Derek Parker on Charles Causley, Collected Poems, 1951–2000

Diamond Bombs

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When Charles Causley’s first collection of poems came out in 1951 – Farewell, Aggie Weston, the first in Eric Marx’s elegant series of ‘Poems in Pamphlet’ from the Hand and Flower Press – a fellow teacher at the ‘chalk Siberia’ in which he earned his living, picked it up and remarked dismissively, ‘Good Lord – is this the best thing you can do with your spare time?’ ‘What he didn’t know’, said Causley later, ‘was that it was the teaching I did in my spare time.’

He was still teaching when I met him first in 1952 – he had broadcast a kind review of a small collection of poems I’d published, and asked me over to his house in Launceston (he loved showing people around the town, and I recognized much of it from lines in his poems) – but I used to see him mainly in Plymouth when he came up to read at the Arts Centre in Looe Street, or at one of the pubs down on the Barbican – he was one of only two people who knew both my wife and me independently, before we met.

Charles was born in Launceston in August 1917. His father, a groom and gardener, had joined up to serve in the First World War, was gassed and, as a result, died prematurely when his son was 7 and still at elementary school. Later Charles went on to Launceston College, and when he left his mother announced that she had got him a good job in a builder’s office. He moved on to work for a local electricity supply company but he felt trapped: it was ‘the end of the world’, he said, and certainly not a promising start to life as a poet, though poetry was already stirring in his veins – brought to bloodheat, he always said, as a result of reading Siegfried Sassoon’s war poems. Meanwhile, he wrote a couple of one-act plays (which were published) and played the piano in a four-piece dance band.

This period of literally marking time came to an end when, called up for war service, he joined a naval shore establishment at a former Butlin’s holiday

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About the contributor

Derek Parker and his wife Julia are about to publish Building Sydney’s History, a photographic essay on the growth and personality of the city.

The Charles Causley Society welcomes members interested in his work: contact Richard Graham, The Bookshop, 10 Church Street, Launceston pl15 8ap or visit www.charlescausleysociety.com. His house has been acquired by the Causley Trust, and will shortly be available to a writer in residence, with Causley’s writing-room as he left it.

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