Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Coming Up: Terry Gifford on Ted Hughes...the riverman

" Here is a poet and storyteller presenting vivid, detailed and elusive material as evidence at a public enquiry in a mode of writing that was not formerly known to be part of his discourse.  Yet the self-inflicted human ailments recorded here - transmitted by water, but also symptomatic of human pollution of earth and sky – surface in the poem ‘If’ that was later included in the River section of Three Books (1993): ‘If you have infected the sky and the earth/ Caught its disease off you – you are the virus’ (137). The poem’s final line catches the inescapable ecological pervasiveness of human water pollution: Already you are your ditch, and there you drink.
Ten years later, following Hughes’s realisation that a new name and a wider remit was needed, a press release dated 2 June 1995 for the formation of the West country Rivers Trust states its aims more generally as ‘concern about pressures on natural water resource’ in the West of England and it intends to meet its aims through a broad range of activities, including education – ‘the trust has already acquired an area of suitable river, allowing free access and fishing to children’. Ted Hughes was a founding trustee. It should not be forgotten that one of Hughes’s most powerful and educational interventions on behalf of water quality and public health was the children’s story referred to earlier, The Iron Woman (1993). In a letter to his editor at Faber Hughes wrote, ‘We could send John Major a gold-backed copy. Present all the chieftains with one, maybe..... And all the cabinet’. In 1992 Hughes was a very visible supporter of Ian Cook’s court case against South West Water for their failure to regulate water quality on a stretch of the River Creedy in Devon which Cook owned. The foam on the river, which had a sewage works upstream, was likened by Judge Cox to ‘the face of a beautiful woman scarred by disease’. Hughes was quoted as saying outside the courtroom, ‘It’s an important case, an historical case because it’s reactivated the power of common law in this terrific issue of water quality in rivers’ (Guardian 16 April 1992). South West Water contributed £5000 for a research grant for the Institute of Freshwater Ecology to investigate the effect of the detergents on the River Exe. Here was another example of practical involvement, active concern, bringing about changes to river quality that would be unknown to readers of River. '

This Friday,a step beyond the climbing game with a return to the site's environmental theme.Terry Gifford is probably best known to readers of outdoor media as a climbing writer.However,Terry is also one of the UK's foremost academic authorities on the late poet Ted Hughes. In So briefly he roamed the gallery of marvels! Terry writes of the poets' concerns and campaigns centred around river pollution and industrial degradation in the English south-west.As a passionate fisherman, Ted Hughes witnessed at first hand,the effects of pollution on freshwater ecology.

* From October Salmon; The River: faber & faber 1983