David Wright

Patrick Swift in London
David Wright (poet)

...If we had one thing in common, it was that we put our vocations first and let our ‘careers’ follow as best they might — not that this attitude was anything but the norm in the strange and, as it now turns out to have been, short-lived society in which we met...
We met on a cold dark evening in the small bar of the Duke of Wellington at the corner of Wardour and Old Compton Street... was then, in the Spring of 1953, the favoured rendezvous of the poets, painters, and odd bods that constituted Soho society; chiefly because it was there that George Barker was to be found when he came up to town. It was in fact George Barker who introduced me... Swift... was seated beside Anthony Cronin, whom I also met for the first time... Swift and Cronin, through their friend Harry Craig, brought me to the attention of the publisher Derek Verschoyle — and this was typical of Swift, who took immense pains to push the product of anybody whose work he believed in, yet never bothered to promote his own.
As in those days the pub society of Soho met nightly or almost nightly, it did not take long to transmute acquaintanceship into friendship. Soon after we met, Swift invited me to sit for my portrait. I found myself travelling two or three mornings a week from my Great Ormond Street flat to Camden Town, where Swift had a studio, and where Cronin was temporarily lodging. I knew nothing about painting. I didn’t even know what I liked, but Swift’s precise images of trees, foliage, faces and figures disturbed me then, whereas they delight me now...
Some months — or it may have been a year — after our first meeting, Swift was given a travelling grant of £500 from the Cultural Relations Committee of the Irish Department of External Affairs to study painting in Europe... it was Cronin who entered Paddy’s name for him when Paddy was abroad...
Meanwhile, I had got involved, first as an adviser, then as an associate, and finally as co-editor, with a magazine called Nimbus... it was through Swift that what one might term my greatest scoop was achieved. Swift was back in Ireland, and from there posted me a thick bound volume of typescript poems with no author's name on them nor any explanation of their provenance. But it didn’t take me more than two minutes to realise that these were unpublished poems by the legendary Patrick Kavanagh  — I say legendary because though no English literary magazine had the nous to print his work in those days, his was a name to conjure with among the denizens of Soho... Nimbus printed nineteen of them in a single issue. This was seen by the then poetry reader for Longmans, Thomas Blackburn, and led to the publication of Come Dance with Kitty Stobling in 1960, and to Kavanagh’s subsequent, if long-delayed, fame.
Not that fame mattered much to Swift: the work was all, at least as far as he himself was concerned. After his first, acclaimed, exhibition in Dublin — before I knew him  — he decided that celebrity was a nuisance, a distraction… And one day I found him in his underground flat in Westbourne Terrace busily taking down all his canvases (or rather hardboards, for in those days he couldn’t afford canvas) from the walls and stowing them away in a cellar. His reason was: a millionaire art fancier had rung up to say he was calling and Swift did not want him to buy, or so much as see, his work...
I received a letter from Swift inviting me to come in with him to edit a new quarterly magazine...
Eventually, after many months, Ms Hutchinson succeeded in finding a backer for the magazine, who turned out to be a most unlikely patron for the kind of venture that Swift and I projected. He was Michael Berry, now Lord Hartwell, the owner of the Daily Telegraph.
He undertook to back the first four numbers of X (as the magazine was called, after the mathematical symbol for the unknown quantity), and proved to be an ideal backer  — he never interfered... Swift of course was responsible for the art side of the magazine: he designed the striking format (the size of the page was in fact determined by the dimensions of a menu-card in a caff behind Victoria Station where we happened to be having a cup of coffee). Those were the boom years of abstract art... he promoted the work of then little known figurative painters, among them the young Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, and Craigie Aitchison, and such artists — as yet uncannonised — as Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and the forgotten David Bomberg, to say nothing of the continentals like Kokoschka, Giacometti, André Masson. Examples of their work were reproduced, and, more importantly, it was Swift’s idea that the artists should speak for themselves, which was achieved either by transcribing their recorded conversation (not ‘interviews’) or by publishing their notebooks. Swift’s unearthing and editing of David Bomberg’s outspoken and apocalyptic pensées scattered about his miscellaneous papers, was an outstanding contribution.
Nor was he any less active on the literary side of the magazine. Here Swift and I worked in perfect harmony...
X survived for two years and ended with its seventh number. Its circulation was never much more than 3,000, I believe, but its influence was considerable... After our first year, Michael Berry generously agreed to back a further two numbers. The seventh, and final, number was paid for by the sale of author’s manuscripts from the six previous issues. If Swift and I did not try very hard to find a new backer, it was not because we felt the job we had set out to do was wholly accomplished, but because neither of us could stand much more of the stresses and pressures to which were subjected. Mary Hutchinson, without whom the magazine would never have come into being, proved to be our old lady at the sea. She was forever ringing one or other of us up with notions for the magazine… out of which she had to be politely argued — an exercise that, I do not exaggerate, often occupied us for several hours a day... In the end, Swift had to give up answering his telephone...
Not long before the appearance of the last number of X, Patrick, his wife Oonagh and their two children left England for Portugal… But this was not the end of our collaboration. A few months after Swift had settled in the then remote and primitive fishing-village of Carvoeiro in Algarve, I went to stay with him; which visit engendered the idea of our writing a book, to be illustrated with his line drawings, about that then unknown corner of Portugal. The success of this book  — essentially a portrait of the old Algarve before tourism and progress had a chance to dilute its individuality — led to our being commissioned to write another, this time about Minho and the north of Portugal. A third book, to do with Lisbon and the Alentejo, completed our survey of the country. In these books are recorded, by one or the other of us, all my later adventures with Swift, whom I can only call the most remarkable man I have ever known.
 David Wright, Patrick Swift 1927-83, Gandon Editions, 1993


