Ted Hughes at the Bath City Forum, Feb 25 1995 – opening event of Bath Literature Festival
I must confess to being a long-time fan of Ted Hughes. Seeing him in the flesh, then, was like a religious experience for me. Given the setting of a packed Forum, owned by Bath City Church, Ted’s authoritative booming voice and his mythical/shamanistic references, it just may be that that metaphor held true for others in the audience too. Big, hushed occasions like these are like sermons – except that here, everyone was listening.
Having said that, the British poet Laureate is not one for standing on ceremony. Stood in front of a screen below the stage, at the same level as the audience, Ted launched straight into one of his informative preambles. The fact that he didn’t say hello, I overheard somebody later referring to as indicative of a shyness or diffidence on his part. Not a bit of it; this was simply Ted Hughes’ Yorkshire maxim of “no fuss” in action.
The Laureate started off with what he called an upbeat poem, Moonbells, which its author told us was “written for children, but is not just for children really”.
Experiencing Ted Hughes’ delivery of Hawk Roosting, was – I can only imagine – what it must have been like for somebody of Mr. Hughes’ age to have seen a living legend like Elvis perform Hound Dog or Blue Suede Shoes.
Mr Hughes’ strangely soothing, bass voice separates out the strands of existential terror of which his poems are possessed, giving them play and life which brings the participant audience a feeling of integration or resolution of these universal strands. In short, a sort of magic happens, and we are bathed in the warm milk of human experience.
Hughes is no less fearsome, however, at 64 years of age (65 this year). He ranges widely in his anecdotes, giving intricate details on the hazards of sheep-husbandry from his shepherd days in Devon. He clearly relished telling us, with a wide, toothy grin, how in America, the cock salmon change their faces within days, “from babyish to alligator-like.”