David Caddy is a poet and critic from the Blackmore Vale in north Dorset. He was educated as a literary sociologist at the University of Essex. He founded and organised the East Street Poets, the UK’s largest rural poetry group from 1985 to 2001. He directed the legendary Wessex Poetry Festival from 1995 to 2001, and later the Tears in the Fence festival from 2003 to 2005. He has edited the independent and eclectic literary magazine, Tears in the Fence, since 1984. He co-wrote a literary companion to London in 2006, has written and edited drama scripts and podcasts, and regularly contributes essays, articles and reviews to books and journals.
“The Bunny Poems give us a ‘localised sensation’ of twentieth-century rural existence. They re-connect us with the land as a deep, mirroring presence; the double-edged properties of plants; creature-sense; and the animal face each human carries. At the same time, the poems are an acute acknowledgement of absence; in speech, understanding and relationship.
David Caddy’s edge of anger works to show real events having real consequences that can be subtle yet devastating. The poems make the case for how the slow erosion of poverty and remoteness, can deprive community of a language resourceful enough to protect itself.”
— Sarah Hopkins
No explanation is offered
when the old barn burns down.
No one wants to follow
into the three mile wood.
In 1961 it is enough
to believe in electricity.
A dark awareness rooted
in broken branches, absence of song,
strangling webs, a healing stag’s foot,
the remains of a bonfire,
what could be moving, or forced to,
catches an eye, jolts.
Pausing, mid-stride, to look left,
adjust the step and suspend
the slap of recognition.
Drips, echoes. Stoat ripped
flesh. Muffled clips, snaps.
Something nervous, blurred, calls out.
Back in the days of centre partings,
when gentlemen doffed their hats to strangers
and old people were those that walked
into the river or hid under a bridge,
I had a dog called Sue.
The wind told her a fantastic story.
I caught the periphery of her vision.
We jumped the wire fence that subsided
in our making and lifted our legs
to meet whatever lay ahead.
She burned for days. Implied
that I should prod the door, walk out
with a stick. She slept in the tool shed,
with the jackdaw, by the paraffin heater,
and never came on heat. I minced her tripe.
Someone was lost, trying to find a way.
We walked a steady line along the
grind, ears pricked, negotiating real
and perceived obstacles with trust and luck,
waiting for the next call or crack.
I could read, hear the breeze listening in,
following a trail that began to stare back
in more than distance. My foreboding
appeared in a rush from the legs of a woman
and Sue growled long and hard at our find.
Harry in His Last Year of Employment
He brought his milk round with him, clicking
in his mouth, when we entered the hot room.
Harry in his last year of employment and I
in my first. Two greenhorns hugging baskets
of yellow curd towards an electric hopper.
Crumbs, an acrid smell, filling our open shirts.
Harry sifts bird calls in his frequent blows.
His wholeness drifting in bits of past lives.
Stone picker. Bird scarer. Stone-breaker,
hauler. Road builder in the Twenties and Thirties.
Turns on the boundary of speech, takes
seconds to reply to a question or an order.
Leaning over hot vats to cut and turn,
forcing sword like knives inwards two-handed
as if punting, exhaling every second, third stroke.
Two men attempting to carefully empty top hats,
trimming their edges, restoring body, shape,
relentlessly told to empty yet more vats.
Harry rubs both nostrils with his forefingers
as if shaving off some unwanted flakes.
Vision ceases as the hopper clogs. Wedges
removed. Hands opened to release distant
dreams. Recaptured as the connection sparks.
Whiff of rennet, old man, wet coat.
Harry spits. The pour of his head wringing out
inner strength. Veins in full display. Effort
effervescent. Between bursts, he inspects callouses.
He insists on filling the muslin covered moulds
refusing impulses to slow down, their sheer volume
seemingly a challenge to his name’s aura.
He thrusts his shovel to the trollery bottom
and in measured experience presses his weight
sideways on, whilst I with nimbler hands
weigh, fold muslin, remove pins, apply the pump
re-weigh and place on the press room belt.
We become a team. Old-timer. A-level student.
By hose down he’s nearly spent. Handkerchief knotted.
I offer to take the shovel. Am met with an iron
no and cannot grasp. I sulk. We do not speak.
Other workers avoided the shovel, sniggered.
Later I saw marks on the scales, his fear, and
Harry lost two fingers in the hopper, and left.
