Hey everyone! Cross-posting this from the Poets’ Graves blog.
On Monday we trekked out onto Dartmoor to hunt for Ted Hughes’ memorial stone. Its exact location was kept secret for several years, partly – so the story goes – for fear that Sylvia Plath supporters might deface it, and partly – again, so I’ve read – to prevent it ‘becoming a shrine for Hughes fans’.
Which is kind of crazy. Surely the function of a memorial is so that the living can remember and appreciate the deceased? We’re not talking about Heinrich Himmler here – ‘Hughes fans’, I should have thought, are likely to do nothing more than gaze pensively at the stone for sixty seconds, look around at the bleak majesty of Dartmoor, glance again at the stone, let out a little semi-aspirated sigh then hike back the way they came.
Anyway, the dizzying series of feints and mysteries worked. We didn’t manage to find the stone – the guides we read said you need strong boots and a compass, and that you need to let someone know you’re attempting the walk so they can report you missing if you don’t come back. Mixy thought he saw some tombs in the middle of the moorland, but after we stomped through an ocean of dry ferns to reach them, it turned out they were just sewage grates.
Undeterred, we found a pleasant spot beside the River Taw – beside and into which Hughes’ ashes were scattered – and wrote poems for 15 minutes. We were sitting beside a little weir – on one side, the river was ridged like a thumbprint. It bunched in bubbling clusters of black pearls as it reached the rocks, creaming round the swerve of the bank, collecting as yellowish foam. The poem I wrote was dreadful, portentous guff.
We stopped in at Exeter University to do a performance to about a dozen members of the Theology Society. We set up in one corner of the busy Ram Bar. It was kind of weird, you guys! But also really fun.
In the evening we went to Launceston to see Charles Causley. We stayed in a brilliant pub called The White Horse, who very kindly put us up – in gorgeous rooms – and gave us dinner, breakfast, and drinks all evening. It was another intimate one – maybe a dozen or so people – but again, really fun! We sat around a big table and me, Mixy and Mark took it in turns to do poems while the other two took commissions from the crowd and wrote speed poems over by the pool table. We also had Charles Causley poems read to us.
My favourite was ‘By St Thomas Water’, set in the churchyard where his grave now stands. We crossed the little stone bridge over a stream, and Mixy laughed at a woman who was standing alone beneath a brolly, quacking loudly at the ducks. Here’s an extract:
By St. Thomas Water
Where the river is thin
We looked for a jam-jar
To catch the quick fish in.
Through St Thomas Church-yard
Jessie and I ran
The day we took the jam-pot
Off the dead man.
On the scuffed tombstone
The grey flowers fell,
Cracked was the water,
Silent the shell.
The snake for an emblem
Swirled on the slab,
Across the beach of sky the sun
Crawled like a crab.
I wrote a poem for a woman whose daughter had spent 5 hours in A&E that weekend after ingesting poisonous mushrooms. Also the patrons began competing to see who could come up with the dirtiest limerick.
Hunting down graves is hard work, you guys! As and when we have wifi, we’ll keep you updated as we continue. Thanks to everyone who has come so far!