Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Light heart, broken heart, child heart--

Olana - Matthew Six
Olana - Matthew Six
Mineral Pigments, Gold on Kumohada
60 x 48"
2007-2009
This modest little post is dedicated to my friend Makoto Fujimura, who lost 20 major works and 50+ smaller ones in the flooding of Chelsea's Dillon Gallery during Hurricane Sandy. He has served on the NEA board, founded International Arts Movement and Fujimura Institute, and is well known worldwide for his nihongan paintings.

Yesterday afternoon the mail brought me the most delightful little book by royal mail. I now have a beautiful Godine edition of the late Charles Causley's selected poems, and I have a paperback collected poems that I wish were a bit higher quality, but this is a little charmer: a paperback of the Selected Poems for Children, the poems chosen by him not long before his death.

"Among the English poetry of the last half century, Charles Causley's could well turn out to be the best loved and most needed." --Ted Hughes

I dearly love Causley and can't fathom why he's not better known on this side of the Atlantic puddle. Editor John Wilson introduced his poems to me some years ago, and I've been very glad of it.

Writers and readers cast a kind of after-burial vote for whose books will last and whose words are worth reading, and I'm casting one for Causley. Charles Causley is one of those still-water-running-deep people one longs to have known, and I could feel a little envious of those who have, were envy not one of the seven deadlies... Invidia.

In this book, one meets elephants and mermaids and sea-lovers and tales of kings or paupers that make one laugh or crack the heart. I've just started to dip into it here and there, seeing poems I know (like the marvelous "Timothy Winters" or "Mary, Mary Magdalene" or "Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience") and poems entirely new to me, bright or sometimes uncanny or grim(m). Here's a poem to drive a child--or you or me--out of bed and into the blooming sun:

Early in the Morning

Early in the morning
The water hits the rocks,
The birds are making noises
Like old alarum clocks,
The soldier on the skyline
Fires a golden gun
And over the back of the chimney-stack
Explodes the silent sun.

And here's one of his lively tales in small:

Charity Chadder

Charity Chadder
Borrowed a ladder,
Leaned it against the moon,
Climbed to the top Without a stop
On the 31st of June,
Brought down every single star,
Kept them all in a pickle jar.

Here's a snip from a jolly, longish poem called Three Green Sailors. Causley was a sailor, and that was the source of many a grief-struck or lovely poem of his. But this one is a comedy for children and the child-hearted, and reminds us that Causley was a teacher of young children. I wonder if he once recited this poem to a class:

Three Green Sailors

Three green sailors
Went to sea
In a sailing ship
Called The Flying Flea.
Their caps were round,
Their shirts were square,
Their trousers were rolled
And their feet were bare.
One wore a pigtail,
One wore a patch,
One wore ear-rings
That never did match.
One chewed baccy,
One chewed cake,
One chewed a pennyworth
Of two-eyed steak.
One danced to,
One danced fro
And the other sang the shanty
Haul Away Joe.

And here's a little weather poem especially for Mako, with the hope that his every painting day is a sweet Saturday:

All Day Saturday

Let it sleet on Sunday,
Monday let it snow,
Let the mist on Tuesday
From the salt-sea flow.
Let it hail on Wednesday,
Thursday let it rain,
Let the wind on Friday
Blow a hurricane,
But Saturday, Saturday
Break fair and fine
And all day Saturday
Let the sun shine.

The book is illustrated by John Lawrence, who traveled to Launceston, Cornwall to meet with Charles Causley and make sure his work was accurate to the place. Small, vigorous vignettes decorate the book and add much pleasure and charm.

13 comments:

  1. So Sorry to hear about your friend's lost works.
    I wasn't familiar with his paintings, but just looked them up. (As a painter, I love to learn about other artists. As a mensch, I'm just incredibly nosey.)
    Wow. It's gorgeous and powerful and moving.

    Lovely poem you've sent his way.

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  2. The great John Lawrence has been conjuring illustrations to delight generations of book lovers. He most recently made images for the illustrated edition of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy and Lyra's Oxford.

    So pleased to hear of your acquisition.

    My sympathies to Makoto for the loss of his work.

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  3. I think I probably know more Charles Causley than I know I know, but I must look out for more, and this book sounds lovely.

    So sorry about Makoto's work, there must be many such losses which don't make the headlines.

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  4. Lynn, painter and mensch! You funny woman.

    I wonder if this will mean more people will know his work--might be the one good thing. I mentioned it on facebook last night, and there was a lot of response, some from artists and a publisher who knew his work, but a lot from other people who are just sad at the thought...

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  5. Clive,

    I do love those lively little drawings... I wonder what John Lawrence would make of Pullman. Liked the first volume of the trilogy very much. Was disappointed with the last.

    Your work is quite different from Fujimuran work, but I think you have in common the jewel-like quality of color--his being literal jewels, yours being Golden AC (and the recent brilliant inks.)

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  6. Lucy,

    I'll bet you do. I'm not sure how widely he's read in the UK, but surely more than here. And he had many illustrated children's books, so you might have met him that way as well.

    Yes, I guess there was a lot of devastation in Chelsea galleries--many of the premier ones being on the first floor and having lower storage. But I'm sure other wonderful things were lost. It's particularly sad for artists, as in this case, who were about to have a solo show.

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  7. i am so sorry...what a tragic loss for your friend.

    and/but

    Thank you for more Charles in my life. i shall look for that book

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  8. How did you purchase the book, Marly? Do you have a bookseller you work with for out-of-print in the UK?

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  9. zephyr,

    He is being positive, but yes. Big loss. Like losing a piece of one's self.

    I was desiring a copy for a while, but the thing seemed totally unavailable. But now there are starting to be copies on abe.com. My copy is a library discard in great shape except for a stamp--nice little protective cover on it.

    You would definitely enjoy the book, both the poems and the illustration.

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  10. Thanks!
    i just ordered one. It's a McMillan publication, not Godine, but it looks as if it has the same illustrations. It's nice knowing that's coming.

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  11. My Godine one is not children's poems, though there's a slight overlap in the ones I mentioned...

    The MacMillan is the right one for the children's poems. There's also a MacMillan for the others.

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  12. What an awful thing to happen to Fujimara's work - devastating really. I just visited his website and find myself awed by the beauty and power of his art.

    I don't think I've heard of Charles Causley... must look up his work....

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  13. Marja-Leena,

    Yes, it is terrible. And his work is potent; I've seen his work at Dillon and in his studio, and it's impressive. He works on a generous scale too. All that lost.

    One hopes it is like a story in which the worst possible thing turns out to be in some weird, powerful way a good. But right now I can't see how!

    Causley is lovely. Much better than most poets of his time. Much easier to love and know.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.