Carcanet are greatly saddened to announce the death of one of our most original authors, the poet and diarist R. F. Langley.
Roger Langley was born in Rugby in 1938 and educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. He went on to teach English and Art History in secondary schools in Wolverhampton and Sutton Coldfield, living in Staffordshire for most of his life. It wasn’t until after his retirement from teaching in 1999 that Langley began to publish seriously; he published pamphlets and his work began to appear in many journals and anthologies, including The Harvill Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry in English (1999). His Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2000) and his collection The Face of It (Carcanet, 2007) drew a cult following among readers and reviewers alike, with Jeremy Noel-Tod in the Daily Telegraph describing the latter as 'one of the classics of early 21st-century English poetry’ (Telegraph, 24 January 2009). ‘Langley's meditations on the natural world make English strange with Shakespearean animation, jumping from rhyme to rhyme and thought to thought,’ Noel-Tod observed. ‘As T.S. Eliot also said, 'there is a logic of the imagination as well as a logic of concepts' and it can follow patterns as involved as fifty swifts on a summer evening.'
Curious and the experimental in spirit, Langley owed debts to the Objectivists and Black Mountain poets and was considered part of the ‘Cambridge School’ (he was a friend and contemporary of J. H. Prynne). Yet, as the critic William Wootten observed (Times Literary Supplement, 15 June 2007), the experimental spirit of his work was ‘absorbed into a poetic that is characteristically English and traditional’. Langley employed rhyme and strict, often syllabic, forms alongside compression, ellipsis and the compounding of images and ideas, devices which can make his poems appear difficult upon first reading. There are echoes of Shakespeare, the Romantics and Hopkins in his poems of the English countryside; the inspiration for much of his work came from the landscapes of Suffolk.
Throughout his life, the author maintained a journal – part diary, part autobiography and part commonplace book – extracts from which have been appearing regularly in the literary journal PN Review since 2002. These extraordinarily evocative prose writings were gathered together in Langley's Journals (Shearsman Books, 2006).
Engaging with the legacies of both high modernism and English pastoral, Langley produced poems of startling originality, as his slim volumes attest. Langley was, in the words of William Wootten, ‘not a minor coterie poet but a distinct and significant talent’.
An extract from 'Achilles' by R. F. Langley
One is seldom directed by way of
an indigo gate. A life is plunged in
colours, saturations, shades, tints, hues. One
screws one's eyes up. A mediaeval list
of inks confuses fuscum pulverum
with azure from the Mines of Solomon.
Who knows what perse is? Days lose themselves in
pandia omnia and dip away
between the pinks and blues. But then there is
alizarin which sometimes jumps from the
old leaves. And turquoise is a stone dropped near
the gamboge fence. Who did not notice those?
And shapes. The tree. It shows what one would call
constraint. It bursts through rocks in calluses
that clog into a lump with several
branches lunging out of it, one knot-hole
and a stump. The thing has corners to it,
pockets, ledges, wedges, all chocked in with
lichen on them, found out by the sun that
stabs down from the right, detecting olive
The gate is indigo, but when they give
directions people call it blue. To lose
the way is to remember something of
the stump. But can anyone be ready
for the moment when the dusk ignites the
poppy? Or accept that the spectral hand
is his? That it's he must keep the pencil
steady? Maybe everyone is dazzled
here by simultaneous death and love?
from The Face of It by R. F. Langley, published by Carcanet Press in 2007