Before the by-pass and Bristol raiders,
I used to visit the Italian in West Street
with its signed pictures of starlets,
octogenarian, dog and Serena,
immaculate in tight skirt, mobile, artificial
leather, barely disguised fatigue.
The owner would sometimes appear
with fat cigar, smile and shrug.
I recalled my old economics teachers
saying that monetarists were a mad
fringe group that would never come to power.
When the Italian closed we moved
our allegiance to Sarah’s in East Street,
and Serena, in new pinstripe, answered
her last call and never came back.
from The Bunny Poems (Shearsman Books, 2011).
Order The Bunny Poems from the Shearsman online store.
Order The Bunny Poems from The Book Depository.
Read more of David’s work here and here.
David Caddy is a poet, writer, critic and literary sociologist. He lives and works in rural Dorset from where he edits international literary journal Tears in the Fence. He was co-author of London: City of Words (2006) with Westrow Cooper. Man in Black (Penned in the Margins, 2007) is his eighth book of poetry and follows the highly regarded collection The Willy Poems (Clamp Down Press, USA, 2004). David is a long-standing promoter of poetry. He founded the East Street Poets in 1985, which he ran until 2001, and directed the Wessex Poetry Festival from 1995 until 2002 and the Tears in the Fence Festival from 2003 to 2005. His latest book of poetry is The Bunny Poems (Shearsman, 2011). A collection of essays, So Here We Are is forthcoming from Shearsman Books in October 2011.
“The incantations and damnations of Caddy’s poetry are at full tilt … These are runic translations out of the woodlands, out of the fields, out of folktale and gossip, into modernity, into the doubts and occlusions of the urban. There’s mystery here, and a desire to explain the absences, to rediscover lost ‘home’. The book is like an ancient script that throws light on who and what we’ve become, and how. It comes out of the oppressed land.”
– John Kinsella
“Who else could bring together the spirits of John Donne and Johnny Cash in one collection? In Man in Black, David Caddy, a quintessential poet of place, rakes through the gloss and pump of a Botoxed modern world to find what’s been lost. These poems echo like footsteps in an abandoned mill; haunting, mortal poems that face the human condition head on.”
– Lori Jakiela
“David Caddy reaches forward, breaks the bounds of what is possible within the short poem, [taking] the reader to a new place altogether. The visionary quality in these poems [is] astonishing in its range, its depth, its complexity.”
– Jeremy Hilton, Poetry Salzburg Review
“Caddy has provided another important contribution to ecological literature. It is clear that Dorset is the portion of earth for which Caddy feels responsible. And Caddy speaks for it confidently, with pulsing anaphora, watchful litanies, and studied allusions.”
– Janelle Adsit, Pedestal Magazine
A Silence Opens
No one I know or heard of
wants to live there now.
There are no signposts to the road.
The village bank closed long ago.
This is the view you laughed at,
sometimes, at least, weeping with,
trying to dovetail into a gentle
and condensed living.
When you left the season was high
with heartsease, lovage, tansy, self-heal.
Now it spawns gestures of recognition, mild
complaint, the bark of transience.
Gnarled old-timers fretful, densely frugal,
hateful of the French and Labour,
long for pitchfork days, leaning into gates,
following distant hares, coursing.
Effort and loss redundant in a moment’s
blink, a ledger cross, some lack
or fickle twist and the holding grows thin
at the end of a dwindling track.
I have been there and I am
impatient to return. Silent
and motionless it is surrounded.
With each step we get closer.
I can speak of this virus
that loiters by the wire fence
of the prattle that passes for dialogue
the wind that lashes a man’s throat.
I propose to you a hill.
In the woods rooks call attention
to our presence.
Our bodies are full of expectation.
It hurts to live the way we do
wanting so much
unable to cope with this longing
unwilling to wait.
The landscape we love grows dark
so easily. Turning back we feel
the need to stop and linger.
We move. Stop. Are soon gone.
Sermon By The Crossroads, East Stour 1829
There are men and women here that like
ideas are shadows, children that are ghosts
of salts and gases. What moves these
writhing upwards as kites is love not punishment.
A lofty courage with wings, less than intoxicated,
they sway here and there in thermals
soaring over walks sprinkled with liverwort,
forget-me-nots and vast openings, wasted.
All in all, the divine pushes outwards,
as rooks rattle the mind out of slumber
the lid of lost questions interrogates the soul
breathing in the substance of things hoped for.
