Jack Clemo, ‘The Marriage of a Rebel’

IMG_0116Easily one of the strangest books I’ve ever read, this is the second volume of memoirs by the Cornish poet Jack Clemo. I’d read both his novels years ago and some of his verse, but this was new to me.

So much is strange about it: the way he reviews his own poetry, his unique brand of Evangelical Christianity and his belief, despite all the evidence, that he would marry.

The edition I have is a former library book and the index card (unsurprisingly showing it had only been borrowed twice) meant that the first words I read were these:

It was in my erotic revolt against paganism that I seemed to be quite alone amongst my contemporaries

That set the tone! Then there was this:


I never had much kinship with poet who were mere artists: such a neat and easy classification repelled me. I demanded a riddle, a baffling mixture , so that the fastidious poet was also a fervid preacher, a hard-hitting controversialist, a social or political firebrand. Art, to me, was not a cause to be served, but only a way in which people with a certain kind of brain could serve causes, and the decision as to which cause art served must be made outside the aesthetic sphere: it was determined by spiritual and moral awareness of man’s predicament.

I’m glad I persisted though, because it’s an extraordinary account of what it’s like to grow blind and deaf and be at odds with the world. And it’s a world that he can only converse with when another person traces words on the palm of his hand.

Obviously an angular and difficult young man, age, marriage and critical recognition smooth the edges and leave him laughing, happy and fulfilled.

Utterly remarkable and unique.

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