Romantic and Poignant


The Door of Taldir
, Paul Evans (124pp, £9.95, Shearsman)


     Wind makes lament
     Heart will not mend
     The empty hill
 
So wrote Paul Evans (1945-1991) at the close of an elegy for Idris Davies, one of the longer poems included in the posthumous Selected, The Door of Taldir, edited by Robert Sheppard and published by Shearsman Books in 2009. It's a good selection from Evans' work, and Sheppard is correct to note that although he regarded himself as 'a traditional English lyric poet' he was also a poet of 'deep Welsh inheritance' and in my opinion he was the most poignant of the innovative poets of the British Poetry Renaissance, a word I always preferred to 'Revival'. As Evans had said of the word 'revival': 'I've always been amused by the religio-medical implications of that term.'  
 
I first met him in London in the 1970's. We shared a love of the poetry of Lorine Niedecker, something few of our contemporaries did. In the first issue of my poetry journal, Branch Redd Review
, I published his 'Manual For The Perfect Organization Of Tourneys', which became the title poem of the book published by Ian Robinson, and which Tony Frazer of Shearsman, regards as Evans's best. Myself I could not choose, but it is true that it is both a precise poem in terms of its exactitude and a tour de force at the same time:
 
     Sir Heart sets out all innocent
     with Ardent Desire
     but even he
     (especially he)
     must drink from the spring
     the wrong water:
     thus, the storyÉ
 
Ian Robinson accurately and acutely remarked of Evans: 'Unlike a lot of poets, he didn't seem very concerned to push himself forward, and this, maybe has something to do with why his poetry is not better known.' He was, of course, included in the two major anthologies of British poetry published in the 1980's: Matieres d'Angleterre
 (l984), edited by Pierre Joris and Paul Buck; and The New British Poetry (1988), in the section edited by Eric Mottram. As Lee Harwood wrote: 'The total and brutal fact of death is there. And my own personal sense of loss, that emptiness, is beyond words, almost, as it is for all who were close to him, all his family and friends.' Evans was, Lee continues, 'A gent who combined an immense tenderness with wildness and passion that blended uniquely in his nature.' From the top floor of his flat in Hove, one could see a sliver of sea almost as if the view he had then anticipated the tonal shift in his work. As Ella Fitzgerald breathed it: 'How strange the change / From major to minor.' His poems became more and more imbued with a heartsore sense of longing and loss, always a leitmotif in his earlier poems, but always held in check and deepened not simply by a distancing sense of self-deprecation and ironic bemusement but also, as Eric Mottram commented: 'Mawkish emotion and exhibitionist intellectuality never enter his work, and his wide tastes in the arts excluded any conceivable nonsense of narrow poetics or materials.'
 
     "Where does everybody go
     after they die?"
     is a clear-eyed question
     in the voice of a child
     six years old
     in high-heeled shoes
     and a teenage dress.
 
     Bop on, sweet Lucy.
     Never die.
 
Evans was an unabashed Romantic, albeit a stern one, and his enthusiasm, for example, for a film we saw together, Aces High
(not about poker, but about the young men of the RAF in wartime) held him fascinated by the doomed grace of those pilots in flight.  
 
This is a small Selected rather than an attempt at a Collected, and it serves as an excellent entrance to his work, not just for a UK readership of 21st century poets who are unfamiliar with his unique exploratory and finely honed and crafted poetry, but for an American readership seemingly finally so concerned to catch-up with and investigate and hopefully learn from what was going down in the UK especially during those years when first Bunting and then MacDiarmid served as President of The Poetry Society.
 
But perhaps Evans' daughter Lucy should have the last word. Her poem was published in The Empty Hill
(memories and praises of Paul Evans, Skylark Press, 1992):
 
     Bright yellow jacket, mud green wellies,
     smart navy trousers, blue wax jacket,
     serene at times.
 
     Bright yellow beard, white tennis shorts
     tearing across courts, jazz mad,
     thunder at times.
 
     Little red car, Mickey Mouse tie,
     dark green suit, old pair of trunks.
     Once compared to Mick Jagger,
     but my dad all the time.
 
           © Bill Sherman 2009