From “5 Career Moves Negotiated In The Dark On A Back Step In Northern Europe” (2000):

This heavy slab. Our memory,
tone of our plant life trained
to go round it. Beat
it out and we pulse
together, it’s a wonder
we don’t rave daily. Whack!
Whack! go another’s
psychotic dreams, the sad
sky path we all must walk.
Light goes, it does, now, so
stars show, us under them,
breathing, apart, blessed.

Richard Caddel was in a long line of excellent, obscure poets of the northeast of England, the old Northumbria celebrated by his teacher Basil Bunting. I was aware of him because of the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre he helped establish; thanks to wood s lot, I have discovered his own poetry, which I intend to investigate further. Caddel died of leukemia on April 1. From a memoir by Tony Baker:

Snails were bound to appeal to him: they move slowly — as he did, for he rarely enjoyed good health having been handed asthma and a fragile frame at birth — they do all with seeming deliberation and live along the margins of open spaces where their own fragile frames offer protection against most things except brute force. They’re emblematic of that affinity with borders and border creatures that Caddel made a primary political and aesthetic concern in his writing. It’s not by accident that his work has been translated, not into the more likely European languages, but principally into Czech, Estonian, Lithuanian, Polish and Dutch, regions either linguistically enclosed by more dominant tongues or sited on the frontier between an east and a west where local cultures have a long history of vulnerability to distant, dominant forces.
It’s the same affinity that allowed Caddel to identify with, and make his home in, the north-east; or more specifically that reduced part of the old Northumbria which approaches the Borders — the land extending from Lindisfarne, through the dales and hills as they fall into Cumbria. Born in Bedford in 1949 and brought up in Gillingham, he came to Newcastle as a student in 1968, studied music, english and history, subsequently qualifying as a librarian, and never again left the region. His meeting with Basil Bunting, who was the university’s poetry fellow at the time, was perhaps decisive in forging his links with the north east, for Bunting was not only an inspiring teacher whose poetic methods of musical economy were perfectly suited to Caddel’s natural inclinations; he was also a determined champion of what became a central concern in Caddel’s own writing, ‘the local’. If this contact ultimately led to one of Caddel’s most enduring contributions to the north-east — his editions of Bunting’s Uncollected Poems in 1991, Complete Poems in 1993 and his part in the establishment of the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre at Durham, of which he remained a director to his death — Caddel was always wary of too much talk of ‘influence’. He was aware that for the traditions of ‘the local’ to mean anything — and he would have applied this to any version of the local, whether that constructed by his friends and fellow-writers on the European frontiers or that of Lorine Niedecker, whose writing he loved, on the shores of Lake Superior — then it had to be part of ‘a living, evolving tradition, or it’s nothing’.


  1. anthony says:

    this moved me to tears, and having scoured anthologies for bunting and seem like bunting, this was important. i want to be a local poet talking about local things.
    thank you

  2. yes, that has always appealed to me too (local poetry, accessible to all). i liked bunting’s “What the Chairman told Tom” (under “some bunting poems and quotes” at the basil bunting poetry centre.)i didn’t know caddel’s work at all.

  3. anthony says:

    thinking about this today, what does local mean, how do we live buntings maxim when i am posting on blogs and im’ming and transatlantically calling, and reading in translation and watching tv etc etc.

  4. Stuart Falconer says:

    Richard Caddel arrived at the Peoples Theatre, Newcastle, one evening in 1974, having heard that we were putting on some poetry readings. I was very much a novice writer in those days (still am, when I come to think of it) and he was the first “real” poet I’d met. The outcome of our meeting was that a few months later he and I did a joint reading at the theatre. His was, by a long way, the more important contribution to that evening. I loved his economy with words, the way he always used exactly the right words and nothing else in every line, every verse, and also that he had dedicated himself so completely, his whole life in fact, to poetry.
    I saw him only once after that, in the late 70s. He was friendly, in his quiet way, and we talked about his small-press publishing venture “Pig Press,” which he had recently set up. After that I lost touch with him. I only learned about his work with the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre when I saw his obituary in The Newcastle Journal.
    I often had the vague feeling that there was something fragile about him, something which he managed to disguise pretty well. I was very sorry to learn that he had passed away, much too early. People like Richard don’t wash in on every tide. I know he will be missed.

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