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Scintilla 23: The Journal of the Vaughan Association

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Scintilla 23 turns our attention to the creative impulses that shaped Henry’s thinking and were shaped by him. Peter Pike opens this issue with a fascinating discussion of the legacy of Vaughan’s attention to the ‘slightest things’, a poetic concentration that carries ‘a charge which has contributed to the grace of subsequent writing in English’. Reading Vaughan’s, ‘Thou that know’st for whom I mourn’, Pike traces a similar poetic attention through later poets including John Clare, Edward Thomas, Ted Hughes, and Kathleen Jamie.
Donald Dickson examines Henry Vaughan as a scholarly editor, sleuthing the patristic, classical, and contemporary sources that Henry had at his disposal or where he might have had access to them. Examining the sketchy records from libraries and their users in the seventeenth century, Dickson explores how much can be gleaned from this surprisingly rich, if challenging intellectual environment. It is likely, Dickson asserts, that Vaughan had a surprising number of his sources in his own personal library, a point consistent with what was known to be his considerable collection of medical texts. It also seems that Vaughan improved ‘his school boy’ Greek and German as he matured, giving us a much stronger picture of the poet-physician’s intellectual life.
Holly Nelson extends our view of Vaughan, examining the transcontinental reception in 19th-century North America. Vaughan’s poetry, having almost disappeared from a reading public in the 18th century, seems to have met a need in the moralistic religious American culture of the 19th. The need was often quite removed from Vaughan’s context. His political undertones were frequently erased, his spiritual specificity universalised and sentimentalised. Commenting on the end of ‘As time one day by me did pass’, Nelson notes, ‘One can imagine voracious consumers of Charles Dickens’s novels in Britain and America (devastated by the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop) sentimentalizing and universalizing the substance of Vaughan’s pilcrowed poems, rather than focusing on the historical reality of war and death that contributed to the elegiac idiom of such lines’. Yet, it was such readers who paved the way for those who would engage more fully with the Silurist’s work, like Louise Imogen Guiney whose unfinished research would provide the basis for F.E. Hutchinson’s 20th-century reappraisal.
Tony Brown expands an abiding interest of Scintilla into the life and poetry of R.S. Thomas, unfolding the story of his artistic wife, Elsi, and crediting her as a significant influence, training and inspiring him in a life of ‘looking’, deeply, at the world around him. Brown shows examples of Elsi’s ‘looking’, not least her looking at her husband, carefully transposed to the paper through her drawings. These images juxtapose and illustrate Thomas’s poems, and the two give us a sense of their creative marriage over so many years.
Jeremy Hooker gives us a personal insight into his own writing process, particularly his experience involved in writing prose poems over the years. Hooker ties the prose poem to the practice of keeping a daily journal; he sees the act of bringing those two forms together as a movement toward self-knowledge for the poet. In this act, the poet’s text becomes a kind of ‘quarry’ that the poet pursues and forms into a ‘made thing’ or a ‘shape in words.’
Scintilla continues to offer a space for contemporary poetry written in necessarily complex dialogue with the tradition of the Vaughan brothers. In doing so, we bring together, once more, established writers and new voices. One such new voice is American poet Emily Crispino, a graduate student in archival science with an interest in the life and writings of the Vaughan brothers. Her sparkling poem ‘For Thomas and Rebecca Vaughan’ is included in this issue. Crispino’s poem and the rest of the work chosen for this issue were not only written before the advent of COVID-19 but also selected before this point too, and the poems now seem like missives from another world. As with all good poetry that prompts thought, however, they speak to us from another time and do so with relevance for the challenging circumstances in which we look to make sense of things unutterable and unmatched. Crispino speaks of the ‘whisper of bodies split and knit, / of spirits magnetized / by nature’s flame and firmament’. At a time of social distancing, we have all been split but are learning to knit anew, in new ways.
Andrew Neilson’s poem ‘The Week’s Remains’ celebrates the end-of-the-week drink as a chance to take stock. The poem asks: ‘How long can luck last?’. With ‘an eye applied to a telescope lens’ we can stare down the vista of all possible disasters and count our blessings even as we acknowledge the suffering of others. Now, in the midst of one such disaster, an end-of-the-week drink with friends and colleagues might seem a far-off event for many. As a result, we’re likely to turn inward. Shanta Acharya’s ghazal ‘In Silence’ assures us, however, that we will find that ‘love’s a patch of green that flowers in silence – / a shade that shelters you in times of crises, / a place you keep returning to in silence.’
Original languageEnglish
Place of publicationWales
PublisherThe Vaughan Association
Number of pages291
ISBN (Print)9798646595721
Commissioning bodyWelsh Books Council
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Henry Vaughan, Metaphysical poetry, new poetry, R.S. Thomas, creative writing, Wales

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