Peter Leyland (The Poet and his books)
I don’t do this very often, but I want to tell you about a poet called Peter Leyland. I came across him when I visited the home of the Kung Fu teacher, Sifu Julian Hitch. Peter Leyland is no longer with us, but was related to Julian, in fact it was his grand mother (Peter Leyland’s Wife) who first gave me a copy of A Traveller From Stratford. In this book Leyland uses his poetic license to take Shakespeare on a journey. Leyland himself was a traveler, and it is the theme of most of his writings. His poetry is accessible, but well thought out, and very well grafted. I have no idea how educated he was but he never tries to show it off, he takes the words we use everyday and makes them special simply by the way he orders them. My favorite in this collection is Hiroshima. The Spirit of Tragedy Speaks. A great example of a very short poem that speaks loudly. This book is full of such gems, but it doesn’t stop there.
After reading A Traveller From Stratford I was given another Peter Leyland book called Double Adventure. Another gem. I have very little time for the ‘English man abroad’, where the civilised white man goes to exotic places, where strange people do strange things, and everything is judged against the great British standard. Leyland is never like that. He loves traveling, but he respects the people and cultures he encounters. His poetry is a homage to them, I think at times he is so fascinated by the world that he is compelled to share it with us, and by using the poetic form he does something much more personal, profound, and touching than keeping a diary or writing his memoirs. I don’t know, he could have done that as well, but personally I am happy with his poetry.
It saddens me that he is not more well known, but the good thing is that his books (well certainly the two I’ve read) are still in print, and they are timeless. In times when history is a product, and travel books are written as if they are written by travel agents, his poetry is worldly but personal, steeped in history, but it still feels contemporary. Peter Leyland was excited about the world, but not afraid to apply his own imagination to it. He was not afraid to muse history and make it his own.
A Traveller From Stratford is published by The Book Guild Ltd.
Benjamin Zephaniah 28-12-12