Houdinis of Bewilderland by Kevan Manwaring, Part 3


Wilfrid and Geraldine Gibson, outside their cottage in Dymock, Gloucestershire, 1914

It is wise to look back as well as look forward. A hundred years ago a group of fellow writers moved to rural Gloucestershire with their wives and children, to live in close proximity to one another, to share ideas, produce a magazine, go on long walks, hold cider-parties, and live closer to the land. They became known as the Dymock Poets because of the village they were closest to, although this was a title given to them afterwards. Lascelles Abercrombie, a literary intellectual was the first, followed by Wilfrid Gibson, a successful writer in his day; John Drinkwater, a playwright who was involved with the Birmingham Rep; then Robert Frost (before he became the four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet); critic, nature-writer and soon to be poet, Edward Thomas; and occasionally, ‘the handsomest man in England’, Rupert Brooke. They produced a modest magazine, New Numbers, in which Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’ (‘If I should die think only this of me…’) was published for the first time. It was literally a cottage-industry, with even the poets’ wives (creative in their own right) helping out with the folding, stapling, and posting of orders. The Dymocks were less successful at the self-sufficiency lark – some were better at growing vegetables than others, while for some the idea was more appealing than the grubby actuality. But something special happened in that small Gloucestershire village in the months before the First World War. Out of that burst of collective creativity came some of the most-loved poetry in the English language (‘Adelstrop’; ‘The Road Not Taken’; ‘The Soldier’, etc.). A serious poet was born (Edward Thomas, encouraged by his friend Robert Frost, on their long ‘walk-talkings’ around the area). Alas, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo that August and all Hell broke loose across Europe. As the lights went out, the Great War scattered and shattered the Dymocks – two of them were tragically killed in the conflict; Frost returned to America; Gibson, Abercrombie and Drinkwater struggled in their respective careers, but the star had passed on. Yet we can take from the Dymocks a model for creative survival in extremis. Nowadays we might call what they did ‘down-sizing’. Not all of us are cut out for running a small-holding – indeed, most of the Dymocks weren’t – but we can learn how creative community is essential in hard times and out of it. Dymocking, if I may repurpose the proper noun in an improper way, is to live simply, live lightly, create the scene you want to be part of, make it happen here and now, not wait for when and where. Pool resources, good will, skills, experience, but also learn what you need as you go along. It chimes with Transition Culture (Hopkins, 2008[i]) – skilling up for power down, living sustainably on the land, within our communities, within our ecosystem. It is about making a stand somewhere, and making it happen.

[i] Hopkins, Rob, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, Green Books, 2008

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2016

Previous: Rhizomes with a View

Next: Humanifesto

This article was commissioned by Doggerland. An alternative version is available in print form in their latest issue, along with other thought-provoking contributions.  Check it out. Available from:  http://www.doggerland.info/doggershop

Keep in touch with Doggerland – an inspiring initiative by & for radical artists and writers.



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