Promo video: Green by D.H. Lawrence

In our third blog exploring Look! We Have Come Through! we have created a YouTube short (thanks Izaak Bosman) to celebrate the poem ‘Green’. This was originally published in the Poetry Review (1914) and then in an anthology of imagist poetry in 1916, meaning that Lawrence could no longer be simply cast as a Georgian poet.

Lawrence started and ended his career with verse, writing around 750 poems. One of his earliest collections was Look! We have come through! which was written between 1911 and 1917 and followed on the tails of Love Poems and Amores.

In the forward to the collection, Lawrence states ‘These poems should not be considered separately, as so many single pieces. They are intended as an essential story, or history, or confession, unfolding one from the other in organic development, the whole revealing the intrinsic experience of a man during the crisis of manhood, when he marries and comes into himself. The period covered is, roughly, the sixth lustre of a man’s life.’

Graham Hough describes the collection as ‘simply the development of an intelligible train of feeling through a number of fragmentary occasions’. These fragmentary occasions are mainly structured between 1912-14, the period when Frieda Weekley left her husband and three children and eloped with Lawrence, before marrying him once her divorce came through. Consequently, the poems were written on the hoof in Germany, Austria and Italy.  Given the scandal their relationship aroused, it’s not surprising that Bertrand Russell chose to snort ‘They may have come through, but I don’t see why I should look.’

The collection includes this somewhat unnecessary ‘argument’ before the poems, detailing Lawrence’s relationship verbatim. ‘After much struggling and loss in love and in the world of man, the protagonist throws in his lot with a woman who is already married. Together they go into another country, she perforce leaving her children behind. The conflict of love and hate goes on between the man and the woman, and between these two and the world around them, till it reaches some sort of conclusion, they transcend into some condition of blessedness.’

Perhaps to get across this struggle, Lawrence uses free verse (which doesn’t adhere to set structures) having previously used closed forms. The flexibility of form allows him to articulate, in the immediate, the trials and tribulations of love as two people struggle to unite their wills. As Joyce Carol Oats notes, ‘For Lawrence, as for Nietzsche, it is the beauty and mystery of flux, of “Becoming,” that enchants us; not permanence, not “Being.” Permanence exists only in the conscious mind and is a structure erected to perfection, therefore airless and stultifying.

One poem in the collection that particularly stands out is ‘Green’. This was published in an anthology of imagist poetry, Des Imagistes (1916), meaning that Lawrence could no longer be simply cast as a Georgian poet. Imagism, according to the British Library, ‘was a small but influential poetry movement that flourished between 1912 and 1917. It was crucial in the development of modernist literature. Rebelling against Romantic and Victorian verbosity, Imagists abandoned poetic metre and traditional narratives. Instead they cultivated short, exact poems in vers libre (free verse) built around distilled, emotionally-intense single images that often depicted the natural world. They drew influence from Japanese haiku as well as ancient Greek lyric poetry’. However, the Modernist Journals Project states that ‘Imagism was anything but a cohesive movement’ and instead ‘resembles a Gerhard Richter painting, a fuzzy work of art undertaken by several artists with different styles over a long period of time, or perhaps a William Burroughs-like cut-up composition aimlessly meandering in search of the “image.”’

frieda green

The inspiration for ‘Green’ was Frieda’s eyes, which Lawrence compares to dawn. Dawn represents the beginning of an unknown new day, and her eyes represent a new unknown love: ‘For the first time, now for the first time seen.’ The use of assonance throughout the short poem (green, between, seen/ sun, undone) helps weave these elements (love, new day, nature) together through the colour green. If green were to be used in Georgian poetry it would most likely be as a reference to nature and fields. Here it is something more spiritual, more transient, a ‘becoming’ to use Joyce Carol Oates expression.

The imagists were established by Ezra Pound in 1912 in opposition to the perceived parochial outlook of the Georgian poets. Lawrence may very well have been included, along with other established names such as Richard Adlington, as a means of validating this new poetic movement. His books may have been banned and burned, but his reputation was a commodity always ready to be exploited. This was certainly the case with the publication of Look! We Have Come Through! which Andrew Nash has argued was taken on by Chatto and Windus as a means of resurrecting an otherwise dying brand. Frank Swinnerton, part of their new editorial board, agreed to publishing Lawrence ‘on the ground that Lawrence’s name would be valuable to our list’. There is no such thing as a bad reputation.

It’s worth noting that another seminal Nottingham writer, Alan Sillitoe, refers to Doreen’s eyes in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), as ‘green like novelty matches’. Clearly this colour means a lot to folk from the East Midlands.

dhl-trunk GREENIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer.  Was he a Georgian poet, or an Imagist, or simply someone who defied categorisation? How do we incorporate the colour green into our design? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here.

