Waterloo Press

Joseph Macleod
Cyclic Serial Zeniths from the Flux

ISBN 1-902731-34-4

Joseph Macleod (1903-84) was born in Ealing, and educated at Rugby School and Balliol College, Oxford. Both his parents were Scottish. He was a lifelong friend of Adrian Stokes and Graham Greene. His work was much admired by Basil Bunting and JH Prynne. From the age of 13 he was preoccupied with the poetic drama. He qualified as a barrister, but never practised. In 1930, Faber published his modernist zodiac poem The Ecliptic.

From 1930 he was working as an actor and producer for the avant-garde legend Terence Gray at the Festival Theatre, Cambridge, and in 1933 he became the lessee. He wrote several plays at this time. The lease ran for two years and ended badly. The surrealist myth-epic Foray of Centaurs, his next book, was not published. The “Post-humorous poems of Joseph Macleod”, of 1937, in his papers, shows his frustration with the literary politics which sidelined him.

After a radical move to the Left, and an increasing interest in radio and cinema, he struggled with the problems of a documentary response to contemporary history and the politics of the media. He went on publishing poetry under the name Adam Drinan: The Cove (1940), The Men of the Rocks (1942), Women of the Happy Island (1944) – then, as Macleod, The Passage of the Torch (1951), Script from Norway (1953), An Old Olive Tree (1971).

Joseph Macleod? Listen to Britain? A wartime BBC announcer who had to disguise his Marxist poetry in the 1940s with another name – Adam Drinan. He needn’t have bothered writing under a pen name, and later on didn’t. This briefly acclaimed poet burst on the scene with the only Marxist inflected meditation on the zodiac ever written. Macleod is like that. It, and what followed, is one of the most astonishing bodies of poetry written by a British, or even Scottish poet in the 20th century.

The self-effacing drills of Broadcasting House have never had more to answer for than this. And its rediscovery is more than a revelation. It changes things.

When in 1930 Faber published The Ecliptic, it must have seemed that they had the three leading local modernists: Eliot, Pound and Macleod. But, it was not to be. Macleod saw his second book rejected, and vanished from the scene. But, culture changed direction, and Macleod’s poetry fell into a bizarre public neglect from which this new selection is set to save him. His more successful career in avant-garde theatre can only be recaptured by an act of the imagination. From among the wealth of manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland, we recover Foray of Centaurs, his intended second book, a satiric narrative in mythical form which is conceived in term of movement and dance.

We also recover part of Script from Norway, his 1953 dialogue-poem about a documentary film crew where the politics of the image gradually takes over from the ostensible subject. He published another seven volumes: There is a vast corpus of work to explore. This is a substantial selection, made by his editor Andrew Duncan who, in a superb essay-length introduction to Macleod, places him in that curious intersection between his poetic genius and his context.

The history of mid-century poetry will have to be rewritten with Macleod’s emergence from the crypt where the most intelligent work has been hidden. Listen to Macleod. No verbal music will feel quite the same again.
Andrew Duncan
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