Book cover

New collection celebrates Cornish poet Jack Clemo

Jack Clemo, a writer whose work focused on the dramatic landscape of the china clay mining region near St Austell in Cornwall, is being celebrated in a new volume of poetry.

University of Exeter PhD student Luke Thompson, an expert on Clemo, has edited and produced The Selected Poems of the Cornish poet who was a popular and original feature of literary Britain in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.

As a deaf and blind man brought up in a harsh working class environment, Clemo’s poetry provided an extraordinary perspective, unique within twentieth century literature. Initially, Clemo had wanted to become a novelist, but his failing health and the deterioration of his senses meant that he was unable to keep hold of such a large work in his mind. However, with poems, he could both compose and edit them in his head, and it is for his poetry that Clemo will always be remembered.

Thompson said:“Using the only landscape he knew - the flooded pits, open clay works, waste dumps, excavators and machinery - Clemo approached universal themes like faith, death, sex, and identity, creating a unique brand of poetry. The new Selected Poems is an important step in the restoration process of putting Clemo back into the position he once held within twentieth century poetry.”

The Selected Poems published by Enitharmon, will be the first major poetry publication since Clemo’s death over 20 years ago. It is anticipated that this will help restore Clemo to his rightful place as an important national poet. The publication includes a selection of 52 poems, with an introduction from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams. Clemo was raised in a Methodist household and developed a somewhat stark personal theology which informed his writing. His early work is marked by a friction between 'nature' and 'God', with man standing at the frontier, in the clay works, where machine and moorland meet

Clemo’s diaries, manuscripts, letters and photograph archive are held within the University of Exeter’s Special Collections Library. Thompson has been working from these to create his selection and to add his own annotations to the volume of poetry, in addition to the research he is conducting for his biography of Clemo. The collection is part of the Centre for South West Writing, which also houses many of the region’s important creative writers including John Betjeman, William Golding, Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Charles Causley and Henry Williamson.

Thompson will be talking about Jack Clemo at the Fowey Festival on Thursday 14 May and at the Charles Causley Festival 13 June. The talks draw on Thompson’s research on Clemo, during which he discovered an unpublished letter from Daphne du Maurier, who was writing in response to the young Jack Clemo’s extravagant and controversial articles in a local newspaper.  Using this letter, Thompson will introduce Clemo’s life and poetry, reading from his new edited Selected Poems.

Date: 13 May 2015

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