A POET IN ST IVES
By Jim Burns
There is a long tradition of British poetry that is used for popular
entertainment. It stretches back more years than I want to
investigate here, and I’m just drawing on my own memories of hearing
Cyril Fletcher delivering his odd odes on the radio, Stanley
Holloway with “Albert and the Lion” and similar monologues, and the
wonderful Billy Bennett on records with “Christmas Day in the
Cookhouse” and other gems that kept troops laughing in the trenches
during the First World War (Bennett himself was a decorated veteran)
and later, audiences in the music halls. There were many more, such
as “Nell” and “
Meeting such people always puts me in mind of the amusing passage in Bulwer-Lytton’s Pelham or Adventures of a Gentleman(1828) , where one of the characters reflects on the taste for morbid novels and “doleful ditties”, and says: “There seems an unaccountable prepossession among all person, to imagine that whatever seems gloomy must be profound, and whatever is cheerful must be shallow. They have put poor Philosophy into deep mourning, and given her a coffin for a writing desk, and a skull for an inkstand”.
It could be worth having a look at The Common Muse: Popular British Ballad Poetry from the 19th to the 20th Century, edited by V. de Sola Pinto and A.E. Rodway (Penguin Books, Harmandsworth, 1965), which, in a particularly good introduction and a fine selection of poems, traces the tradition of popular poetry through the ages. And demonstrates how humour is a key factor in it. Which isn’t to say that more-serious subjects don’t also crop up. They do, but “Then why should we turmoil in cares and in Fears,/ Turn all our tranquillity to Sighs and Tears?”.
Arthur Caddick was a poet who often worked in what might be called
the “poetry as entertainment” field. He was active in
I never met Caddick, unfortunately, but I have a recording of him
reading, and several of his books. He didn’t only write poetry and
when he did, it wasn’t always just to amuse. He had published a
novel in 1940, and before that been at
I have a small pamphlet, The Speech of Phantoms, published in 1951 by Guido Morris’s The Latin Press, in St Ives, and the poems in it are conventional in terms of structure and content:
GREEN AFTER RAIN
Green after rain is the hedgerow now,
It isn’t great, or even very good poetry, and I doubt that anyone would remember it after an initial encounter. In some ways, reading Caddicks poems in the pamphlet put me in mind of the old American bohemian poet, Maxwell Bodenheim, and not only because both had a liking for alcohol. It’s just the fact that their poems are largely lightweight. They’re often not without a relaxed charm, but they seldom progress beyond the ordinary. And they’re rarely memorable. It has to be said that the main interest in the pamphlet lies in the fact that it was produced at The Latin Press by Guido Morris. He was something of a character around St Ives, doing the kind of work that enables other people to be remembered. Most printers, publishers, and booksellers get little in the way of attention, but without them poets and others would never have their work published or find an audience for it.
I think it’s when Caddick turned to his comic poems that he succeeded in achieving some sort of an individual voice. It may not have been a voice with a wide range, but it was recognisably Caddick’s. His collection, Broadsides from Bohemia, published in 1973, had poems written, “In Praise of Painters, Publicans, and other Cornish Saints”, and it was dedicated to Bryan Wynter, with whom Caddick had shared some “creative carousels”. The writer, Denys Val Baker, who edited The Cornish Review, and wrote a number of novels and short stories about artists and writers in St Ives and its surroundings, said that Caddick’s poems were about “publicans and bohemians and artists and beatniks and Nationalists” and described them as “eminently readable”. It’s a phrase some writers might shy away from, being seen as dismissing with faint praise, but what’s the point of writing if you’re not going to be readable?
