Many thanks to John Pownall and Nick Pitt of Bridport Review for the wonderful review of Graham Fawcett’s talk on Coleridge on Thursday evening.
Graham’s next talk is Keats on Thursday 17 March 6.30pm Tickets at £10 or £25 with dinner are available now on 01308 459511. More info…
Graham Fawcett on Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Sladers Yard 21 January 2016
BR Rating *****
By John Pownall
If you have never experienced Graham Fawcett, you have missed something. His childlike enthusiasm for the greats of the canon is the motor that drives through his two-part, two-hour monologues to a journey’s end of revelation. These are not literary events for those with contemporary attention spans. Fawcett does not give it to us in bite-size chunks. These are big talks, packed full of imagination and research, and ideally suited to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for Coleridge, like the Ancient Mariner himself (as Fawcett reminded us) simply had to talk.
What we learnt, the two or three dozen of us packed into the café at Sladers Yard on a cold, wintery night, was that Coleridge was the master of comebacks, an obsessive walker of hills and dales in Somerset and the Lake District (like Wainwright on speed, joked Fawcett), and a man who could talk the hind legs off a donkey. It is perhaps too easy to write off STC as the great opium eater of English letters, or as Wordsworth’s less successful sidekick. But his contribution to the evolution of Romantic poetry cannot be overstated. Wordsworth’s development as a nature poet owes much to Coleridge’s early conversation poems, and Kubla Khan can be seen as a major influence on later Romantics such as Keats, and Victorians such as the Rossettis, Swinburne, and Tennyson.
Fawcett stays away from literary history, though, for the most part, and focusses intently on the interaction of the life of the poet and the work; in other words, what we are treated to is an exemplary study of the psychological sources of great pieces such as Frost at Midnight. This last poem was recited in full. You could have heard a pin drop in that rustic room as Fawcett reached the end of the poem: if the secret ministry of frost/Shall hang them up in silent icicles,/Quietly shining to the quiet Moon. Pause for breath. “I would give anything to have written those last three lines,” he mused. Wouldn’t we all? Fawcett identified the essence of these (somewhat neglected) classics as poems that capture a precise moment, like photographs, and also as poems that reflect always upon the hurt child within the grown man, a hangover from an act of painful parental severance in childhood.
Equally intriguing was the manner in which Fawcett described the special bond he feels between himself and Coleridge. They both attended Christ’s Hospital School, and both had a classical education. There was something touching about the way that Fawcett expressed his reluctance to draw any comparisons between himself and such a renowned great of literature. But the kinship was evident, especially in this careful exposition of the biographical context of these intimate pieces.
The second part of the talk moved into the more familiar classics, focussing on Kubla Khanand The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Fawcett paused at the two-thirds stage of Kubla, at the moment that Coleridge is supposed to have been interrupted in his recollection of the dream by the ‘man from Porlock’. Was this a genuine event, wondered Fawcett, or simply a clever alibi, all part of the self-created myth about the poem as vision rather than as a carefully crafted piece of literature? The question was, of course, left hanging.
As to the Rime, Fawcett’s take here was that Coleridge is himself the mariner; an inveterate chatterbox who has to get the pain and guilt off his chest every time he meets a wedding guest, like a pub bore. Fawcett kept returning to a comment by John Carey that something had wounded Coleridge at a young age, and the wound had never healed. Only through verse could a kind of peace be found, and of course that is the tale of the Ancient Mariner himself. Life and art become so intertwined as to be inextricable.
John Keats is next for Fawcett at Sladers yard. Do go; these are very special occasions.
John Pownall, BridportReview.com
Phone 01308 459511 to book tickets for 17 March John Keats Talk by Graham Fawcett.