Monday 14 November 2016

Jack Clemo revisited

‘He has rendered an industrial landscape more completely and more successfully than any English poet except possibly Auden’  said the New Statesman, of the visionary Cornish poet Jack Clemo.

The landscape is that of the china clay industry, a weird chalk-white lunar terrain of vast excavations and pyramidal slag heaps, of luminous turquoise lakes and surreal combinations of colour and contour.

I think Clemo bears comparison with Auden on several counts. Not simply Auden's love of dilapidated industrial plant (and of lead mines in particular), but their shared Christianity, and their eccentric but essentially humane view of the world.

I blogged three years ago about Jack Clemo (pronounced 'clemmo') and, while I can hardly take any responsibility for the revival of interest in his life and work since then, it's certainly wonderful to see.
Clay Phoenix: A Biography of Jack Clemo by Luke Thompson was published earlier this year followed by a Selected Poems from Enitharmon with an introduction by Rowan Williams.

Now Luke Thompson has set up Guillemot Press, an 'Independent Publisher of Pamphlets and Beautiful Books', and among the first publications is a short story by Clemo: The Clay Dump, written in 1950 but only now appearing in print. It's very short and very good indeed. Lucy Gribble, forty-year-old school caretaker lives a lonely and unfulfilled life and is subject to the constant scrutiny of her neighbours when, to make a little money, she takes in lodgers.  Blinking back the tears I was reminded of Flaubert's Un cœur simple.

© Guillemot Press

Clemo, as the publisher's note puts it, 'inherited a disease from his father' and became profoundly deaf and blind before he was forty. His personal circumstances were often wretched, but he found love and consolation quite late in life and his poetry is often magnificent.

Guillemot gets everything right. The Clay Dump is in a beautiful limited edition of 225 and, at £5, an extraordinary bargain. Order it from the publisher here.

1 comment:

  1. Celebrating your blog, I just ordered the book you suggest.....
    Hope you keep going --- always full of interesting info.....