Richard Caddel was a poet and champion of poetry as publisher, editor,
anthologist and organiser. That he was not better known is perhaps due to a
predilection for ‘edges’, those areas marginalised by geography, commerce or
choice, which his friend and fellow-poet Jaan Kaplinski called the
Caddel was born in 1949 and grew up in Gillingham on the Medway, and went to
read Music at Newcastle University, soon adding English and History. Basil
Bunting was then the university’s Poetry Fellow, and to one who had, as he
later said, "started reading and writing poems for the excitement of the
physical impact of words joined together", Bunting’s example, and work, was
a revelation. Caddel began to realise a poetry rich enough to mirror the
actual world, compositionally complex enough not to need an external music.
In 1971, the year he graduated, Caddel married Ann Barker, and after
training as a librarian took up a job at Durham University Library (joining,
with Borges and Mao Tse-Tung, a select band of poet-librarians...). This was
the time of the 'British Poetry Revival'; the North-East was active in its
own right, and Caddel was fundamental. He assisted Connie Pickard in
running the legendary Morden Tower reading series; he and Ann started their
poetry imprint, Pig Press.
After some years commuting from Newcastle (his early poetry runs to the
rhythm of local trains) the Caddels, with two young children, Tom and Lucy,
moved permanently to Durham, where he set up the Colpitts reading series.
Pig Press went on to produce many important and beautifully-designed books
from poets well and less well-known: Tony Baker, Robert Creeley, Roy Fisher,
Lee Harwood, Barry MacSweeney, Carl Rakosi, Colin Simms – and dozens of
others (including, posthumously, Lorine Niedecker).
Caddel quietly displayed a sense of reciprocity towards the poetry
community; you are published, so you publish; you read, so you arrange
readings. Always sociably and convivially. Friends and family activities
and words find a home in his writing: "the work’s all done kids //
grown up through / all their teeth…". A poetry that in lesser hands might
have been merely private or occasional was made able, through the generosity
of attention to human detail, to speak in a wider social space. The reader
is included. This work is gathered in "Sweet Cicely" (1983), appropriately
dedicated to Ann, Tom and Lucy. His next major collection, "Uncertain Time"
(1990), reflects the politics of the 80s, setting "the realm of / false,
muddled argument" against "that contact / with the world in which / (for
which) / I live…", against the small delights of "voice, steps / little
gusts, plants, things // we love in balance".
In the late 80s Caddel took over the library’s European Documentation
Centre. This provided an opportunity for foreign travel - and meeting local
poets, fruitful contacts which led to readings and publications. When Durham
University acquired Bunting’s papers, Caddel was instrumental in
establishing the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre, which promoted academic
research and living poetry, hosting readings and lectures by the likes of
Robert Creeley and Eric Mottram. With commercial interest in Bunting’s work
waning, Caddel’s compilation of the "Uncollected Poems" (OUP, 1991) was an
important piece of rescue archaeology which enabled his editing of the
"Complete Poems" (OUP, 1994).
An enduring outcome of Caddel’s commitment to contemporary writing is the
acclaimed "OTHER: British and Irish Poetry since 1970", co-edited with Peter
Quartermain for Wesleyan University Press (1999). A larger readership on
both sides of the Atlantic could now encounter a poetry other than that of
commercial, "high-street" presses. A broader poetic community was also
facilitated, one might say brought into being, by Caddel’s founding in 1996
the first e-mail poetry listserv in the UK, "British and Irish Poets, which
he co-ordinated for five years.
In 1995 the Caddels’ lives were radically altered by the accidental death of
their son Tom; away at university, he slipped and fell through an
inadequately shielded stairwell. Much of Richard Caddel’s remaining writing
was to be coloured by this loss, the near-impossibility of containing or
representing it. "For the Fallen" (1997) is a hundred poems derived from
the old Welsh "Gododdin", itself a series of elegies for dead sons; Tom
becomes one among others, set into "highstrung history". The closing words
of "Larksong Signal" (1997), a book curtailed, are "So I / stumble to rest
missing you, not twenty"; yet it opens celebrating his daughter Lucy’s
vitality: "you laugh, / are ardent / in what you do. // I love you / for
Tom’s death was not to be the last blow to the Caddel family, for in 1999
Richard was diagnosed with leukaemia. He took early retirement from the
library, and he and Ann closed down Pig Press. This was not, however, a
retreat but a clearing of the decks; in the next couple of years Caddel was
to travel widely, not least to give readings. Translations started to appear
- into Czech, Dutch, Estonian, Lithuanian and Polish - and at home "Magpie
Words", a substantial ‘Selected’, was published by West House Books in 2002.
Its alphabetical arrangement shows the corpus as if it were a single poem,
working through transitions and disjunctures, jumps and flows. ‘Counter’
almost celebrated the white blood cells of his leukaemia: "too much /
clogging the bee / dance step / stem cell leap…"; it concludes in a "signal
/ towards an unknown". "Magpie Words" closes with ‘Writing in the Dark’, a
consciously unfinished sequence that the poet said he would continue at
"until the end". The title, so sombre-sounding, in fact refers literally to
his writing on a backlit personal organiser while sitting outdoors in the
dark. Ann appears therein, as throughout: "Your voice in this room / has
been with me // all I want to remember of / waking." The book doesn't end
thus, but in a way Richard Caddel's life did: "Snuff this / dark varnish
liquid, life. We / love it. Let it go."
Richard Ivo Caddel, poet, publisher and editor: born Bedford 13 July 1949;
staff, Durham University Library 1972-2000; Director, Basil Bunting Poetry
Centre, 1988-2003; married Ann Barker, 1971 (one son, Tom (1976-95); one
daughter, Lucy, b. 1978. Died Durham 1 April 2003.
"The Independent", 11 April 2003