Eddie Linden became one of the leading figures on the international poetry scene through his journal Aquarius, which ran from 1969 to 2002. While Aquarius was seminal to the development of many poets in the UK, Ireland and internationally, Eddie is also an accomplished poet himself and last year saw the publication of his selected poems A Thorn in the Flesh from Hearing Eye press. We hope you can join us at the Irish Writers’ Centre for an evening of poetry and reminiscences from Eddie and many of his Irish friends on Tuesday April 24th 2012.
JK – Something I wasn’t sure about because there are various accounts, was where you were born – in Coalisland or in Scotland?
EL: I used to assume that it was in Coalisland, but now I believe it was in Scotland – I think my mother had come there. I never knew my real father, he died in south Armagh, but I did meet the family some years ago with Constance [Short]. My father was long dead by that stage. I’d always wanted to meet him and I’d a great dream that one day we’d meet in Cullaville near Crossmaglen in South Armagh where he came from. But it never happened. He never married or acknowledged me.
My grandfather’s brother John settled in Dublin and his grandson is a solicitor there. The funny thing was that the street where John Behan [the sculptor and Eddie’s friend] lived in Marino, was the same street as where my great uncle John Glacken lived. John’s mother only lived about four doors away from them. My family are definitely Irish.
JK – And what about yourself – do you feel more Irish or Scottish?
EL – Oh Irish. I’ve always felt more Irish. And I suffered a lot when my foster father in Scotland remarried – he married a very bigoted Orangewoman. She tried to get rid of me and I remember as a boy of 10 being taken to my mother’s house and seeing my mother being insulted: “Take your Fenian bastard back!” It left me with a hatred of racism and sectarianism, particularly in Scotland where it was very bitter, and that comes out a lot in my poetry. I was glad when I came to London to get away from all that. That’s when I joined the Communist Party.
JK – I was interested to read about that in Who is Eddie Linden?, but it was the invasion of Hungary in 1956 that dampened your enthusiasm for the party?
EL – Hungary was one of the things. I never lost contact with the party. In fact one of the last general secretaries, Gordon McClennan, died last year and for the last five years of his life we were in contact regularly. He was a lovely man. His last days were spent helping the pensioners – he was part of the pensioners’ movement.
JK – But in the book, Sebastian Barker writes about the influence of a priest, a Fr Andrew Scott, on you around this time?
EL – Fr Andrew was actually Fr Anthony Ross, a Dominican in Scotland. The Dominicans at that time were very progressive. When I went back to the Church it was like going to the Catholic Church from the Communist Church, they were identical. They both were authoritarian. It’s like what I heard recently about priests that have been silenced. One of the great theologians to be silenced by Rome was Hans Küng. And one of the big things that annoy me is the anti-progressive attitude of the Catholic Church to people who are gay.
JK – So tell me how you got into poetry.
EL – Poetry happened to me late. I never thought that I would have a book of poems out. I wasn’t happy with the first book because there were a lot of misprints in it. It had extracts from my diaries – diaries which were eventually lost. They would have been helpful for John Cooney [currently writing Eddie’s biography]. But from 1969 I was dedicated to my magazine Aquarius. I got great help from the late Timothy O’Keefe of the publishers Martin, Brian & O'Keeffe. Brian helped me with the layout and adverts, Tim did reviews for me, Martin helped a great deal too. They didn’t last long, about five years, but they published The Green Fool by Paddy Kavanagh and later on they published his Collected Poems too.
JK – They published Sebastian Barker as well I think?
EL – That was through me, I got them to publish him. At that time the Arts Council were giving grants to publishers. That meant that publishers were able to publish more poems. They started with Sebastian Barker, later they did Shaun Traynor. But they didn’t do much poetry except for Irish poetry like Kavanagh.
JK – What was it that prompted you to start up Aquarius in the first place?
EL – I’d been friendly with John Heath-Stubbs. And I’d started doing readings at the Lamb and Flag and I had people like John reading along with George Barker, Thomas Blackburn and others and the magazine grew out of that. The second magazine was a special Irish issue with a cover by Eamonn O’Doherty and it was edited by Pearse Hutchinson. I never got a grant for that, but later on I did an Irish-Australian issue where the Australian Arts Council helped to pay for the Australian poets and there was an introduction by the late Peter Porter and I did an Irish issue there. I got a lot of help with that through a man I met at the Irish embassy called Con Howard. I started organising readings also at the Irish Club in Eaton Square and that was through him too. He managed to get funds from the Irish government and I was able to bring over Pearse and a number of young poets like Paul Durcan and Eiléan [Ní Chuilleanáin]. Then I published Madge Herron from Donegal, though she had settled in London by that stage. And from then on I was always in contact with Irish poets.
JK – How many special issues of Irish poetry did you do?
