Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A poet's nurturing



Obviously I am in a mood to reminisce.

At the very same conference, the first Temenos Conference held at Dartington Hall in Devon, at which I met the artist, Thetis Blacker, http://ncolloff.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/a-painter-of-inner-vision.html, I met the poet and Blake scholar, Kathleen Raine, for the first time, except in this case, the path of meeting had been prepared.

I was at university in London when, on one Saturday afternoon, I visited the Watkins Bookshop in Cecil Court, off the Charing Cross Road in London. I knew of it because it features in the second volume of Raine's autobiography, 'The Land Unknown', that I had read for the first time at school at the prompting of a friend. Watkins, which still exists, is a bookshop devoted to the 'alternative', the spiritual, the esoteric. That afternoon I found a copy of the second edition of 'Temenos: A Review devoted to the Arts of the Imagination' (published by Watkins) and edited primarily by Kathleen (and three others). I bought it and life was never the same.

I bought it because Kathleen had proved a 'key' - first to my readings of William Blake who I had encountered when at school (and had often read on afternoon's from school pretending to be ill) and found both entrancing and difficult. It was not until I found a copy of Raine's 'Blake and the New Age' in my public library that I began, fitfully, to see beyond the sense of Blake (to quote Eliot) into the meaning. Second because I read her three volumes of autobiography and had seen her when she came to give a poetry reading in Stratford, my hometown, and, with a friend, we had attempted, and failed, to screw up the courage to talk to her afterwards!

Now, having devoured Temenos, I wrote to her, speaking of an experience that I had at the age of eleven which, to that date, I had told no one. She wrote back with grace and sympathy and left a door open for further correspondence which I took. Four years and many letters later, I found myself, young, introverted and scared, hovering to speak to her at the Dartington conference.

She was talking to another participant and finishing turned to me saying, "And you must be Nicholas! I have been carrying your last letter to me around in my handbag as a talisman"!

What does one say? I have forgotten but for the remaining days of the conference she would come up to me and ask, "And how do you think our conference is going?" as if I were her most intimate collaborator! A young man, insecure, could only flower in that beam of light. I will remain always grateful for the attention paid that continued afterwards in frequent invitations to lunch and tea and the most wonderful of conversations.

One element of which I recall was always to ask her conversation partner whether they remembered - the X canto in Dante or the Y chapter in Proust - not whether they knew X or Y. It was an act of the most delicate courtesy because you could always either answer yes or feign temporary loss of memory! It assumed always that you were as well read or educated and you flourished in that assumption, even if its truthfulness was not always so, after all, afterwards, you could strive ever onwards.




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