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November 1953 -- February 2016
In Loving Memory
I am neither a poet nor an artist. I viewed my friend Peter Crossland as both: we could say a 'poet-artist'. However, when I look at that epithet on this page it seems grossly insufficient to describe him and possibly it descends to cliché. Indeed, I have the feeling that he would savagely resist the classification, and I concede that he would be right to do so. For Peter took both disciplines along avenues that, in my estimation, were quite unique. Now this is a large claim, but it is one that I make that is based not only on the body of work (in both literature and art) that he has left behind, but also on who he was as a person. I judge that it was his marked idiosyncrasy that set his work apart. Quite simply, I have never met anyone like him and the startling creativity he displayed was a function of his individuality.
In these weeks immediately following Peter's death, It is the earliest period of our friendship that is most luminous to me. Though I met him in 1965, we did not begin to grow as friends until 1967-68. The astonishing quality of his pen and ink drawing at the age of 14 drew admiration from the school art master. When Peter and I began to talk together and I looked at his work, I felt like a gazing savage. Furthermore, I began to read his poetry and prose with the result that 'my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth'. I was by no means the only one who experienced such amazement.
A visit to his room in his parents' house revealed the context from which his art and writing arose. The lines of books on shelves, carefully classified according to author or subject. The meticulously laid-out tray of coloured ink bottles and pens. The carefully folded art paper. The record player with the long-playing records and singles assembled upright and in good order. It was there, in 1968, that I first heard of Tolkien, of C.S. Lewis, of Alan Garner, of E.R. Eddison, of George MacDonald, of William Morris, of The Incredible String Band, of Tyrannosaurus Rex, of Traffic and numerous other authors and musicians. Peter was precocious and I did not have the intellectual or emotional maturity then to absorb much of what he revealed to me of this new world. For instance, during 1968 he began to read William Blake and came under the influence of his paintings and drawings (it has taken me until my early 60s to gain comprehension of Blake). Moreover, Peter read the Kalevala at aged 15 - I did not penetrate it until I was 28.
Peter's appearance from 1968 onwards was crowned by ringlets of golden hair (which darkened later). He wore the corduroy, silk and suede typical only of the most chic of the British underground figures of the time. I met him once near his house and he had a beautiful, long seagull feather placed in the locks on one side of his head. His manner of walking was very distinctive, and he always bore a naturally reflective expression, broken by a quiet smile when something amused him.
There is much to write about Peter as he adopted the nom de plume, 'Michael Willowdown'. Others from our group of friends will no doubt provide interesting perspectives on that and tell many other fascinating stories. For me, Peter Crossland will always represent an essential foundation of my cultural life and I cannot express my feelings about the void that his death has caused.
With my best wishes to all his fellow poets,
Dr Jim Williams
My Friend Peter Crossland
Shortly before his final days on this earth Peter, aka Willowdown, sent his friend Dr. Jim Williams, a package of art with the following note on it..
Dr. Williams shared the note which appears directly below followed by his thoughts after reading it:
It is strange how small phrases can prove indicative of large truths. When Sarah saw this fragment she recognised Willowdown's customary use of the warning 'Are not waterproof' regarding his pictures. Reflecting on this, for me 'Are not waterproof' could read as a statement of Peter's perception of his art, and his person, as both vulnerable and transient. Inevitably, therefore, it is possible to see a parallel with Keats' chosen epitaph: 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water'. However, if this parallel is possible as an observation of the impermanence of all art and those that create it, we can also view it as an error of self-judgement shared by both poets. Because of the support of his friends, Keats indeed was numbered among the English Poets after his death. The destructive stream of critical indifference was not allowed to wash away his work. Likewise, within its much smaller sphere, it will be the shielding and upholding of Willowdown's work by his fellow poets, artists and friends that will preserve it for others to enjoy and wonder at in the future, even as we have had the privilege to do. Dr Jim Williams