The big one this year is the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, or the Great War as it was called when it was actually happening. As we know only too well the horrendous war to end all wars sowed the seeds of another world war not that many years later. But the anniversary has given us an opportunity to look again at writers and artists of that period, including the gifted poet and musician, Ivor Gurney, who was composer of the week on Radio 3 last week. Several of his compositions were specially recorded for the programme. Gurney is at last getting the recognition he deserves.
Other literary anniversaries this year include one hundred and fifty years since the death of John Clare, and one hundred years since the birth of two very different poets, Dylan Thomas and Norman Nicholson. Anniversaries are for remembering but also for re-evaluating. Hearing Gwyneth Lewis speak about the influence of Welsh cynghannedd poetic forms on Dylan Thomas was a revelation to me (Radio 3 The Essay). It explained so much about the diction of his poems and the structure of his language.
On Saturday in the beautiful setting of Isel Church in the valley of the river Derwent (Wordworth’s same river) a variety of speakers contributed to an afternoon celebrating the anniversary of Norman Nicholson. Irvine Hunt, Nicholson’s good friend and his literary executor, spoke about “Knowing Norman” and gave a warm personal portrait of the poet. Nicholson’s second cousin, Doreen Cornthwaite, read out some of the poet’s letters and spoke of the importance of archiving a writer’s work. Her cousin, Freda, read the poem “Cornthwaite”, giving it the added resonance of a shared family name. Kathleen Jones spoke about the work of a biographer. Her book The Whispering Poet has revealed a considerable amount of new material about the poet’s life. Phil Houghton read three of his own poems written in response to Nicholson’s work. Antoinette Fawcett spoke about the work of the Norman Nicholson Society which has done much to encourage the celebration and re-evaluation of the poet’s writing. Finally Martyn Halsall talked on Nicholson’s faith, including a perceptive analysis of the first “Shepherd’s Carol”.
There was much to think about and a realisation that there is a lot more to explore in the work of Norman Nicholson. What Saturday proved was that there is a great interest in and enthusiasm for our other Cumbrian Poet.