Elaine Randell: Chris, Barry and Me

So many wonderful, indelible memories of Chris.  The colours, the very greenness of the fields surrounding Glynmercher Isaf, the green mould in Chris’ kitchen, grey stone of the house, grey wide skies, the brightest of inks which Chris used when writing which would be a delight as a letter dropped on the mat at Spot where I was living in a remote part of Kent in the late 1970s.  Smells of course also are permanently etched, the compost toilet which, when staying overnight with Chris, ensured my bladder had practice.

It’s hard to pin a date or place where or when I first met Chris.  It may have been at a reading someplace in London, perhaps during the Poetry society conflictual days of 1970  or at a PCL poetry conference when Barry (MacSweeney), Chris and I were reading. But in my memory he was always there, a core part of my poetry landscape and it’s difficult to think of a world where he isn’t an active presence but of course, luckily his poetry and ideas steer us along.

At least twice a year Barry and I would travel to Pontneath Vaughan to stay with Chris at Glynmercher Isaf.  The Morris Minor (Reg TAF 449) would somehow make it from south London and we would, like so many, be generously beered and dined with Chris’ home made brews (not for the faint hearted!),  fed by his amazing garden produce and of course the best part, being with him, his unique and knowledgeable company.  In the early days of our travels, Val was living with Chris too and she would be busy making her beautiful candles with wild flowers pressed into the wax.  One of the features of staying at Glynmercher was the usual, but always sudden, arrival of his landlord Rhys.  He would arrive and settle himself by the fire having just walked in without knocking and remain there until bed time or possibly after.  Chris would say- ‘Rhys, I have guests we are having a private conversation.’ Rhys would reply, ‘that’s fine, from London are you?  Yes I will have a beer Torrance’. Hard to know what Rhys made of the visitors or indeed Chris himself but inevitably he would have respected  his tenant Torrance for his stoicism and his unique company.

I recall taking Chris and Barry across to Brecon in the Morris; neither drove at that point.  In those days Chris was purported to be vegetarian.  Chris rushed out of the car before it had stopped, headed, like lightening, for the café where he ordered a double fry up of sausages, bacon and eggs with an edict, ‘ not to tell Val.’  Sausages, so so often the Achilles of vegetarians.

Chris and I were reading at the Cambridge Poetry conference sometime in the late 1970s. Chris was staying in halls and I was billeted in the amazing home of a delightful Professor of ecology and conservationist. Chris visited me and was blown away by the comfort and for those times his, pioneering ecologically sustainable home.  However, having tested the comfort of an ergonomic couch he pronounced that it was nowhere near as good as Phil Maillards settle.  As a lucky recipient of the handiwork of Phil Maillards craftmanship I tend to agree with Chris, certainly in terms of longevity.  Phil’s settle at Glynmercher witnessed thousands of hours of conversation about growing vegetables, Welsh weather, poetry, art and for sure, about making ends meet.

Chris and I wrote to one another every week during the time I was living at Spot in Warehorne alone.  We exchanged current thoughts and poems and one of us hit on the idea of a collaboration called In the Country.  I was working at the time as a social worker and very much in the cut and thrust of urban life during the day time, returning to my rural hideout with my dog Chaucer, an English Setter who went everywhere with me. My daily landscape was Romney Marsh with its wide flat land, dykes, sheep, open skies and birds. The Dungeness coastline with Derek Jarman in situ was mine to enjoy, complete with my Morris (by now a Traveller with poor brakes and a resident mouse).  Chris, by contrast had no easy transport, he was largely self sufficient (save for sausages) and his terrain was truly challenging at times; regularly cut off in bad weather and keeping warm was dependent on wood he collected and cut and beer he had made.  However, there were commonalities in our intent of daily observation.


From Chris..


A garlic moon lobbed

into a cobalt sky

the rhythm just

touching our blood stream

the obdurate cold

gradually declining

in favour of

From me….


Heady drafts of moss and lichen

these heady days of the

thin beech twigs and the sheep into half light

clamour at the gate

as I pass.

‘This one enormous sky and our concerns’

In our letters we spoke about living alone.  Chris’ situation being far far more stark a reality than mine. In his work of the section within In the Country which starts, Dear Elaine, Isolation Notes, Chris says this,

‘On your own little things assume great importance, like smashing a cup can doom you for a day, the reverse of that is finding the first tiny Speedwell in February, the first wildflower of the year and that can send me into ecstasy, incandescence…. Its not quite the same as a state of religious meditation, though it approaches that.’

Dear Chris, I hope he knew how greatly he influenced so many.  He was a giant of a poet, a courageous man and I miss him.



October 1st 2022



In 1968 Elaine Randell published Amazing Grace Magazine featuring Jeff Nuttall, James Kirkup, Mike Horovitz and many others. Married to the poet and journalist Barry MacSweeney between 1973 to 1979 they ran Black Suede Boot Press. In the 1980’s she started the Secret Books and published Allen Fisher, Tony Lopez, Paul Matthews and Tom Raworth.

For many years she worked as a social worker and now in private practice as a Child and Family Psychotherapist specialising in the field of adoption. Romney Marsh has been my home for over 40 years which she shares with her husband, children, dogs, sheep and chickens

Widely published as a poet and prose writer since 1970, her last three books were published by Shearsman, Selected Poems 1970 to 2005, Faulty Mothering in 2010., The Meaning of Things in 2017. The Collected Poems will be published in 2023.

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