Friday, 19 August 2011

Untold Stories

I don't read biographies, but I love reading letters. The collection I'm going through at the moment is Letters of Ted Hughes, edited by Christopher Reid, who is a wonderful poet in his own right and also an extremely nice person (I worked with him briefly many, many years ago).

In the book, I've just come across a letter from Hughes to Anne Stevenson, in response to a draft of something she wrote about Sylvia Plath. He remarks interalia:

'...the whole motive of writing finds perfect and satisfying expression in fishing. Fishing is a substitute symbolic activity that simply short-circuits the need to write.'

So, next time you are strolling along a river bank or beach and see men with buckets of bait and rods setting up for an afternoon's angling, just think how many books are being lost with each cast of that fine, almost invisible line.


  1. Hmm, poignant. Maybe that's why fishermen - at any rate those who used to inhabit the canal bank where I grew up - seem to be as miserable as poets.

  2. I wonder about this; Hemingway seemed to manage quite a few words along with all that fishing. But were it so, I could come up with quite a list of Trout Unlimited gift memberships to send out next Christmas.

  3. So that's the reason Izaak Walton sounds so happy in The Compleat Angler -- he'd fished away all his bad books, and now that he was left with a good one, he wrote it.

  4. Or possibly because the fish weren't biting, Gadjo.
    I agree, George - I am already compiling my list of writers for whom it would be worth paying whatever it costs to buy a full angling kit, just to shut them up
    Or maybe Hughes meant that fishing was like writing in the sense that you always come home feeling that you haven't quite caught exactly what you wanted to catch, Umbagollah

  5. So fishing is like all the arts then. Away you go with your paint to catch a landscape and you come home hours later and look in your basket and discover that you didn't even manage to catch a hill. All you have are invasive species, and who knows how they got there.

  6. I was thinking, 'all the arts? What about dance?', and then I thought of the gesture of casting out the line, which is actually quite balletic.