Helpston 2008 (A personal reflection)

SO much to think about from a memorable weekend at the festival in Helpston. As always it is not just a meeting of 'literary types', but, well, fun!
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Ronnie Blythe's talk was, as always, most interesting, taking as its theme Clare's lack of paper on which to write, and how how desperate he became from time to time. How Ronnie has kept up the 'gold standard' of erudition, humour and learning is quite breathtaking -- who else would (and could) raise such a simple difficulty and be able to comment in such a fascinating way. His description (as asides) of Edmund Blunden's drinking capacity, and Charles Causley's exaggerated limp to stop the traffic, brought the house down.
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Dave Townsend's exploration of "Poets and fiddlers: musical traditions in the poetry of Clare and Hardy" was, especially for non-musicians, intriguing and informative. Made me go a purchase a copy of George Deacon's "John Clare and the folk tradition" from the Peakirk Books stall.

The Mellstock Band's evening performance of "A Midsummer Cushion - Music and Songs of John Clare" was masterful. In some ways a musical exploration of Dave's afternoon talk, mixing Clare's words and music he collected, with his journal entries. Dave's final piece, "Hopes and Ashes" (Fantasia based on Old Through the Wood Laddie in the Clare MSS) hit for me, that sense of longing and loss that I find so touching in Clare's work. As a long term fan of the band I was entranced, as it seemed were the rest of the audience. Thank you Dave.

Lovely to see Professor Eric Robinson present (from Virginia) in eloquent and amusing form. We all owe Eric a debt of gratitude for his magisterial work on the Clare corpus. He plans to be in England until August, yes, working amongst other things, on Clare manuscripts in Northampton and Peterborough. Among his revelations was an amusing description of appearing on "In Town Tonight" that long-running BBC Radio and later Television programme, with presenter Cliff Michelmore, in the late 1950s!
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Hail scenes obscure so near & dear to me
The church the brook the cottage & the tree
Still shall obscurity reherse the song
& hum your beauties as I stroll along
(Lines 47-50 of Clare's "Helpstone")

1 comment:

Mandy said...

Well said, Mr. Rowe!
I'd add three cheers, too, for all the work-- before and during-- of the Leveringtons and Peter Moyse and 'Anna of the Gallery'! Living locally, they've been especially bustling about to ensure everything was ready and went well.

The people in the village also help to make it a lovely weekend-- very welcoming to the sudden flock of incomers (I was even offered a spare room or a back garden to camp in by a few ladies at the Bluebell; that's goodwill indeed!), and the village hall lunches and teas are a treat!