Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Changed Man

When I first bought my copy of Ruth Padel's 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, the title of one of the poems she analyses jumped out at me immediately. I recognised both names and the relation between them in the curiously titled Keith Chegwin as Fleance, names which I suspect would be quite mystifying to most readers outside the British Isles - well, the first of them anyway.

Keith Chegwin was, or is, I suppose, a minor broadcasting celebrity, who appeared regularly when I was a teenager on Saturday morning tv shows aimed at kids. As a child he appeared in Raymond Roman Polanski's film of Macbeth as Banquo's son Fleance who narrowly escapes with his life when his dad is assassinated by Macbeth's bad guys. I know the film well having used it a few times in the classroom when teaching the Scottish Play for 'O' level. Hence my recognition of the thoroughly arcane reference which led me to read the poem.

I sort of got it on first reading, having glanced at Ms Padel's helpful commentary, but it didn't leave any deep impression. Then today I read it again, having suddenly thought of checking whether the poet, Paul Farley, I'd been reading in Edinburgh, having picked up a collection from in York, featured amongst the 52 writers. He did, and he - you've guessed it - was the writer of the Keith Chegwin poem I'd read several years ago.

When I bought the collection in York I was convinced I'd never heard of Mr Farley, so it was a bit embarrassing to realise I'd read something by him, and a lively extended commentary on him as a writer already. But here's the funny thing. Reading his poem today I found it a powerful piece even on the first reading and wondered how it was I'd not reacted to its strangely comical melancholy years back. I suppose I was different then. I'd not been changed, as I am today, ever so slightly, but enough to count, by my experience of a protracted reading of other work by its writer.

What we read makes us no longer quite ourselves.

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