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This report is taken from PN Review 119, Volume 24 Number 3, January - February 1998.

Dens and Displays Lawrence Sail

The visit to Helpston, undertaken in the company of participants in a writing course, might have been a disaster. It was scheduled sufficiently close to a Bank Holiday to have attracted rain. John Clare's cottage, now in private ownership, had a commemorative stone by its door, and attractive hanging baskets of flowers, but it was not possible to look round inside. His grave (not, we were told, the kind that he wanted) gleamed wetly, one side incised with a caveat gloomily germane to students on writing courses: A poet is born not made. The village butter cross, for all its attractive heart-shaped base, lacked its cross, culminating in the bare rusting spike which once held it in place. Opposite, the John Clare memorial had newly had someone's initials added to it. Occasionally, large lorries hissed and bumped past. Once or twice an air force jet roared over somewhere above the downpour.

Yet all these factors of forlornness counted for nothing when compared with the total enthusiasm of Peter and Mary Moyse, respectively Treasurer and Secretary of the John Clare Society, who took us round. They told us how each year Clare's grave was embellished with 'midsummer cushions' of specially grown flowers; they showed us the brickwork on his cottage which traced some of the original outlines; they talked about neighbouring buildings, including the barn where Clare had been a thresher; they took us along a footpath which skirted round the back of the village, giving a glimpse ...

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