Poems, Peoms and Other Atrocities

By Garry Kilworth

For many of us the writing profession is lonely, confidence-sapping and a place full of self-doubt, but Rob was always there to shore up the worried author.  Apart from being a great friend, he was a pillar of encouragement, enthusiasm and inspiration.  Rob had the ability to drive away any demons within the first few of minutes of speaking, whether in person or simply on the phone.  I was not the only one.  Rob was the hub for a whole circle of writers.

Rob always enjoyed talking ideas for books, anywhere, but especially on walks.  In earlier years we would go for long treks, to Mam Tor, Froggatt Edge and along Offa’s Dyke.  He loved being out in those wild and windy places, which enlivened his mind and were so much an inspiration for his work.  In Spain, too, he drew from the spirit of the landscape, from the pinewoods and crags of the Sierras, to produce his wonderful novels.  He was those forests, he was those mountains.

As his Czech translator and friend, Petr Kotrle said to me:  ‘The more extraordinary was Rob’s presence, the more hollow is his absence.’

Latterly, Rob has taken to an outpouring of poetry.  We used to exchange verses week by week.  Sometimes these were attempts at serious pieces, other times they were parodies or just plain nonsense rhymes:  the ‘peoms’ that Chris spoke of.  He talked about us doing a volume together entitled ‘Poems, Peoms and Other Atrocities’.  In the last year, Rob’s admiration of Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney has driven him towards finding a voice for himself in the world of poetry.  And I think a handful of Rob’s more thoughtful efforts did get a good way towards establishing that voice.  You can find some of his latest poems at the end of his novel, Avilion – ‘Field of Tartan’, I am sure you will agree, is particularly moving and evocative.  I am going to read one that isn’t in Avilion, an elegy he wrote on the death of Sarah’s Dad this year, but the description of the man walking over the hill to an unknown place fits Robert Holdstock in every respect.

The Passing of Alpha

I was not there
when he walked over the hill
and the light of dusk took his shadow.
He paused for a moment
at the top of the road

the tall, broad man, the rock,
moving quietly through
the stillness;
walking down
to a place we can only imagine.

Imagination, image, magic,
root memory,
that is the old boy now.

His shade,
is one more shadow
in a woodland glade
the dreaming place:
his voice, calm memory,
the alpha purr,
a whisper of love,
and when needed,
a sharp note of direction.

At the break and set
when the light is perfect
we will see the tall man on the hill
crossing the border —

and though he faces away from us
as he must
his breath is the wind of life, and still

and still,
the Old Wolf.

Robert Holdstock, 2009.