Recently I heard from Lucilla Maclaren Spillane, who was looking around the Web for Steve Eng. Steve, if you recall, is the guy who brought M. P. Shiel fully to my attention, and completely sold me on John Gawsworth as a fascinating literary figure — whether you like Gawsworth’s own poetry or are more modernist in your tastes, his championing of various poets and writers in need of rediscovery, his life in the pubs as the reigning King of Redonda, his talent as an ace book scout — if you’ve got any kind of Bookman Blood in your veins, you’ve got to appreciate Gawsworth.
Lucilla’s dad Hamish Maclaren was one of the poets in the Gawsworth Circle, and she’s sent in some memories to keep their names active in the blogosphere. If it isn’t obvious, you can consider Gawsworth a Patron Saint of this site, and I’m delighted to have her step in as a Guest Blogger. These days she divides her time between Malta, the Republic of Ireland, England and America, and says, “I believe that poets like Housman, Maclaren, Gawsworth and Edmund Blunden posed the biggest threat, and still do, to the post-modernist junk that today is called poetry.” Her MA thesis A Paradigm Shift in Poetry? The Influence of A. E. Housman (2011) cites both her father and his great pal, of course.
Gawsworth and my father went back to the days of the windmill in the photo I have attached. When I bought The Collected Poems of John Gawsworth, I found that his poem
“The Mill” features Turville Mill — a.k.a. Cobstone Mill or Ibstone Mill.
I met John Gawsworth several times, first when he visited in my childhood. He would periodically raid my father’s waste-paper basket and rescue poems. He pasted them into a scrap-book, which he signed.
I read at the age of four and had an early book picturing fairies. We lived in
the country and I made an unsuccessful search for them. I formed the opinion
that just because you can’t see something, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t
there. I believe this was constructive in making me more aware of the magic
of poetry by the age of six.
By age nine I realised that the scrap-book was not safe in my father’s hands, because he would try to re-write inspired work. I squirreled it away into my suitcase when I was sent to boarding school and have had it ever since. In later life it formed the basis of serious research into my father’s work.
I’m thinking there must be poets still alive, who knew Gawsworth, better than I
did. I am sure something could have been done for him.
My father never recovered from my mother’s death and at first, he was in a bad way. I didn’t want any social services people near him; they would have done more harm than good. We had a tiny, rented, bungalow and only I was working. My father and John had lost touch, but somehow reconnected.
John would turn up with a bottle of whiskey. My father would have a “night-cap” and drank sensibly. I could feed John, but couldn’t have handled his alcohol problem and there was no-where he could sleep. I regret that I was not in a position to have done more for my father’s oldest friend. I strikes me now, though, that there must have been plenty of people whom he had helped, who were still living and better placed than I was.
John would turn up, always dressed in an enormous overcoat, the lining of which had disintegrated. I am sure it must have held all manner of things, plus the inevitable bottle of whiskey. John had a bad leg, possibly left over from the war, and walked with a short stick of a hard dark reddish wood, that had a flattish knob on top to hold it by. I am not sure how, but we somehow inherited this stick which I still have.