Philip Fried

from Scientist of the Strange: An Interview with Peter Redgrove,
edited by Paul Montazzoli

*        *        *

MR: What about your participation in The Group?

PR: Well, this was wonderful for me. I mean, it was one of the best learning experiences that happened to me, because I was a scientist, you see, at Cambridge, and I was beginning to feel that this was a university sausage-machine, just chopping everything out in neatly-shaped portions, which were degrees. And that the sense of wonder, which is why I went into science anyway, was completely lacking. And I was becoming very, very disturbed about this.

What happened was that I met a woman who became my first wife, who was an artist, and she showed me a special texture and feeling, this activity, which of course belonged to our lovemaking as well. And, in fact, one of the first times I slept with this woman, a peace came into my head, a silence, and into that silence came one of my first poems, post-coitally, you see. This was shortly before I went up to Cambridge. When I went up to Cambridge all prepared to be a scientist, the cracks in that started, the cracks in the egg, if that's what it was. I started haunting poetry anthologies, I mean, I took down the Auden and Pearson anthology, which had just appeared then, in 1954, a long time agoI've still got that volume downstairsand read some Langland. Well, I didn't know much about Middle English, except from school, but my hair stood on end. It was marvelous, I devoured, I had to have these volumes like loaves of bread, as I have said. They smelled different from scientific texts and had a different appearance. The circuitry of print was different and had different currents flowing. Then I saw an advertisement in the student's magazine at Cambridge, saying anybody who wants to read poetry please contact this address. I went there and found Philip Hobsbaum, who affected a walking stick at the time, and he formed this group of people who read poetry and read their own poetry, too. Well, I had been starting to write poetryas I said, it just came to meand I offered it to the group in great fear and trepidation, because this was the time of Leavis, who was known to be very, very fierce on any such excrescences as this peculiar scientist.

The group was nurtured by Hobsbaum's near-genius as a teacher. He's been involved in the evolution of many groups later on, including the northern Irish poets. He devised a way in which the group encouraged without interfering, but operated in a proper way critically on its members' work. It was a very, very subtle method, and the only groups which I know that work, are those which have adopted this method. It was very simple. First of all the texts had to be circulated a week beforehand, so that everybody had no excuse in not knowing the texts, and because the words on the page were considered important. It wasn't to be a sort of glancing thing, they had to be read and reread. Then, on the actual day, the procedure was that the author read his work aloud, but that was the extent of his communication to begin with. Then the members of the group discussed the work. Now this enabled the author to observe what they made of it, without participating or guiding their responses in any way but his reading of the exact text. So the author was able to make a thoughtexperiment. He was able to watch where he'd been misunderstoodperhaps it was not good work, or because of the personality of the person who was discussing it. He couldn't enter into an argument, he had to observe. All these things going on.

He also saw when he'd spoken better than he knew, which is also very interesting, because he couldn't have put the suggestion, it was from his text. He wasn't allowed to talk. Then at the end of that period of time, when the poem had been thoroughly discussed, the author was allowed to explain what he meant, so that the reverse process could happen. The audience could understand that they'd either not seen what was actually there, or that the author had put it in, or that they'd used the poem as a do-it-yourself kit. So there was a communication gap, the communication gap between the author and the audience was something which was actually used, and was observed by both sides. . . .