Kevin Crossley-Holland (b. 1941) grew up with a passion for history, encouraged by a father who recited folk tales to his son, accompanying himself on a Welsh harp. The young Kevin was so entranced by the medieval and ancient past that he even set up a museum in the garden shed. At Oxford University he developed an abiding love of Anglo-Saxon, something that has re-surfaced time and again in his writing career, in his translations, his re-telling of myths and the “singan ond secgan” (the “sing and say”) of his poetry. After graduation, Crossley-Holland worked in publishing as a fiction and poetry editor (Macmillan) and editorial director (Victor Gollancz) before teaching in academia. His re-imagining of the Arthurian legends in his trilogy for children are hugely popular and critically acclaimed, receiving the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize amongst others.

Although Crossley-Holland’s childhood was in the heart of England in the Chilterns, and he also spent many years teaching in the United States, his poetry has become particularly associated with the Norfolk coast where he often visited his grandparents and has lived for many years. He describes this landscape of saltmarsh, sea and sky as his “imaginative heartland”. There is something about its constant state of flux that opens up the heart and mind so that, as he says in ‘Dusk, Burnham-Overy-Staithe’, “Anything could happen”. In this world of possibility, where an island can shimmer like a promise in the distance, history and legend come to life. For example in his evocative sequence, ‘Waterslain’ (from the old Norfolk word for “flooded”), the hellhound Shuck haunts the marshes whilst local characters like the beachcomber who “scoofs along the tideline scurf,/his oily sack full of consonants” take on an emblematic quality. Crossley-Holland’s language is also steeped in Anglo-Saxon influences, particularly evident in the rich patterns of alliteration and assonance which recall the strongly accented rhythms of the period’s poetry. Above all, Crossley-Holland’s preference for a pared-down vocabulary connects his work to the early origins of the English language: as he says in ‘Translation Workshop: Grit and Blood’, “I want earth-words/tough roots”.

In his reading, Crossley-Holland clearly relishes the sound patterns he creates. His often hushed tones weave their “wordspells” like the falling snow he describes in ‘White Noise’, transforming the world back into the magical.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 14 March 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Kevin Crossley Holland

The Grain of Things - Kevin Crossley Holland
Translation Workshop: Grit and Blood - Kevin Crossley Holland
Idling - Kevin Crossley Holland
Waterslain: Diz, Shuck, Beachcomber - Kevin Crossley Holland
Dusk, Burnham-Overy-Staithe - Kevin Crossley Holland
Kevin Crossley Holland in the Poetry Store

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Books by Kevin Crossley Holland



Carnegie Medal

Prize website

Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for 'The Seeing Stone'

Prize website

Welsh Books Council Tir na n-Og Award

Prize website