Ted Hughes: Collected Poems

Even though this painting isn’t quite finished yet, I’ve used it as a mock-up for a cover of Ted Hughes’ Collected Poems. My copy runs to over 1300 pages and if I ever dropped it on your foot, I’d be paying a visit to A&E. In recent years ‘Uncle Ted’ has become an important figure to me, as his vision of the world is one I feel more in common with than would have been the case even ten years ago. If I’d discovered his work much earlier in life, how different things might have been? But, as Keith Sager defines it in The Art of Ted Hughes, being raised in West Yorkshire (as both Ted and I were) does give provide a robust foundation of values – “dignity and decency, good neighbourliness, solidarity” – but also points out that “the opposite side of the coin is stifling respectability, a self-righteous and self-denying puritanism, and an aggressive self-congratulatory materialism and philistinism. Against the realities of work and muck and brass, all intellectual or artistic activity is traditionally scorned as effeminate and wasteful.” In such an environment, you quickly learn to suppress your Romantic tendencies, and that did much to distance me from my true artistic leanings for decades. Now older and wiser, with another fellow Yorkshireman as Poet Laureate, I can admit to a liking for poetry without the residual fear of getting beatean up. Perhaps more than most other mediums, it’s allowed a lot of pretentious twats to get more attention than they deserve, but when poetry is done right, it’s more effective than music or fiction to get right down to what’s important. As Ted himself said of his own poetry: “I don’t just jot these things down, you know. If I can’t bring them out of the pit I don’t get them.”

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