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Promo Youtube shorts

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Promo video: Figs – a very secretive fruit

Ficus carica L., aka the fig, was so popular 9,000 years ago that folk in Palestine lined them up in groves to ensure local supplies were met, thereby predating grain cultivation. D.H. Lawrence would have admired the fig during his Italian sojourn, but it only made its way into Europe during the 15th century after being plundered from Persia, Asia Minor and Syria. The above video was created to celebrate Lawrence’s seductive ode to this sun-ripened fruit, but the fig has been a source of reverence for centuries. Figs have come to symbolise fertility, peace and prosperity in many world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism. In Ancient Greece, athletes scoffed as many as they could get their hands on, believing it would enhance speed and strength. King Nebuchadnezzar II had them planted in the hanging gardens of Babylon whereas Egyptian kings were buried with them to please the mother goddess Hathor who would emerge from a mythic fig tree to welcome them into the afterlife. Figs also appear in the Old and New Testament, offering remedies for illness – both medical and social. Hezekiah, King of Judah, recovered from a plague of boils after his servants applied a paste of crushed figs to his skin. Whereas the fig leaf provided Adam and Eve with a bit of dignity after an apple left them rotten to the core. Or as Lawrence puts it: ‘She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves/ And women have been sewing ever since’.

Hathor
Egyptian goddess Hathor pops out of a Fig tree to greet you in the afterlife. Nice.

Although Lawrence’s naughty poem has become synonymous with the fig, it appears elsewhere in literature. In The Bell Jar (1963), Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman’s descent into madness, Esther encounters a fig tree and later reflects ‘I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story’. But it is best known in the 5th century epic poem The Mahavamsa, which covers the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and sees the Buddha gaining enlightenment under a fig tree.

Lawrence writes that ‘The fig is a very secretive fruit,’ so secretive in fact that it defies definition. Ben Crair, writing in The New Yorker, explains ‘a clever botanist would sell them at the florist, with the fresh-cut roses’. This is because a fig is technically a ball of flowers, with enclosed flowers that bloom inwards or as Lawrence writes ‘There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward;/ Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb’.

This unique fruit, I mean flower – or more accurately a syconium, requires pollination to reproduce and this can only be done by a fig wasp which is just small enough to crawl inside. And not just any fig wasp by the way! Each of the 750 varieties has its own unique species of fig wasp to do the business. So next time you sink your teeth into the ‘glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled’ interior, remember you are most likely chomping into a female fig wasp that got stuck.

Mike Shanahan in Ladders to Heaven explains that this process of codependent evolution has been going on for sixty million years. The fig, unlike seasonal fruit, can be found all year round, making it a vital food source for over 1300 bird and mammal species. High in potassium, iron, fiber, and plant calcium, it has also been essential to survival of certain species in times of want. A 2003 study of Uganda’s Budongo Forest found that figs were ‘the sole source of fruit for chimpanzees at certain times of year’. I doubt these species would care to be instructed on the best way to eat this keystone fruit as Lawrence does in his poem, taking the Italians to task:  ‘But the vulgar way/ Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.’

Mike Shanahan is particularly enamoured with the Strangler breed of fig which grows ‘from seeds dropped high on other trees by passing birds and mammals. By starting out high in the forest canopy instead of on its gloomy floor, the strangler seedlings get the light they need to grow with vigour. As they do, they send down aerial roots that become thick and woody, encasing their host trees in a living mesh. They can even smother and kill giant trees, growing into colossal forms’. Shanahan also points out that the struggles faced by the Strangler fig would inspire the British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace to develop his own theory of evolution by natural selection, independently of Charles Darwin. High-energy figs may also have helped our ancestors to develop bigger brains.

However you eat yours, and for whatever purpose, we hope you enjoy our short video, lovingly put together by Izaak Bosman.

OTHER PROMO VIDEOS

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer.  How do we capture Lawrence’s playfulness in poems such as Figs? Does the poem draw out important issues regarding nudity and shame or does the idea that ‘ripe figs won’t keep’ chide with modern attitudes towards female sexual identity? Just as Figs have been around for centuries, so to women have faced centuries of insults. In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here.

 

Figs

D.H. Lawrence

The proper way to eat a fig, in society,

Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,

And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.

Then you throw away the skin

Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,

After you have taken off the blossom, with your lips.

But the vulgar way

Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

Every fruit has its secret.

The fig is a very secretive fruit.

As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic :

And it seems male.

