Take a sample of 10 people who are 6 foot, 3 inches, line them up and then see how different 6 foot, 3 inches can look.
That’s how poet and publisher Jess Mynes suggests thinking about the experience of reading British poet Richard Caddel’s series of poems titled “Ground.” Mynes, who lives in Wendell and is one of the organizers of the monthly ALL SMALL CAPS reading series at the Deja Brew, has just published “Ground” in chapbook form through his publishing venture, Fewer & Further Press.
“I think what he’s doing in this poem is that kind of illustration,” Mynes said, referring to the repetitions and variations that thread through the series.
“Ground” consists of eleven poems that begin with lines taken from “Birds and Men,” a book by British naturalist and ornithologist E.M. Nicholson. The original text was not intended to be a poem. But Caddel, a librarian and avid reader, heard the wonderful, perhaps inadvertent, music of Nicholson’s lines and preserved it. He began by accentuating the inherent rhythm of the text through short line breaks and then elaborated on Nicholson’s opening theme — throstles feeding on the ground — in subsequent poems by spinning riffs, much the way a jazz musician might pick up and improvise on a melody.
As you read the eleven poems in “Ground,” it’s impossible not to carry forward the sounds and rhythms of Nicholson’s text. It’s as if Caddel has laid that down as a bass line. And this, in music, is in fact what “ground” means: a short, recurring melody that provides a unifying structure to a composition. Then, over it and intertwining with that “ground,” Caddel creates the variations.
Sometimes he accomplishes this through the most basic repetition: presenting the same phrases verbatim. Sometimes he builds lines that depart in meaning from those opening lines but echo their pacing and grammatical patterns. Sometimes it’s physical gestures that repeat: instead of the throstles, streetlamps or the stalks of dead flowers stand stiffly upright; a street cleaner cocks his head to one side. The word “surface,” denoting solid ground in the first poem, dissolves into “the surface/ of sleep,” in another poem. Tankers and politicians force their way into some of the poems, disturbing what Mynes called the “bucolic” sense of the series’ opening.
Caddel was interested in music, Mynes said. At the University of New Castle in northeast England, before he met modernist poet Basil Bunting, Caddel majored in music and played the viola. Once you know this, it’s easy to hear Caddel’s series of poems as a musical score, with varying degrees of orchestration and tempo, but always with those birds — feeding, stopping, listening — running like notes throughout.
“I think the satisfaction is in the possibility,” Mynes said. Adding that the repetitions set you up to think you know what’s coming but the variations surprise you.
Mynes first learned of Caddel’s work when a friend loaned him a copy of “Magpie Words,” a selected works published in 2002. “Magpie Words” includes the series of poems in “Ground,” but Mynes’ chapbook is an improvement in that it gives each poem in the series its own page, providing the mental — and musical — rest needed between the poems.
Mynes never had a chance to meet Caddel, who died suddenly in 2003, but worked with Caddel’s widow, Ann, to publish “Ground.”
“One of the things that I find really amazing about him, that comes across in everybody I talk to about him who knew him, is how modest he was,” Mynes said. Like Mynes, Caddel was a librarian and publisher interested in introducing the work of poets who might not be receiving the attention they deserve. Through Pig Press, which he ran with his wife, Caddel published the work of important modernist poets such as Basil Bunting, George Evans and others. For many years, he was also the director of the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre at Durham University.
Caddel was interested in poets who were helping to build a poetry community, Mynes said, and often compared the building of that community to making a meal. “He was less interested in the folks who aren’t involved in preparing the meal or cleaning up the plates afterwards, doing that kind of work,” Mynes said.
The same could be said of Mynes, whose publishing efforts through Fewer & Further Press bring to light poets, many of them British, who are not well-known in America, among them Geraldine Monk, Tony Baker, Harriet Tarlo and Australian poet Laurie Duggan.
“A friend of mine jokingly said at one point, ‘How does it feel to be an ex-pat?’ Because I publish all these British poets,” Mynes said. “But to me it seems like there’s a really interesting overlap between the British scene — as a non-academic avant-garde poetry scene — and, say, the New York School of poetry.”
“I like the idea of having an almost archival quality to some of what Fewer & Further Press does,” Mynes said. “At this point, my press is representing my reading habits more than anything.”
But Mynes, a humanities instructor and library director at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, has eclectic reading habits, making it worth keeping an eye out for what he’ll publish next.
In addition to chapbooks, Fewer & Further Press publishes small quarter-fold pamphlets that Mynes titles “Asterick.” Printed on one piece of heavy, nicely textured paper in small editions of 75 copies, the Asterick pamphlets fold to the size of a small greeting card. They’re like emergency doses of poetry you can keep in your back pocket. And who doesn’t need one of those?
For more information on Mynes or to order books from Fewer & Further Press, visit: http://fewfur.blogspot.com. For more information about the ALL SMALL CAPS reading series at the Déja Brew in Wendell visit: http://allsmallcaps.blogspot.com.
on the ground
stand stiffly upright
head cocked to one side
alert for signs of prey
near the surface
running or hopping
for a few feet
to the next listening point.
— Richard Caddel
Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. Crapo is seeking published poets for her column. She’s interested in books written by a Franklin County poet and/or published by a Franklin County press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.