Last evening, 19th April, Peter Riley’s pamphlet Pennine Tales was launched at The Book Case, Hebden Bridge, happily re-opened after being inundated by the Boxing Day floods.
Peter read all 24 twelve-line poems. The upper Calder valley is evoked through recurrent images of its moors, drystone walls, pubs, buses on high winding lanes, dark tracks to distant farmhouses. Indeed, many of the poems take place under a night sky, where the only light, apart from the moon and stars, might be the glow from the windows of an isolated house on the hills. There is the movement of trains in the valley, of the wind; there is the canal, the river, owls in the trees. There are ghosts too: literary antecedents Ted Hughes and Branwell Brönte; ‘abandoned chapels’ and their choirs; ‘demolished mills’; ‘ancestors/ from Halifax’.
But don’t run away with the idea that these are simply neat little poems about a picturesque part of the world. The industrial decay, the ‘500 years of degradation and humiliation’, is not a natural phenomenon. We should not forget that, although there might be ‘no end to our patience and assurance’ the ‘capital aristocracy are still in charge’.
A capacity audience also enjoyed the exquisite poems of Judith Willson and the passionate lyricism of Michael Haslam. They also savoured a glass of wine and a nibble.
Special thanks to Kate for putting in several hours of overtime to make the evening possible.