But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.

The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part ; the fig-fruit :

The fissure, the yoni,

The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.

Involved,

Inturned,

The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled ;

And but one orifice.

The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.

Symbols.

There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward ;

Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.

It was always a secret.

That’s how it should be, the female should always be secret.

There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough

Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals ;

Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,

Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems

Openly pledging heaven :

Here’s to the thorn in flower ! Here is to Utterance !

The brave, adventurous rosaceæ.

Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,

And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,

Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won’t taste it ;

Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,

Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,

One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light ;

Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,

Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,

Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting

In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see

Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.

Till the drop of ripeness exudes,

And the year is over.

And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.

So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.

And the fig is finished, the year is over.

That’s how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit

Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.

Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.

That’s how women die too.

The year is fallen over-ripe,

The year of our women.

The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.

The secret is laid bare.

And rottenness soon sets in.

The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.

When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked

She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.

She’d been naked all her days before,

But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn’t had the fact on her mind.

She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves.

And women have been sewing ever since.

But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.

They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,

And they won’t let us forget it.

Now, the secret

Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips

That laugh at the Lord’s indignation.

What then, good Lord ! cry the women.

We have kept our secret long enough.

We are a ripe fig.

Let us burst into affirmation.

They forget, ripe figs won’t keep.

Ripe figs won’t keep.

Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.

Ripe figs won’t keep, won’t keep in any clime.

What then, when women the world over have all bursten into affirmation?

And bursten figs won’t keep?

How Lawrentian ideals have come to influence future generations of poets

look book jackets
This is our second blog exploring the influence of Look! We Have Come Through! This time David Brock explores how Lawrentian ideals, particularly those of renewed inner life, have come to influence future generations of poets and artists. He pays particular attention to Steve Taylor’s collection The Calm Centre, which picked lines from Lawrence’s ‘Song of a Man Who Has Come Through’ to preface his own book of verse on the theme of individual enlightenment.

In an enlivening introduction to a 1990s Wordsworth edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Poetry, Albert Glover writes of the amazing breakthrough Lawrence made as man and poet on finding fulfilment in love and marriage. ‘Everything Lawrence wrote after Look! We Have Come Through! [the cycle of love poems he produced during this important phase] comes from a soul forged in the ecstasy of spiritual awakening’, Glover asserts, before quoting the memorable, mysterious opening of Lawrence’s ‘Song of a Man Who Has Come Through’. . .’Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!/ A fine wind is blowing the new direction of time. . .’ This being ‘the prophetic stance of the risen man’, Glover suggests.

A present day writer, thinker and poet, Steve Taylor (who gave spell-binding, unscripted talks to the Lawrence Society in its glory days, about Lawrence as Pagan, and as Mystic, and now appears annually in Mind, Body and Spirit magazine’s list of ‘the world’s 100 most spiritually influential living people’), has picked lines from this key poem to preface his own book of verse on the theme of individual enlightenment. Entitled The Calm Center, it features an introduction by spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle.

Of the Lawrence poem in question, composed around the time of Lawrence’s marriage to Frieda, on 13th July 1914, the late great Keith Sagar writes that it is ‘about life and art, about Lawrence the married man and Lawrence the poet’, and that it ‘consists almost entirely of images – wind, chisel, fountain, angels.’

What is the ‘wind’ which Lawrence speaks of? Keith suggests it signifies the release of a new imaginative, poetic energy suddenly at large, and which may provide him with inspiration so powerful it may break through the rock encasing our soul, to open up a new ‘Pagan paradise’ – the Hesperides – where the golden apples offer a life free from the old (Eden apple) fear of sin.

The poem ends with ‘the three strange angels’ knocking on the door, at night. Lawrence is ready and willing to face this disturbing challenge – ‘Admit them, admit them’. Together with his wife, he feels able to save the seeds of creativity – these wind-blown, winged gifts – from a world descending into war and destruction. And, as Keith also puts it, the ‘exorcism’ of Sons and Lovers has brought the re-birth of Lawrence’s ‘demon’ – a force now ‘free to become no longer the writhing repressed half of a split psyche.’

Steve Taylor’s therapeutic poems (which are reflective discourses, rather in the manner of Lawrence’s Pansies) reveal how we too might heal our mental ailments, achieve this ‘new’ Lawrentian ‘wholeness and courage’, and find a ‘self’ free of negativity ‘which can recognise and respond to the sacred’, within what Frieda called ‘the great vast show of life’.

