Jeff the Poet
At one of those lovely summer parties at Willow Cottage, Jeff and I got talking. It turned out we both liked, and wrote, poetry. And Jeff told me he was driven mad weekly by the ‘pretentiouness and obscurity’ of so much contemporary poetry. A particular offender was the London Review of Books! Intrigued by this no-nonsense approach – I didn’t always agree with him – we decided to meet at least quarterly, armed with poems we both liked [and disliked], as well as some of our own work, over a morning cuppa.
For the last five or so years our rendez-vous was Roni’s, a café on Haverstock Hill, where the coffee was strong and the cakes good. We pretty soon agreed on the poets we DID like: Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Wallace Stevens [a difficult poet but one worth puzzling over], George Szirtes, and Elizabeth Bishop. We swopped books, emailed our own stuff to each other for positive criticicism, and – sometimes – converted each other.
I always felt that Jeff, in so many ways a practical man of the world, had something of the dreamer inside him – maybe that’s why gliding was such a passion for him – as well as a sharp eye for the comedies and tragedies of life. For him, as for me, poetry was a way of catching life on the wing and celebrating it.
I shall always treasure those morning meetings.
Piers Plowright, January 2020