A Ted Hughes-filled day at Dartington last Saturday and one I was really looking forward to especially the Ted Hughes Memorial Lecture delivered by Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate and in the presence of Carol Hughes.
In the morning a clash of events meant I had privileged William Fiennes and The Music Room over Terry Gifford talking on Ted Hughes Environmentalist, but I did settle into my seat in the Barn Theatre for Noel Chanan showing his documentary film which explored the nature of the friendship and artistic collaboration between Ted Hughes and Leonard Baskin.
All enough to ensure I took out my little collection of first edition Ted & Lennys when I got home just to remind myself what things of beauty they are. In a way I don't enjoy first editions like this, they are investments not books, hardly touchable as books should be, so I have well-thumbed readable copies too.
Noel Chanan, the photographer and film maker, whose greyscale images of Ted Hughes now grace the covers of several recent publications including the Collected Poems, introduced his film.
Some twenty-five years ago he had recorded extensive film footage of Hughes and Baskin in conversation at Leonard Baskin's Devon studio.
'Oh faaaaaaaaaaantastic' I thought, this is going to be incredible.
Noel Chanan then explained apologetically that the original film footage had been faulty and only the sound recording survived.
'Oh *£%^&*# ' I suspect thought the entire audience as of one.
In fact spare a thought because I can only begin to imagine Noel Chanan's despair at that discovery, but he has recently edited his collection of still photographs with the sound track.
So The Artist and The Poet began and we listened to these two huge creative forces talking about their work and their friendship. If ever two voices and some photos on a screen held the power to carry an audience's initial disappointment along, moulding it into a moving and memorable experience, then Lenny and Ted stole the show with some help from Noel, who was by his own admission 'the servant of the material'.
Crow, their first work together and I learnt a thing or two as well, as Ted Hughes explained in a discussion about the significance of the crow, that when the ravens departed from the Tower of London during the war, (apparently the Blitz did for them) they were replaced with birds from Sourton Wood, just up the road from here.
As we all know and fear, left raven-less the monarchy and the Tower itself will fall.
There were intricate discussions about mythology and the symbolism of the crow as a trickster, vain and despised and outcast, a totem symbol of an inverted god and then more about each book they had worked on together.
Cave Birds and which came first, the poems or the pictures?
Ted Hughes wrote a narrative to fit Leonard Baskin's drawings and, not being a believer in down-beat endings, the themes went from conviction, trial, execution and death to resurrection. Then Leonard Baskin produced ten more 'doodles' (much banter between the two) and so the narrative was extended to encompass judgement and the underworld. Ted Hughes then added a human level and Leonard Baskin had to produce nine more 'doodles' to fit the words.
Both talked about the happy constraints offered by the boundaries of working in this way, working together and out of each other but separately and in a completely unplanned way.
Under the North Star written in its entirety when Ted Hughes visited Leonard Baskin in Maine and they journeyed into the backwoods, how Baskin's paintings for this book were all that Hughes could have dreamed of and more and at this point he read The Bear.
Moving on to Flowers and Insects (or The Flower Book as Ted Hughes called it), Ted Hughes described how the painting of the daffodil done by Leonard Baskin offered more inspiration for the words than the acre of daffodils that he was looking at, how this relationship between the two of them was on an even keel, it had an ease, an affinity.
'I'd bought a patch of wild ground.
In March it surprised me. Suddenly I saw what I owned.
A cauldron of daffodils boiling gently.'
By this time I'm completely immersed and scribbling in the dark, my writing's wandering as I'm watching but Season's Songs was Leonard Baskin's first impressions of Devon where he lived with his family from 1973 to1983. New to watercolours and feeling his way into a fresh and different landscape Baskin explained how he felt spurred on to do that by the poetry.
I've read a few poems from Season's Songs again this week and it's going right on my Roger Deakin shelf this minute. If you've missed the significance of that, it's a collection of books which speak of and to the natural world any which way that touches me, making me see anew what I think I so often miss.
'The swallow of summer, the seamstress of summer,
She scissors the blue into shapes and she sews it,
She draws a long thread and she knots it at corners.
Both died within two years of each other Ted Hughes in 1998, Leonard Baskin in 2000 and their final collaboration, a limited edition of the Oresteia, with forty-seven woodcuts by Baskin, a fitting memorial to a unique and lasting friendship, as is this wonderful film.
It was left to a questioner at the end to put our speechlessness into words,
'Surely, in the end, the loss of the moving visual footage was a happy accident'
and I think we all nodded in awesome agreement.