One must be prepared to change. As with Lawrence there are difficult questions and challenges. ‘The Off-Loading’ is reminiscent of one of Lawrence’s most famous final poems, ‘Phoenix’, in asking ‘Are you willing to give yourself up?’ It is only when you can let go that ‘you’ll be empty, peaceful and light/ and ready to float free’ – rather like Lawrence’s ‘immortal bird’ rising from the flames.

There are poems about engagement with trees, something Lawrence understood uncannily well. It is of unfathomable value – balm to the suffering soul – to wake up to nature and reconnect in this profound way.

‘The Project’ is concerned with permitting your inner self to unfold and have expression.

‘The End of Desire’, about the erroneous pursuit of false goals in life, feels pure Lawrence, while Steve’s concluding poem ‘The Essence’ has that grand Lawrentian theme that we can each be a living manifestation of cosmic energy.

Lawrence’s remarkable verse contains next to nothing that is ‘chaff’. In common with his other work, it offers a great and nourishing influence on succeeding generations of writers, whose own uplifting poetry can achieve similar spiritual breakthroughs, leading to the awakening of new ‘integrity’, ‘vital sanity’ and holistic being. Steve Taylor’s latest volume offers this Lawrentian vision of renewed inner life and fulfilling emotional health.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer.  How do we capture and track his influences? What are you personally ‘willing to give up’ and how does this compare with Lawrence’s own principles? How do we represent renewed inner life? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here.

Look! We have (nearly) come through! D.H. and Chatto & Windus

chatto_logo rage

In 2019 we will launch our D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre to mark the centenary of Lawrence’s self- imposed exile. But what was it about 1919 that led to him turning his back on his country of birth for good? There are many reasons why Lawrence had had enough of the ‘grey ones’ but censorship was particularly frustrating, on both a financial and artistic level. But while his bad boy reputation put off many publishers, it offered a lifeline to Chatto and Windus who hoped to rejuvenise their flagging reputation. This is the first of two blogs exploring the history of Look! We Have Come Through!

WWI had a profound effect on many people, not least the 17 million soldiers and civilians who were killed. Industrialisation and technology, the bastions of modernity, were more accurately bastards, and bloody ones at that. Progress just meant you got to the grave quicker. The Great War, in addition to suppressing individuality for the greater good, would see Lawrence booted out of Cornwall, after he was accused of being a spy. The locals didn’t take kindly to his marriage to a German woman. All in all, he had plenty of reasons to turn his back on Blighty. But driving this desire to flee as far away as possible was his absolute frustration with the censors, the ‘aunties,’ the ‘grey ones’.

Sons and Lovers (1913) had already been banned from public libraries. But The Rainbow, published in September 1915, would only stay in print for two months before it was seized under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. Unlike Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) a decade later, the novel didn’t include any obscene words. But as prosecutor Herbert Muskett declared ‘it was in fact a mass of obscenity of thought, idea, and action’.

The novel included a Lesbian relationship, but at the time there wasn’t a law against this behavior (as there was with male homosexuality). Lesbianism was very much a love that dare not speak its name, mainly because men were the only ones allowed to do the talking. Women were only given the right to vote in 1918 and even then, only some women. But this gave publisher Methuen a get out of jail card as they were able to play dumb about what was going on in the novel.

In a review in the New Statesman, JC Squire, suggested the characters in Sons and Lovers were under ‘the spell of German psychologists’, for daring to question fundamentals of their life (religion, love, relationships), and by implication were anti-British in nature. Judge Sir John Dickinson therefore ruled that the book ‘had no right to exist in the wind of war’, and that Lawrence was in effect mocking the very principles British men were fighting to defend. One of these men happened to be Dickinson’s son, who was killed in battle a few weeks before the trial. Lawrence never stood a chance. But just to wind him up a bit more – not that he needed provocation – copies of The Rainbow were burned by a hangman outside the Royal Exchange.

Lawrence faced a dilemma all writers encounter at some point in their career, but one that was particularly pertinent to modernists at the time: Did he continue to experiment and push boundaries, remaining true to himself, or conform in order to sell books and put food on his plate.

However, a recent paper by Andrew Nash suggests the relationship between authors and publishers was more dynamic and that it was Lawrence’s name that attracted Chatto & Windus to publish Look! We Have Come Through! in 1917. The poetry collection details Lawrence’s relationship with his wife, Frieda, and had previously gone under the title of Man and Woman and later Poems of a Married Man.

Look! We Have Come Through! was rejected by Duckworth who had previously published The Prussian Officer and Other Stories (1914), Amores (1916), and Twilight in Italy. These provided a broad range of Lawrence’s work in the form of short stories, poems, and essays, so they couldn’t be accused of being unsupportive.

