I’ve now been the Creative Arts archivist at the Rylands since November 2018. Some of the work I’ve undertaken in that time has been carefully pitched and planned. Some of it simply seems to flow from of the perfect swirl of possibility into which you are drawn, if you’re very lucky, when working with creative people.
John Gallas has to date published 22 collections of poetry, 11 with Carcanet Press, and is described on his website as ‘the greatest New Zealand poet no one has ever heard of’ in The Spinoff. He is a Fellow of the English Association, won the International Welsh Poetry Competition in 2009, was the Joint Winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize in 2016 and was the St Magnus Festival poet in Orkney in the same year (Wikipedia 2021).
I first contacted him in early 2020 because he kindly completed a survey I circulated about the Carcanet Press email archive, and had agreed to a further interview on the subject. Once I’d asked all my questions, John and I talked about the Carcanet Archive, and (because my preservation advocacy brain is never really switched off) his own manuscripts, notebooks and papers. We talked about the abiding interest of literary scholars in draft manuscripts, and the insights they offer into the creative process.
So when John got back in touch to ask if the Rylands would be interested in his notebooks of draft poems, I nearly bit his hand off.
In the course of talking about transport for the notebooks, John asked if I would also be interested in a piece/exhibition on the creative process for a poem he’d just completed, ‘Somewhere down Hurdletree Gate’. He’d told me a bit about the poem during our phone call and I said I thought it would be wonderful, and suggested that we might put together a creative writing piece for our new online teaching resources. Within a week, John sent me a descriptive commentary on his process, photographs of the draft manuscript and a recording of the poem!
When I heard John reading the poem for the first time, it reminded me of the magic that exists in the stories we tell. I wish I could say that my involvement in the preservation of this story had been planned, but I’m enormously grateful for serendipity.
The teaching resource can be found here
Somewhere down Hurdletree Gate …
Somewhere down Hurdletree Gate
a small sealed track
just wide enough for one
between two sheepfields
down to Fenland Air
like the join of an opened book.
I’ve never found it again
but the day that it was there
I pedalled along in slow, slow wise
under a tray of brownbright cloud
while organpipes of wind
played sideways at me
where the hedgerows’ thorny gaps
made Os of ochre light.
I stopped because I lost my way.
I mean, my usual way :
as if I biked along a ruler
no one ever cut a measure on,
adrift in narrow straits. Then I saw them.
Five heads bobbing up the road
like soft piston-pins
driving the engine of some song.
They came and went : in billycocks
and applecheeked, cordy-breeches, smocks,
boots, a scythe, a bell, a rake,
one squeezebox and a choir of four.
I said Hello. They touched their hats.
I watched their backs grow tiny
and their tenors
Byway or highway, let me say
it’s not my way
to tear at the Vasty Veil of Time
or conjure Ghosts
from out of my crowded brain :
oh they were there alright,
in plain sight.
At Fenland Air
the little biplanes
blustered in the browny rack
and bounced back
down to earth
along the neat green pages of
into the wind
and so did I.
Eight miles home
the waypost said.
the gusty weather
to Holbeach Hurn.