNA of the genetic code, in which, as in "The Eye of Dr. Horus," the child is always the apple of the parent's eye and from whose eye in turn "the next life peers," reminding him of his own supplanting, so that "I can see that I am passing through /And withering as her gaze grows." Yet Redgrove refuses to be thrown by this sense of supersession, delighting rather in its reassurance of renewal.

Poems such as "The Idea of Entropy at Maenporth Beach," in which a girl in a white dress renews herself by a baptismal immersion in "the fat, juicy, incredibly tart muck" of the beach, and studies such as The Wise Wound, about menstruation, insist on recovering the rejected, the spurned, and the tacky origins of our being, restoring an image of the human as a living process of ingestion, excretion, sheddings, and growth, like the nature that is all flux and exhalation—wind, water, spore, and, in the title of one poem, "Nothing but Poking." Redgrove pursues this vision with a missionary zeal, even insisting, in the review cited above, "that the Special Theory of Relativity originated in a wet dream of the young Albert Einstein, in which he was riding through the universe astride a beam of light … Whether you think the story beautiful or ugly, possible or not, will depend on your knowledge of the true ways of the imagination."

—Stan Smith

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