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This article is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

Interrogating Shugborough Grevel Lindop
I’VE NEVER FELT quite comfortable with the notion of writing poetry to commission. That daunting phrase from Keats’s 1818 letter floats up: ‘If Poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.’ Still, the prospect of being paid to write poems has a strong appeal. So when, in April 2011, I received an email from Andrew Baker at Stafford Libraries, asking if he could commission a poem, the debate was a brief one; really, no debate at all.

‘As a Cultural Olympics event I am planning a kind of mini-festival based on Shugborough’, Andrew wrote. There was to be music and story-telling; but also,

Could we inspire some new Arcadian work? What I would really like to see would be some modern Eclogues – ideally with a loose or close connection to the actual landscape. The content could be very varied. Something fantastic – realistic – mythical characters in a landscape – realistic ones – both – environmental themes – poetic themes – who knows. Does this kind of idea appeal?

It did – not least because Andrew’s suggestions were so open, so full of tantalising possibilities. I took down the OED to check on eclogue, learning that it was ‘a short poem of any kind, esp. a pastoral dialogue, such as Virgil’s Bucolics’. That seemed to give reasonable scope. As for Shugborough itself, I knew nothing about it, though I’d seen its brown road signs on the M6 near Stafford. Googling it, I learned that it was a Georgian mansion and ...

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