Chatto & Windus accepted the manuscript and Nash believes this was partly because ‘the firm was entering a period of transition and was soon to regain a position of pre-eminence in British publishing’. These changes were largely brought about by Geoffrey Whitworth (1883–1951) and Frank Swinnerton (1884–1982)’. Arnold Bennett was particularly impressed by Swinnerton who he said had ‘turned Chatto & Windus from a corpse into the liveliest thing of its sort in London’.

‘The editorial dynamics of the firm’ writes Nash ‘manifested itself in a style of publishing that often placed literary concerns before those of business. Swinnerton’s role in the firm was especially significant and illustrates an important trend in literary publishing of the period. Authors were becoming more actively involved in publishing and more closely engaged with policy-making decisions. For writers like Lawrence this was crucial. Swinnerton was an important advocate for his work.’

However, Swinnerton was perceptive enough to see how Lawrence could help elevate the flagging status of the company. His report notes recommend publishing the collection ‘on the ground that Lawrence’s name would be valuable to our list. I could not emphasise this point too strongly. Lawrence has a decided following, and his name has a real distinction’.

Percy Spalding letter

Nash observes that ‘the publishing policy of Chatto & Windus in this period serves to illustrate that, in spite of the constraints of censorship and wartime production costs, there were forces in mainstream publishing that were keen to embrace modern literary forms and issue the work of authors whose subject-matter was challenging and potentially dangerous and whose popular appeal was small.’

Swinnerton had to convince Percy Spalding, who objected to the ‘sexual imagery and the conflation of love and religion’ within the collection and demanded that ‘Song of a Man who is Loved’ and ‘Meeting Among the Mountains’ were omitted from the volume as a condition of publishing. ‘Song of a Man who is Loved’ would be reinstated into the collection in 1928 when Secker published the Collected Poems.

Given his history, Lawrence had to compromise. His agent Pinker got the brunt of his frustrations: ‘Publishers are fools, one wants to spit at them — But it is not worth while making a real breach’. In a letter to Amy Lowell he wrote ‘This is a one bright beam in my publishing sky. But I shall have to go and look for daylight with a lantern’.

But Lawrence being Lawrence there were additional demands, such as the setting of the six-part poem ‘Ballad of a Wilful Woman’ on separate pages, irrespective of what this might cost the publisher or wartime restrictions on paper.

Edward McKnight Kauffer cover

The avant garde cover was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer whose influences included futurism, cubism, and vorticism, making this a very modern publication that stood out from other publications on the Chatto and Windus list. It wasn’t to everyone’s liking. A reviewer in Sketch complained that the incomprehensible cover ‘looks like a mixture of two broken combs and the fragments of a knife-cleaner’ and that this ‘ought to warn you to expect something desperately eccentric’. This, of course, is exactly what the publishers wanted; literature and art that broke with the prevailing aesthetic and moral conventions of the period. However, this ambition did not translate into sales and it was time for Lawrence to find a new publisher for his next work.

Source: D.H Lawrence and the publication of Look! We have come Through! by Andrew Nash The Library, Volume 12, Issue 2, 1 June 2011, Pages 142–163,

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer.  How do we capture Lawrence’s relationship with agents and publishers? How important was he to literary modernism? How do we convey his frustration at being constantly censored? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here.

#Monday Blogs Tongue and Talk: Dialect poetry featuring DH Lawrence

Mard arse

DH Lawrence was a master of dialect. His plays, novels and poetry captured the rawness of mining communities with such precision, it frightened the life out of middle class Edwardian critics. As part of a BBC Radio 4 series Tongue and Talk: Dialect Poets, I’ll be visiting Lawrence’s childhood home Breach House, and exploring ‘pit talk’ and the Nottingham accent with various poets and musicians.    

Like DH Lawrence, I grew up in a mining village. Whereas he was born north east of Nottingham in Eastwood, I was raised in Cotgrave, five miles south east of the city centre. Cotgrave derives from an Old English personal name, Cotta, + grāf, (grove or copse). So over time we went from ‘Cotta’s grove’ to the more sinister Cotgrave. Our respective divides across the city also influence the way we speak and use dialect, even though we might be referring to the same word. This is best illustrated by the commonly used word ‘mardy’. I pronounce this ‘mardeh’ using what Al Needham calls the south Notts ‘eh’ or ‘ah’. Living on the Derbyshire border, Lawrence would have experienced the trimming off of syllables, shortening it to mard as in ‘Eh, tha’rt a mard-arsed kid’ a famous line from his poem The Collier’s Wife.

