Will and Breath
Gordon Hodgeon (1941-2016) was a poet, teacher, teacher-trainer and arts activist and a hugely influential figure in the worlds of education, publishing and poetry in the north-east for 40 years. For the last eight years of his life, following a series of unsuccessful operations on his spine, he was unable to move his arms and legs, or to breathe without the help of a ventilator. Incredibly, this somehow spurred him into a late burst of extraordinary poetry, reporting back from what can only be described as the furthest edge of human endurance. Although he could communicate with the outside world only by blinking, he published two collections, Still Life (2012, Smokestack) and Talking to the Dead (2015, Smokestack), as well as Old Workings, Collected and New Poems (2013, Mudfog Press). These were the words of a man who could not speak, the poems of a writer who could not pick up a pen, a painful study in eloquent silence.
This booklet contains Gordon’s last poems, written after he was no longer able to use the blinking technology, dictated in a painfully slow way to his carers, one letter at a time. They address, with unflinching honesty and with remarkable tenderness, the leaving of this world and the death of the body. They offer wisdom and joy to the still living and celebrate nature, concentrated in the small garden of his home. And even in these final months gordon went beyond his own body to address the suffering in the world, to speak of the plight of refugees in his last Christmas poem.
The striking feature is that in spite of the intensity and the authenticity of the emotion Hodgeon never loses poetic integrity.
About Gordon Hodgeon
Gordon Hodgeon was born in Lancashire in 1941. He has worked in schools, in teacher-education and in educational admisistration. From 1972 to 1996 he was a schools’ adviser in Teesside, later Cleveland. He was active for many years in NATE, in Northern Arts, Cleveland Arts and New Writing North. For many years he ran Mudfog Press. His previous books include November Photographs (1981), A Cold Spell (1996), Winter Breaks (2006) and Still Life (2012); Old Workings: New and Selected Poems (2013) and Talking to the Dead (2015). He died in 2016. The poems published here were dictated to his dedicated carers during the last year of his life by a painstaking method of moving mouth and tongue.