The poet Ted Hughes (right) and the artist Leonard Baskin (left): (© Estate of Leonard Baskin, used with permission).

Startling new insight into the life of one of Britain’s greatest poets

A recently rediscovered and unique recording of the former poet laureate Ted Hughes talking intimately of friendship, poetry and art with his close friend Leonard Baskin is to be heard in public for the first time.

This news follows the recent announcement of the acquisition of Ted Hughes’s archive for the nation at the British Library.

The recording from 1983 has never been heard before and provides revelations about the inspiration for many of his most famous works. It also shows a rarely seen glimpse of his creative personality and teasing sense of humour.

The event will be held at the University of Exeter where many priceless manuscripts of Hughes’s work are kept and will mark the tenth anniversary of his death.

Ted Hughes made Devon his home for many years living in the market town of North Tawton on the edge of Dartmoor. He later worked a farm in Moortown just a dozen miles from where he lived. Widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of the natural world a significant proportion of his work including poems, stories, plays, criticism and librettos were written when he was living in Devon. Leonard Baskin, his close friend and an internationally renowned artist, collaborated with Hughes on some of his most celebrated collections.

Speaking before the tenth anniversary of her husband’s death, Carol Hughes said ‘As much of Ted and Leonard’s collaborative partnership took place during the Baskin’s years living in the South West, it seems appropriate that our own collection of Baskin proofs and drawings should join the holding of ‘Cave Birds’ which forms the principal Hughes collection at Exeter University’.

The University of Exeter’s Head of Special Collections Jessica Gardner said ’The University is delighted that Carol Hughes has chosen to place her collection of Baskin proofs and drawings at Exeter, where they will support international scholarship and teaching and be available to the public in the county Hughes made his home. The pieces will sit alongside the principal Hughes collection held at Exeter consisting of the complete set of heavily worked manuscripts and typescripts for his book Cave Birds (1978).’

She added, ‘The University also owns a set of portrait photographs of the author taken by Noel Chanan in 1979 in Baskin's Devon studio, and a bound handwritten copy of Under the North Star (1981), a book originally conceived as a gift for Baskin’s daughter Lucretia, which contains fine copies of the poems and a pen and ink drawing of a brook trout in the poet's distinctive hand.’

The recording of Leonard Baskin and Ted Hughes in conversation has been set to a series of images of their work and will be followed by a panel discussion with friend and film-maker Noel Chanan, the poet Alice Oswald and the artists’ widows Lisa Unger Baskin and Carol Hughes. The discussion will be Chaired by the University’s Professor Helen Taylor. The conversation between Hughes and Baskin covers twenty-five years of Hughes’s best known books, from The Hawk in the Rain in the 1950s to Under the North Star in the 1980s.

This unique recording between the two artists came about through the British film-maker Noel Chanan’s friendship with American born Leonard Baskin. When they met in 1975, Chanan was intrigued by the sculptor’s process of creation and began photographing Baskin at work in his studio at Lurley Manor, near Tiverton. As Hughes was a frequent visitor they all became friends. Chanan recalled, ‘Being by trade a documentary film-maker it is hardly surprising that I hit on the idea of making a film about friendship and the nature of the artistic collaboration of these two unique artists, but I was unable to raise the finance. In 1983 the Baskins decided to sell Lurley and return home to America, and with that the chance to bring Ted and Leonard together again would disappear for ever’.

He added, ‘So I persuaded them to participate in the recording. I say ‘persuaded’ but in truth they were extremely relaxed about it and fully co-operative, and as is evident from the recording, they ended up enjoying themselves hugely.’

The tapes of the recording were subsequently shelved. It’s only now with the passing of years since the death of Hughes and Baskin, that the right occasion is here to present a public hearing of the work. The Artist and the Poet event will be held on Thursday 6 November 2008 at the University of Exeter to mark the tenth anniversary of Ted Hughes’s death.

The Artist and The Poet: Leonard Baskin in conversation with Ted Hughes (1983) by Noel Chanan (© Noel Chanan)

Permissions-cleared audio clips for press-use
The following audio clips of dialogue between Baskin and Hughes have been permissions-cleared for press use in association with the University of Exeter press-release for The Artist and the Poet (an event being held on 6 November to mark the tenth anniversary of Ted Hughes’s death).

Transcripts of the audio clips are also available.

Photograph above of the poet Ted Hughes (right) and the artist Leonard Baskin (left): (© Estate of Leonard Baskin, used with permission).

Date: 27 October 2008