Mardy is a brilliant word. It means sulky, as in a badly behaved child, and is used throughout the East Midlands as well as parts of Sheffield and Yorkshire. However, it can also mean non cooperative, bad tempered or terse in communication, attributes we can definitely associate with DH Lawrence. In 2017 Toby Campion selected it as his word for Leicester as part of the Free the Word campaign.

cotgrave and Brinsley
The modern headstocks of Cotgrave Colliery and Brinsley Colliery where Lawrence’s father worked.

Lawrence came from a family of coal miners. His father, Arthur, worked as a butty. The butty was popular during the early part of the nineteenth century when the coal miners were not directly employed by the owners. The butty acted as a contractor, putting together a team to mine coal at an agreed price per ton. I had a slightly different experience growing up. My mother was a typist and my stepfather was a manager of a company in Mansfield. But in the eyes of the locals, anyone who didn’t work down the pit was a ‘posho’. Therefore we were fair game for the occasional kicking. These were rough times, particularly during the Strike of 84. Like Lawrence, I couldn’t wait to escape.

Lawrence would vividly capture life growing up in a mining community in novels such as Sons and Lovers, his Eastwood trilogy of plays, and dialect poetry such as The Collier’s Wife. I’ve done this through a BBC Radio 4 series called Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets. In episode 2, broadcast on Sunday 20 May at 4.30pm, I’ll be exploring the Notts dialect and the ‘pit talk’ of mining communities.

One of the guests on the programme is David Amos, an eight generation miner and fellow member of the DH Lawrence Society. David has been working as a research assistant with Natalie Braber at Nottingham Trent University on mining heritage projects. He invited me to attend a rehearsal for Songs and Rhymes from the Mines as part of the Nottingham Poetry Festival. Bill Kerry III told me he had discovered that his grandfather had worked down Ormonde Colliery at the same time as Owen Watson, author of Strong I’th’ Arm – The Rhymes of a Marlpool Miner (1975) and so he’s turning his poems into folk songs to make them accessible to new generations. Meanwhile Al Rate (who also uses the pseudonym Misk Hills) has penned some new songs inspired by pit talk, introducing new generations to words such as ‘powder monkey’. This was the poor bogger who had to set off the explosives down the mine. Such songs are a reminder of how dangerous life was down the pit, something beautifully captured in Lawrence’s poem The Collier’s Wife. In this, a miner has had yet another accident down the pit:

It’s a shame as ‘e should be knocked about

Like this, I’m sure it is!

‘E’s ‘ad twenty accidents, if ‘e’s ‘ad one;

Owt bad, an’ it’s his!

Russell-Hopkins-Collier-s-Wife2_900
A visual narrative celebrating D. H. Lawrence’s dialect poem by Russell Hopkins at Cargo Collective.

The wife in the poem has seen and heard it all before and is more bothered about the compensation as food still needs to be put on the plate. You can hear David Amos read the entire poem is one go during our show. I only managed the first verse.

When Lawrence used dialect in his early plays about life in a mining community they were dismissed as a ‘sordid picture of lower class life’ with middle class Edwardian critics unimpressed with ‘its lack of verbal beauty’. Lawrence was a master of dialect, using multiple variations of speech patterns that drew influences from the Erewash Valley, Derbyshire and Notts. By using dialect, Lawrence enabled the reader to understand a collier’s particular social class, their education, and their intelligence. The way his characters spoke represented the history of the community, even down to what street they lived on.

Lawrence’s family moved many times across Eastwood, upscaling each time. So during the programme we visit ‘Breach House’ where the family of seven lived between 1887 until 1891. To enter Breach House is to step back in time to Edwardian Britain. Moleskin trousers hang up above the fireplace, the snap tin is on the table, and the Bible and piano take pride of place in the ‘best’ room. Of course it would have been nice to record the show in Durban House, where a young Lawrence and other miner’s sons would go and collect their father’s wages, but this was sold off by Broxtowe Council and has now been converted into a spa – which I guess is more preferable than a Spar.

david breach
David Amos holding up a pair of Moleskin trousers. Plaque outside Breach House.

Breach House was the inspiration for The Bottoms in Sons and Lovers, my favourite Lawrence novel. It opens with this wonderful description:

‘To accommodate the regiments of miners, Carston, Waite and Co. built the Squares, great quadrangles of dwellings on the hillside of Bestwood, and then, in the brook valley, on the site of Hell Row, they erected the Bottoms. The Bottoms consisted of six blocks of miners’ dwellings, two rows of three, like the dots on a blank-six domino, and twelve houses in a block.”

