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This article is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

‘? Now local’
A Masterclass from the Early Scupham
Grevel Lindop
It was Peter Scupham who introduced me to landscape. Not the outward, physical landscape, obviously, but the landscape that lies latent inside words, and that can be evoked by their proper placement. One August day in 1980 I was browsing in Haigh and Hochland – now long forgotten, then the well-known Manchester University bookshop – when I noticed a slim paperback with a beguilingly dull cover; dull, yet intriguing. The image was a grey-and-white photograph of a stubble field – parallel rows of grass cut short, bristly like a worn-out hairbrush – and behind it another stubble field, blackish rows, possibly burnt, stretching away like a piece of old corduroy. The sheer emptiness of the picture seemed to draw one in and promise something just over the horizon. Presumably I glanced inside; something must have attracted me, but I forget what. The book was The Hinterland, by Peter Scupham, published three years before. I bought it (amazing, now, that in 1980 one could buy a book of poems for £1.95!) and took it home. And I fell under the Scupham spell.

The spell is hard to define, as good spells naturally are. It had something to do with a casualness of tone, with an attention to the fragment. Also with lines so well-crafted that their sheer sound made you want to repeat them over and over. And other lines that completely upended the conventional rules about how a line ought to sound. One poem (‘David’) ended with a couplet: ‘Whatever is done, undone, done, / The gathering musics run as one.’ The sheer flatness of all ...


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