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Feature: Literary reading - Passionate Performers of Poetry series at the Upper Room of the Magdala pub, South End Green

Published: 8 April 2010

IT took nearly 10 years of heartbreaking agonisings, while being bullied by feminists – men and women – for the former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes to write Birthday Letters, about his relationship with Sylvia Plath. Published in 1998, this event was an emotional watershed without precedent, not least for the poet Christopher Reid.

Christopher, 60, was Ted Hughes’s insightful poetry editor for nine years at Faber. He was the successor to TS Eliot and Craig Raine, an old friend with whom he invented the Martian school of poetry. He had written several books of poetry for adults and children, including Pea Soup, Expanded Universes and Mr Mouth, not as well known as they should have been.

In 2007 his Letters of Ted Hughes (Faber) changed all that. It includes fascinating letters about the great poet’s obsession with the occult and shamanism.

Perhaps the letter of the greatest interest was from Hughes to his son Nicholas, about “the neglected inner child in all of us”. This will be discussed by David Sexton in the Evening Standard in March 2009, but ignored by all the reviewers, including me. We shall be returning to it.

In a new Passionate Performers of Poetry series at the Upper Room of the Magdala pub in Hampstead on Tuesday, Christopher will read from his heartbreaking sequences to his wife, actor Lucinda Gane, who died in October 2005.

It is called A Scattering (Arete Books £7.99). In January, it won the Costa prize of £30,000 as the best book of the year. It is a book of the most amazing emotional intelligence and love. Piers Plowright will interview him.

In the second half of the evening I shall read the beginning of Hughes’s amazing letter to Nicholas: “Nicholas, don’t you know about people this first and most crucial fact: every single one is, and is painfully every moment aware of it, still a child... Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in the innermost emotional self... And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that cannot understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die,  know matter how crowded a place, quite on its own.” 

Nicholas killed himself in 2009, a tragic event which  Cicely Herbert, Dinah Livingstone, Piers Plowright and I will be discussing on Tuesday.

We are asking as many of the audience as impossible to perform their own favourite poems by Hughes, including those he especially wrote for children from nine to 90 years old.

On Tuesday May 4, again in the Upper Room, we will welcome Dame Margaret Drabble (pictured) back to the Magdala to talk about Wordsworth’s poems, and the re-issue of her book about landscape, A Writer’s Britain (Thames and Hudson, £12.95).

In the second half, Beata Duncan will be reading poems from her Hearing Eye, and Brenda Williams from her emotionally explosive Collected Poems, just out (Sixties Press, £10). 

Hugh Dickson and I will be performing the audience’s choice of Wordsworth’s poems, alongside drama students from Lamda, RADA, Central and Oxford Drama School.

Magdala pub, South End Green, Hampstead, Tuesday April 13, £9, £7.50 concessions and £6 for students. Doors 7.30, and come early as the room holds just 75 people.



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