The novel also helped solve another mysterious word from my childhood: blue. But if you want to know what this means then either read Sons and Lovers or tune into Talk and Tongue on the iPlayer. Let us know what you think on Twitter using the hashtag #TalkandTongue. The programme was a Made in Manchester production.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How do we represent his childhood growing up in Eastwood? What role does coal have to play in his writing? How can we incorporate dialect into our memory theatre? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved. Submit ideas here.

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#MondayBlogs Poet Becky Cullen on Miriam Leivers

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Sons and Lovers has been a massive influence on poet Becky Cullen ever since she came across it at college in 1983-5. But she’s never been happy with the way that Lawrence drew Miriam Leivers. In this guest blog Becky explains how a Creative Writing exercise gave her the chance to tell Miriam’s side of the story

 

Miriam

For Stephen

 

My brothers whooped like savages when they saw you coming up the hill:

romping round the farm with sticks and snares, you boys had a grand time.

I set the tea and waited; later, in our almost private minutes,

you went too far, pushing the swing too high, leaving too late for the train.

 

Which you knew would drive your mother to distraction, bristling,

what’s that Leivers girl got that’s so fascinating? Well, for a start,

I had you, my own exotic mushroom, watching you paint, stopping

myself from smoothing the loose lock of hair behind your pretty ear.

 

I know your mother quaintly warned you not to spoon and do,

but it wasn’t me you took bare-faced, bare-shouldered to the theatre.

In the end, the red carnations you spat out did me a favour.

Now you’re galavanting somewhere hot with someone’s wife called Frieda.

 

This poem was written during my MA in Creative Writing at NTU – our task was to write something using quatrains, a stanza or 4 lines. So it is interesting to me that in trying to produce something with a shape I fell back on Sons and Lovers, a book that shaped my experience of reading so much that it has filtered into my writing.

I read Sons and Lovers for ‘A’ level at Bilborough College in 1983-5, taught by the formidable English and Drama specialist Gilly Archer. It’s no surprise then that my recollections of Sons and Lovers are of the drama of the novel, the tensions between the characters, and Lawrence’s attempts to let the reader know exactly what is simmering under the surface.

This poem deals with the figure of Miriam Leivers, and her relationship with Paul Morel, the novel’s protagonist. Paul visits the family farm I draw into the poem, playing with Miriam’s sturdy brothers. Alone, Paul instigates intense conversations about their relationship, in which Paul criticises Miriam for being too spiritual in her approach. They have an on-off relationship for 7 years, in which time Paul becomes friends with Clara Dawes, taking her out to the theatre, and eventually having a physical relationship with her. Neither of these women please Mrs Morel, Paul’s greatest love, who is disgusted that Paul might ‘spoon and do’ with anyone. So there are details from the novel I’ve drawn on in this poem.

Sons and Lovers is a semi-autobiographical novel, which is another way of saying it’s based on Lawrence’s relationship with Jessie Chambers, a girl from a local farming family who first submitted his work for publication. Fiction is fiction, but tensions still run so high about the representation of Miriam/Jessie, that the Chambers family have allowed no access to their land for Lawrence-related filming and so on. This poem finishes with a similar blend of fictional and factual detail in the final line, a reference to Lawrence’s elopement with Frieda von Richthofen, the wife of his university lecturer.

I always felt that the character of Miriam was drawn rather unfairly. She comes across as being a bit drippy, and Paul is quite cruel to her on occasions – I suppose this poem is an attempt to allow her to voice her side of the story. I recently re-read the novel, which was fascinating, developing a new empathy, as mother of a son myself now, for Mrs. Morel.

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Image from http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

Sons and Lovers is so enmeshed in my literary influences that I cannot smell flowers in moonlight without thinking ‘the beauty of the night made her want to shout’, or look down on the lights of Goose Fair without thinking of Paul Morel doing exactly the same thing in the final paragraphs of Sons and Lovers. The novel feels like part of my writing heritage.

Finally, this poem is dedicated to Stephen Lowe, the Nottingham playwright whose play Empty Bed Blues draws on Lawrence’s life and work. Stephen encouraged me to do a Creative Writing MA, and to write every day. His encouragement has been a great gift, so it was appropriate to send him this poem as a birthday present one year. I like the idea that the poem brings together three Nottingham writers in this way, so there is a continuing dialogue in the present, between writers both on and off the page.

Further Reading 

REVIEW: In Conversation with Amit Chaudhuri

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The award winning author was in Nottingham as part of the Festival of Literature, where he discussed D.H. Lawrence, his love of music, and read from some of his novels.