Caddick had a poor opinion of the beatniks who swarmed into St Ives in the late-1950s and early-1960s, and often made life difficult for the genuine painters and poets who lived there. Their group identity must have seemed strange to a long-time individualist like Caddick, and their anti-social behaviour gave bohemianism a bad name. He wrote more than one satirical poem about the newcomers; “He was a Beat whose horizon/Was bounded by what he could reach./He lived in a length of old drain-pipe/A builder had dumped on the beach”. And he mocked abstract painters and sculptors, and some of the poems found a home in Punch. Others were about the joys of alcohol and its effects;
NEVER SIT DOWN IN THE DIGEY
Seated alone in the Digey,
I pondered at peace in the twilight,
The poem recounts how Caddick, somewhat the worse for wear, was picked up by the police for being drunk and incapable. It was the kind of incident that would quickly go the rounds of the small, regular St Ives community, and they would knowingly recognise the reference to “the Digey”, a tiny cobbled street in the town. I acknowledge that it could easily be described as doggerel, but it is entertaining and provides a humorous view of life in St Ives. The fact that a poet like Caddick, with no claims to be writing in a modernist mode, could function alongside someone like W.S. Graham, both responding to what they could see and experience around them, seems to me to be admirable. Any account of the place and the period ought to take notice of both of them.
I’ve not attempted to do more than give an outline of Caddick’s
activities, and my intention has been simply to draw a little
attention to him. As
I’ve indicated, it is his humorous poems, and their relevance to the
story of St Ives, that will ensure his being remembered, if anything
does. There is nothing wrong with being a poet who sets out to
entertain by being amusing. Caddick worked at it even though he
never made much money. He and his family often lived in
near-poverty. It would be tempting to laugh at and not with him, but
there is a passage in Herman Melville’s
“Yet let me here offer up three locks of my hair, to the memory of all such glorious paupers who have lived and died in this world. Surely, and truly I honour them – noble men often at bottom – and for that very reason I make bold to be gamesome about them; for where fundamental nobleness is, and fundamental honour is due, merriment is never accounted irreverent. The fools and pretenders of humanity, and the imposters and baboons among the gods, these only are offended with raillery.”
Laughter from Land’s End, was published by the St Ives Printing
and Publishing Company, 2005.
I’ll Raise the Wind Tomorrow: A Childhood with Arthur Caddick, Poet
of the St Ives Art Colony by Diana Calvert came from Finishing
Caddick has a place, though a minor one, in Alison Oldham’s
informative, Everyone was
Working: Writers and Artists in Postwar St Ives (Tate
Publishing, 2003). Sven
Caddick published a couple of small collection of poetry with the
Fortune Press in the 1950s, and a large number of pamphlets and
broadsheets with the
He appeared regularly in Denys Val Baker’s The Cornish Review with both poetry and prose. The Winter, 1972 issue has an entertaining anecdotal piece, “Marks of Royal Favour” about a visit by John Gawsworth, the so-called King of Redonda. Gawsworth had been a well-known and widely-published poet at one time, often in magazines and anthologies, and editor of The Poetry Review, but declined into alcoholism. His visit to the Caddick household was something of a shambles. Caddick, no mean drinker himself, was taken aback by Gawsworth’s capacity for alcohol, though he made light of it. The Spanish writer, Javier Marías, wrote about Gawsworth in his novel, All Souls (Harvill, London, 1999). Gawsworth was not a supporter of modernism in poetry, and was more concerned with the 1890s and Edwardian poets and the Georgians. There is a well-researched article, “The Lyric Struggles of John Gawsworth” by Steve Eng, on the network.
It may be of interest to mention one of Caddick’s prose works, One Hundred Doors Are Open: A Guide to 100 Cornish Inns (Pendragon Publications, Penzance 1956).
For St Ives generally during the period when Caddick was there, see Michael Bird’s The St Ives Artists: A Biography of Place and Time (Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2008) and Chris Stephens’ St Ives: The Art and Artists (Pavilion-Tate, London, 2018). I have a particular fondness for Denys Val Baker’s Britain’s Art Colony by the Sea (George Ronald, London, 1959; second slightly amended edition, Sansom & Co., Bristol, 2000), which seems to me to capture the spirit of the place and period.