William Bedford

'One of the finest poets and writers of our generation.’ Karen Maitland, Company of Liars and The Owl Killers



Red Squirrel Press, £7.99 Paperback
ISBN:  9781906700836

William Bedford's new collection begins with poems about his father's 1920s childhood in a remote farming community in Lincolnshire, and ends with the Manhattan skyline and the literary world of Greenwich Village.

'I was trying to imagine a lifetime of eighty years', Bedford says, 'beginning in a world of pony and traps and penny farthings and ending with men walking on the moon'. A ritual 'fen dancing' is at the heart of the volume: an annual sheep-washing festival ending with a dance and home-brewed wine in which it was difficult to tell if the fen itself was dancing, or the villagers were performing a dance of that strange name.

'There is at the heart of William Bedford's poems, a grieving at the passing of a way of life and the eloquent heartache of no longer quite belonging to the landscape he grew from. The human instinct to tell each other stories, to write poems, to build sandcastles that capture something of our time on earth is present here. So too, is how the music of spoken dialect and the music of literature can occupy the same tongue.'
Helen Ivory Waiting for Bluebeard

'Whether he is invoking his family ghosts or the literary heroes who have shaped him, William Bedford speaks directly in verse that is uncluttered and musical. Always authentic, always poignant, these are poems in which the images are as bright and numinous as "the gold lettering on the carrier cart … My family name etched into timeless sunlight."'
David Cooke London Magazine

'In these hauntingly tender poems, William Bedford captures all our pasts with the precision, cadences and deceptive simplicity of an Alan Bennett play. The people stare out at you, like images in old photographs, sometimes smiling, sometimes puzzled, but like the lost children in one of the poems, they will "watch you for the rest of your life, wondering why you had left them." A superb and life-affirming collection.'
Karen Maitland The Owl Killers

'This haunting, lived-in collection, steeped in the earth, resurrects – through ancestral and personal, often sensuous, memories – an almost bygone rural England. The vivid, detailed vignettes are charged with the transcendent. Learning and light-hearted wit combine to make this book a beautiful English saying, reminiscent of John Clare.'
Patricia McCarthy Agenda


By David Cooke in The London Magazine (April/May, 2014)

A poet, novelist and critic who has also tried his hand at drama and written several books for children, William Bedford might be considered the epitome of that slightly démodé term 'a man of letters'. However, he first started publishing poetry in his teens and one suspects that like Hardy poetry has always been his first love. Collecting Bottle Tops Selected Poems 1960-2008 (Poetry Salzburg 2009) drew upon five earlier pamphlets and full collections, but contained a considerable number of poems written in his sixties. The Fen Dancing is now further testimony to this late efflorescence. In 'The Way You Should', his prefatory poem dedicated to the memory of his father, he re-invents Wallace Stevens' image of the snowman and establishes an elegiac mood. With a poignant simplicity Bedford evokes the passage of time and his own loss tinged, perhaps, with a sense of guilt: 'I wish I'd stayed and talked a little longer, / the way you should with strangers passing by.'

'The Fen Dancing' is the first in a sequence of masterly poems which explore Bedford's ancestral roots in rural Lincolnshire. It is a beautifully sustained narrative which crackles with the buzz and burr of dialect: 'children skreeking to the beck'; 'horses shrouded by a gadder of flies'; 'winter's crizzling grind.' Dated 'Kirkby Green: 1914', the poem is a vivid portrayal of a lost way of life set against the backdrop of impending catastrophe. Equally impressive are several other virtuoso performances. 'Jacob's Ladder', a subtle tribute to the figure of Robert Frost, is a powerful elegy for a workman who fell to his death in the 'Winter of forty-seven' because he liked to sleep in barns. 'Sheep-Washing' and 'The Ford' are genre studies in which Bedford's brilliant accumulation of detail animates his rural vignettes. 'In 'The Potato Gatherers' he describes Irish migrants working the land with 'Van Gogh faces in a Van Gogh barn' and underlines the polarity between a Methodist minister's stern non-conformism and the benighted Catholicism of transient labourers: '"Decent folk don't pray on their knees. / or out of doors like cattle."'

Evoking his world of  'fog and witchcraft', 'apple-scrumping wars' and 'love in open fields' , the poet self-consciously assumes, in a way that is reminiscent of that fine Irish poet John Montague, his role of annalist and custodian of his family's history. 'Nobody likes to forget things', says Bedford, quoting his father; while in 'Ghosts', a poem dedicated the memory of his grandfather John Fantom Bedford, the poet's responsibility to serve his ancestral Lares is made even more explicit:

I like the sound of Fantom
I like the steady fall of fine snow.
In another country graveyard,
far from the rattling guns and dreams of girls,
you wait for me to write this poem.
and tell you where your story began

Like Heaney, Bedford is always true to his roots and his own lived experience, placing it in a context that goes back to The First World War and beyond. Aware, however, that there are those who may question the validity of indulging in what they dismiss as nostalgia, he untangles the threads of his own formative years and beyond to those of children. In 'All We Want' the scene moves to the suburbs where the routines and rituals are different and it is the poet's 'turn to do the nursery run.' In 'Where Have All the Birds Flown?' it is nonetheless made clear that even your own children are no bulwark against the passage of time:

I used to know where we were going.
Lit candles to scare the night.
Cast spells over the poisoned apples.
Now I cannot turn the pages.
The empty nest
has emptied the nest of meaning.

In 'Family Trees' the poet proclaims, again with perhaps a nod to Wallace Stevens, that  'Imagining is the only way I survive.' Whether he is invoking his family ghosts or the literary heroes who have shaped him, William Bedford speaks directly in verse that is uncluttered and musical. Always authentic, always poignant, these are poems in which the images are as bright and numinous as 'the gold lettering on the carrier cart … My family name etched into timeless sunlight.'


         Titles - click on cover to order

William Bedford
William Bedford
William Bedford
William Bedford