Amit Chaudhuri’s work spans poetry, fiction, literary criticism, short stories and non-fiction. He’s won loads of awards, including the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, Indian government’s highest literary honour, in 2002 for his novel A New World. But there was only one thing on my mind, D.H. Lawrence.

In 2003 Chaudhuri published his Oxford doctoral thesis D. H. Lawrence and ‘difference’ : postcoloniality and the poetry of the present. It’s surprisingly poetic for a piece of academic work, and weaves together the ideas of Derrida, Genette, Foucault and Levi Strauss to position Lawrence as a radical risk-taking poet who defies definition. He puts forward an intriguing argument that to understand and appreciate Lawrence is to accept him at his very best and worst. To look at one piece of work and ignore another is to miss the point. It is his very incompleteness which completes him. Therefore his work is best understood intertexually – the way his poems relate to and reference each other.

In his book Chaudhuri argues that Lawrence constructs poetry much like Picasso’s sculpture The She-Goat which is woven together with a wide variety of materials, ranging from wicker basket to palm leaves. Lawrence’s constant revisions, the structural flaws, the irrelevant adjectives, forces the reader to confront the creative process, “the peculiar pathos and joy of gradual creation,” rather than just marvel at the finished product.

These are complex ideas, particularly for those outside academia. But Chaudhuri was able to articulate them in an accessible manner for the attentive audience. He started off by telling us he had been given a tour of Lawrence’s old stomping ground in Eastwood by Andrew Harrison, and visited the Birthplace Museum. He was clearly excited by this literary pilgrimage and eager to share how it felt to pay homage to one of his idols. Given his fondness for connections, there was even more significance for his visit. Enid Goodband, who passed away this month aged 91, persuaded the council to buy 8a Victoria Street and create the museum. Without her intervention it would have been flattened along with the other miner’s terraces.

Chaudhuri first came across Lawrence as an undergraduate. He was given a list of six books he must read, one of which was Sons and Lovers. It ‘opened things up’ for him and so he enthused at his excitement at visiting Nottinghamshire for the first time.

When discussing his own life, Chaudhuri explained his fascination with the ‘unseen noises’ of the streets. His home in India is alive with distant noises. From his window he consumes incomplete conversations, overheard shouts and screams, a city of individuals who blur into one. No wonder he argues Lawrence should be understood as an uncomplete whole, warts and all, when his own mind is so readily connected to his immediate environment.

When Chaudhuri discussed his novels, we found a man of patience. Odysseus Abroad has been bouncing about in his head for ten years, patiently scratching away before finally falling into place thanks to a chance conversation with his Uncle about a piece of art. At first he thought the book would be a memoir but instead it became a Joycean journey that unfolds over the course of a single day on Warren Street, London in 1985. The book is littered with extra meaning, with references to Joyce, Homer and Odysseus. But, he reassured us, you don’t need to get these references to enjoy the novel.

In terms of narrative, he enjoys ‘writing about nothing’. But don’t be fooled by his plotless novels. Silence is deafening. There was also time to talk about his love of music, and his 2004 album This is not Fusion. Chaudhuri is a trained and critically acclaimed singer in the North Indian classical tradition. His music, like his writing, has been praised for its experimentation. Like Lawrence, it’s hard to pin him down.

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In the Q&A I wanted to pin him down to his favourite Lawrence poem. These intertexual references are all very good, but surely there must be one that stands out more than the others. Once more he reiterated the importance of seeing Lawrence’s work as a whole but eventually spoke about Man and Bat whereby a bat suddenly appears through a window and begins “flying round the room in insane circles”. He discussed how both view each other with oddness, and that this alienation, wonder and difference epitomises Lawrence’s approach to life, and clearly his own.

It was at this point I realised Chaudhuri was right about intertextuality. All this bat talk had got me thinking about another Lawrence poem, Snake and how this caused equal bemusement and wonder when man and serpent confronted each other. And then I began to think about Chaudhuri’s Joycean novel Odysseus Abroad again. It’s set on Warren Street. Could this be an unconscious reference to the Warren Gallery where Lawrence’s painting were ‘arrested’ for obscenity? Or am I looking too deeply into things, finding connections that aren’t really there? Trying to put faces to the “unseen noises” instead of listening to them speak…

The following day Chaudhuri visited the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and held a networking session whereby writers could approach him directly to discuss their work or seek general advice on the publishing industry. And what is the first thing you see when you walk in the Writers’ Studio? The beautiful portrait of Lawrence by Nick Humphryes that features on the Rebel Writers banner outside the train station. You just can’t escape him.

An Evening with Amit Chaudhuri, 12 November 2016, Galleries of Justice, as part of the Festival of Literature. This review was originally published in LeftLion.

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