© Image by Elissa Palser

R. F. Langley

(1938 - 2011)

"A Midsummer Night's Dream might still be the answer to everything." - R. F. Langley

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Hem, infernal methods 1978 - out of print
  • Sidelong, infernal methods 1981 - out of print
  • Twelve Poems, infernal methods 1994 - out of print
  • Poetical Histories no. 30, Poetical Histories 1994 - out of print
  • Jack, Equipage 1998 - out of print
  • Collected Poems, Carcanet 2000
  • More or Less, The Many Press 2002
  • Twine, Landfill Press 2004
  • R F Langley Reading from his Poems, The Poetry Archive 2005
  • Journals, Shearsman 2006
  • The Face of It, Carcanet 2007
R. F. Langley (1938-2011), was not a prolific poet, but his work was noticed as long ago as 1979 by Jeff Nuttall, in his column in the Guardian, for its "sense of rhythm, sound and ...a concentrated spirit of immense impact". His Collected Poems was shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread Prize for Poetry, and, since then, there have been some pamphlets from small presses, and quite frequent poems in periodicals, particularly in P.N. Review, where extracts from his journals also appear regularly. He kept a journal for more than forty years, and there is often interaction between this and the poetry.

The poems focus on particulars of places and creatures. If they are mysterious they are also as true to immediate fact as the poet can make them, and if they are odd it is often because particular experiences are so. They are occupied with sound, including internal rhyme, and would be disappointed with themselves if they did not tackle complex ideas, philosophical, psychological and aesthetic. They are always driven by etymological investigation, and often directly interested in why, on each occasion, this is necessary. It is poetry about observation, about how the detail of the world is being registered. The poems themselves are part of the data, and reward analysis. It has been said that they are informed by late modernist experimentation but have also a particularly English nostalgia and sense of loss. Charles Olson, Objectivism, Pound, Stevens, Hopkins, Wordsworth and much Shakespeare. He writes: "A Midsummer Night's Dream might still be the answer to everything."

Langley reads in a soft, welcoming voice, and prefers not to introduce the poems. We are invited to think of the role of the spectator, who sits down opposite Louise and whose "tongue / proves chocolate dust on cappuccino / froth". What constitutes "incredible November"? The beetle in 'Blues for Titania' is a green tiger beetle and the wasp a sand wasp. These things matter. So does the way Brancusi tried to eliminate all imperfections until his sculpture reached the original growing point, a core, the pure idea. If the specific references are not acknowledged, the implications are still active.

His recording was made on 9 March 2005 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

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