Thursday, 5 May 2011

From badgers to Baudelaire

Nineteenth century poet Charles Baudelaire, author of a collection of poems entitled 'Les Fleurs du Mal' which scandalised many contemporary readers. As the subject of my French literature classes many years ago he inspired some of my students to start a Baudelaire Society at university. But I think they just wanted an excuse for debauchery

I was going to start this post by quoting from the French poet some lines that I remembered from 40 years ago, then decided that such an opening might be thought a little pretentious and perplexing. Especially when I checked out the English version offered by Google's translation service.

However it's not every day that you meet a retired West Country farmer-poet who engages you in a conversation about the simple pleasures of a Buddhist lifestyle. Then reveals that he's been touched by lines from 'Les Fleurs de Mal.' And all that in Budleigh Salterton Library on a morning when I'd simply popped in to look at some noticeboards.

Maybe 'poetic farmer' might be more appropriate as I imagine his gloomy elegies about the dairy industry at early morning milking time "quand le ciel p├Ęse bas et lourd comme un couvercle."

Try Google's translation if you don't understand the French, and be perplexed.

John Payne is the retired farmer I met by chance as he stood in the Library telling us about the event at Salem Chapel in East Budleigh this weekend. As I've mentioned previously, I'm happy to promote anything that goes on in that beautiful old building.

'Painting, Poetry and Prose' is what the organisers say is a "shoestring" cultural event that is above all "local" according to John. They've got a couple of regional literary celebrities from outside the Budleigh area in David Prowse - the Western Morning News Poet-in-residence - and John Greenslade - Radio Devon's contributor on agricultural affairs known as Farmer John.

But all the other artists and writers participating in the event are based only a few miles from Budleigh Salterton. They include Rosemary Smith from East Budleigh, who started writing Victorian Romantic suspense novels seven years ago and never dreamt that her work would be so popular, with seven titles in libraries worldwide.

A familiar face I spotted on the display board was watercolour artist Ken Walker who retired to live in Budleigh Salterton in 1988 and whom I'd often seen staring hard at a shopfront or house. Now I know why. Exmouth-based Arthur Cook is fascinated by World War Two as you can see from his website at and has written books with titles like Exmouth at War and The Home Guard.

Then there's Gerald Millington, the Clinton Devon Estates Archivist who has written many articles about the Lower Otter Valley.

John Payne himself retired as a dairy farmer from Exmoor and has been writing poetry for 40 years about "the sea, countryside and human relationships." He is pictured here with a copy of his verse collection Waves of Life.

So, plenty of varied local talent on display.

'Painting, Poetry and Prose' takes place on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 May at the Salem Chapel in East Budleigh from 10.00 am to 4.30 pm. Entry is free, but as always donations are welcome. Refreshments will be available.

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