Inside this meadow ash and willow wish
and the wind across plants, leaves
and the thrush, tom-tit, lark call nurture
the wherewithal of a brighter light.
Unwanted spectres rise as bent magnets
usurp and tether tenancy beyond contract
leaving less than deepest yearnings,
the heart as clockwork out of time.
Let me ask you to place a bell
around the neck of every cow
so that you can hear that dissent
is alive and moving in discovery.
Let us clear and keep the Commons
disconnected after the fashion of clouds.
A rock is not superstition until it hurts
like the near-present hurtling towards us.
from Man in Black (Penned in the Margins, 2007).
Order Man in Black.
David Caddy is a poet, critic and editor of Tears in the Fence. He has been described by John Kinsella as ‘a true maverick in both his poetry and critical prose’. His most recent poetry books are The Willy Poems (Clamp Down Press, USA, 2004) and Man in Black (Penned in the Margins, 2007). His collection of critical essays So Here We Are is due from Shearsman in early 2011.
I will my snake belt today
its interlocking boar buckle
as a gesture before Domesday
until the cows leave the parlour
the last thinning of birdsong.
I hold this against the man
who wanted to put his hands
around my neck by the gravel fields.
I hold this against speedcore
the numbed silence of arrest.
I hold this to sun’s constancy
the wet field spread pelt
where consciousness is a path
away from intrusions, charges
I pick at a buried politics
on the edge of belonging
white knuckle scrag
in darkness that smothers
with its ruptures and smears.
You know the yew is transparent
and the raven problem solves
waiting for pliable alphabets
in emergent gullies,
and birthing pools,
where a damselfly
away from the golf course
needs one good eye
as distance rims the vanishing,
one good eye.
This Giddy Bevel
Shrew’s nest left of terminus
three feet south south-west
and two feet left of outer ring
by footpath, other rodent prints,
next to barbed wire fence.
Prostrate found sixth spider
among assorted debris, thorns
decomposed clippings. Flints,
axe heads, juniper berries,
bottle, large worn pebbles.
Signs of fox or badger digging
disturbed remains of capsule
medium and small flints three
to nine inches below Oxford
clay, sandstone stresses.
Four inch skull ten inches below.
Assorted small animal bones
within disturbed remains,
twill, gut, indeterminate
deposits, cloying soil texture.
By boundary ditch, second pit
dug in sixteenth century dated
by bottle, cock pheasant. Pale
ash. Gulls above. Tangible
niche of foe and alloy.
Upright, my back aches.
Oft mentioned animals
impinge, smudge, mix
lure, stir in this shaft,
in this giddy bevel.
A Severed Head
Wood vetch, yellow archangel,
grizzled skippers in search of bramble,
scattering of flies, coursing breeze-up.
To the left corner a no-nonsense broiler
solid, no windows, minimal ventilation,
stifling heat, intense spatial allocation.
Some celandine, campion beside a fallen
branch, near the rutted track and fresh
scratchings, revving skid marks.
A severed head
Yet no body to be seen
some fizz and filter,
cardinal and stag
not a bluebell in sight
A severed head.
A severed head.
The owner is said to speak pure pidgin.
His entrails must stink.
Yet the activists are as much hunters
as keepers. This step and clearing has no
shame for the voyeur to glean.
Crab apple denoting age, boundary,
deserted apart from a wild service.
A severed head.
Young Paul Hart
Full of passion Mississippi Paul Hart
Shunter Smith And His Boogie Train
brashly erects his first art poster in Stur
and the locals are ecstatic at the Biba hint,
there is a clap of praise and we are
moved to believe in the divine again.
At the Fiddleford, cold on the table waiting, two pints of 6X.
A ritual, man to man, glass by glass, until chucking out.
LA Woman in the air. Paul’s declarative. Art portfolio.
MG parked askew. He’s got two women, the fuzz on his trail.
He’s a Friend of the Devil. He’s my friend. He’s maybe your
friend too. He knows Matisse, chords, runs thirty miles daily,
will help you if you ask. His smile does not lie. We lie under
its gravitas, alive in the valley and try to be the best that we can
and not some shady agent who hides words under the spit of
He slumps down, covering the table with papers, and says
without vision, we only see parts, we are pistils and stamens.
from David’s forthcoming collection, The Bunny Poems.
Order Man in Black (Penned in the Margins).