EL – I did two issues. If you notice in Eddie’s Own Aquarius Seán Hutton provided a list of all the issues that came out. I did it all on my own. There were no grants when I started, but I got a lot of good will from people. Harold Pinter really set me up when he sent me £100. It’s not true that it was the only magazine where he allowed his poems to be published – people have said that, I did publish him but he was published elsewhere too. He always remained a supporter of Aquarius though.
JK – Thinking of all the poets you’ve published, who do you think you’d be proudest of?
EL – I think I’m very happy to have published people like Matthew Sweeney. Anthony Cronin must have put him in touch with me and he himself was living not far from me in Maida Vale and he had started a broadsheet. He sent a copy of it to Samuel Beckett. Beckett didn’t send a poem, but he sent a donation.
I’ve always been proud that I was able to promote the poetry. If I thought a poem was good I would write to the TLS about it.
JK – I’d imagine those years were pretty fractious times in London with the situation in the Poetry Society, Eric Mottram taking over at Poetry Review and so on.
EL – They were fairly separate. It was around that time that I got fairly involved and became a council member of the Society. I remained so for about thirty years and that was a way of promoting the magazine. I think that Aquarius did its best. I was pleased that I was able to do something like that. I realised that I had reached a new generation and I felt about three years ago that I did my bit. I think the last issue I finished with the help of A.T. Tolley in Canada was a John Heath-Stubbs issue. I got to know Prof Tolley and he got me to do an issue on the poets of the 1940s.
I remember getting articles from David Gascoyne, the Surrealist poet, who spent most of his early life in Paris and whose biography has just come out by Robert Fraser. I’m halfway through it and it’s a remarkable book that really ought to be read.
JK – Gascoyne’s a writer that doesn’t get as much attention nowadays as maybe he ought to. For a lot of younger poets I think he could be quite inspirational.
EL – He was. The story of David is interesting. A woman came into his life [Judy Lewis] when he was in a mental hospital on the Isle of Wight and she was reading poetry to the patients. And on one occasion she read a particular poem and he came up to her afterwards and said “I wrote that!” She didn’t believe him at first, but it was a salvation for David. He started to write for the TLS after that and he was invited to poetry festivals in Cambridge. At the end of his life he got a medal from the French government for his contribution to literature and he met up with a lot of the old poets that he knew – it was a remarkable thing. He made a wonderful recovery and never looked back.
One other person who knew him very well and was important to me too was Elizabeth Smart, Sebastian’s mother, who wrote By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. She was a great inspiration and I used to spend weekends and holidays at her house in the country. I wrote a poem in which I talk about the “The Dell” in Suffolk where she lived.
JK – Somebody who was obviously very important to Aquarius was John Heath-Stubbs. What was he like to work with? It sounds like he was very supportive of you?
EL – Oh he was. At one stage he was annoyed when I published Blake Morrison, who became a really good friend, because he was very anti-The Movement. In the new edition of Agenda there’s an article about John when he was at Oxford with a man called Michael Meyer and they brought out an anthology of poetry at that time and they left out Larkin and Kingsley Amis. John always regretted he didn’t put Larkin in, although I don’t think they cared much for each other. Larkin included John in the last thing he edited though and John.
John’s publisher was OUP and he did a translation of the Italian poet Leopardi and I believe it was a really good edition. He never did a lot of translation, but on that occasion he did it really well. And then the OUP dropped him and he was taken up by Michael Schmidt in Carcanet through Charles Sisson. From then on, John was published by them, though he never really did as well as he should. He did get reviewed in the TLS – whenever I brought out special issues I always got reviews in the TLS.
JK – I suppose a work like Artorius might be a bit intimidating for some readers.
EL – I think he spent 10 years thinking out that poem and it was published eventually by Enitharmon. He hated Alvarez – also part of the Movement – and Alvarez left him out of his anthology. I don’t think even Ian Hamilton cared much for the kind of poetry John was writing. He didn’t belong to any group. He was always regarded as a Neo-Romantic, but he didn’t like that. But check out that article in Agenda about the dispute between the Movement people and John’s generation.
JK – What about another poet loosely associated with the Movement, Elizabeth Jennings?
EL – Yes I did get her to do readings. She was a very nervous sort of person, spent a lot of her life living in rooms at Oxford. She was very eccentric. It was the same with Madge Herron. Madge used to think in Irish and could be difficult, but was a great poet. She had started her career in the Abbey Theatre and she sent her poetry to W.B. Yeats, who encouraged her. She became more eccentric when she moved to London though.
JK – Were there any other Irish poets who stick in your mind.
EL – Well Seamus [Heaney] started publishing in Aquarius and I was very pleased to have published him and other northern poets like Paul Muldoon, from Tyrone where my family are from. I published Paul when was just starting to get publishe by Faber. There are so many others that I can’t think of them all.
JK – Thank you.
Join us at the Irish Writers’ Centre for an evening of poetry and reminiscences from Eddie and many of his Irish friends on Tuesday April 24th 2012.