David Wright, Introduction to An Anthology from X, selected by David Wright, Oxford University Press, 1988

X, a quarterly review of literature and the arts, flourished, or at any rate existed, between the years 1959 and 1962. It took its name from the algebraic symbol for the unknown quantity — ‘incalculable or mysterious fact or influence’ as the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it. Neither manifesto nor editorial introduced the first number: its contents were the manifesto... The unstated object of the magazine was...to provide a platform for the individual vision rather than second-hand avant-gardisme or accepted attitudes...
The true begetter and leading light of X was Patrick Swift...
I met Swift in (to quote his words) 'the Bohemian jungle of Soho, where practitioners of the arts and letters were thick on the ground, though not professors of these activities'. And in a sense X was born in that Bohemian jungle, a society which, as I now realize, was as extraordinary as it was short lived...
The pubs in Dean and Old Compton Street, and those in Rathbone Place, were then a rendezvous for the arts, and even the sciences, where you could, by day or night, encounter poets, painters, and musicians — Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Malcolm Williamson among others — and such survivors of Montparnasse (of which Soho was the lineal descendant) as Nina Hamnett; not to mention odd-bods such as the Librarian of the House of Lords and the rightful king of Poland. It was in those days the kind of 'convivial university' that Ivan Illich was later to advocate; a successor to the informal gatherings of poets and artists that had been going on since the 1890s in places like Cafe Royal, the Eiffel Tower in Percy Street, Fitzrovia, and the pubs near the British Museum. At any rate it was in Soho that I received the best part of my education, from people as diverse as W.S. Graham, Roy Campbell, John Heath-Stubbs, Hugh MacDiarmid, and not least from Swift himself.
Soon after we met Swift disappeared, having won a travelling grant from the Irish Committee of Cultural Affairs...Meanwhile I had got involved, first as adviser, then as associate, and finally as co-editor, with a 'little review' called Nimbus...I looked on my connection with Nimbus as an opportunity to get into print work that I knew was good but not the fashion of the day (these were the years of 'consolidation' and 'commitment'). Thus, when I took up the reins as co-editor, Nimbus published a batch of fourteen poems by Stevie Smith whom, mirabile dictu, the literary periodicals of the day ignored...The next number printed another batch of nineteen poems by Patrick Kavanagh *[*These poems had been posted to me by Swift...]... their publication in Nimbus led to the appearance of Stevie Smith's Not Waving But Drowning, and of Kavanagh's Come Dance with Kitty Stobling...
But after a year as co-editor of Nimbus my connection with it came to an end. Early in 1957 I resigned...However, eighteen months later...a letter arrived from Swift inviting me to come in with him to edit a new magazine on the lines that he and I had wanted Nimbus to follow...
Through the poet David Gascoyne, Swift had become acquainted with an extraordinary old lady, one of the last survivors of Bloomsbury. This was Mary Hutchinson, a cousin of Lytton Strachey...This was before the days when literary magazines could get financial backing from the Arts Council...However, Mrs Hutchinson and he were confident that she would be able to find a backer for the venture...And, sure enough, Mrs Hutchinson eventually succeeded after no more than a few months in finding a backer...
He turned out to be a most unlikely patron for the kind of venture that Swift and I projected. Our benefactor was Michael Berry, now Lord Hartwell, the owner of the Daily Telegraph. He undertook to guarantee the first four numbers of X, and proved to be an ideal backer — he never interfered. Indeed, I never even met him. We were able to draw a small salary for our work as editors, and apart from Swift and myself there was no other staff, for we had determined to cut out all unnecessary expenses. Thus there was no grand launching party, and for an office we rented, at about £5 a week, an attic room in New Row off Covent Garden...This office really served as an accommodation address, for we were rarely in it except to collect mail and answer correspondence...Our real offices were the saloon bars of the nearby Salisbury public house or the White Swan just opposite: here we met, and conferred with, contributors whose work we were interested in.
The first number of X was carefully planned and well received. Philip Toynbee hailed it in the Observer as 'an event, if only because a literary magazine of this kind has not existed for a long time. The admirable impression of a review devoted to attacking both the corruptions of an established avant-garde and the dreary "retrenchments" of the age is reinforced by every article and poem which appear here'. In a leading article the Times Literary Supplement was also laudatory: 'A concern for "rethinking" about the nature of literary and artistic experience is apparent throughout the pages of X, and gives the whole of the first issue a unity uncommon among periodicals now'. About 3,000 copies of the first number were sold, and the circulation of X remained at this figure, more or less, until its demise. Much of its impact was due to the layout that Patrick Swift designed, and to its unusual format, which was in fact determined by the dimensions of a menu card in a caff off Victoria Station where we happened to be having a cup of coffee.
To begin with we were resolved to avoid insularity. Poems, essays, and graphics by European writers and artists like Robert Pinget, Yves Bennefoy, René Daumal, Ghika, Oskar Kokoschka, André Masson, O.V. de L. Milosz, Philippe Jaccottet, Jules Superveille, H.A. Gomperts, and others appeared in our pages — though in the present anthology considerations of space and copyright difficulties have precluded me from representing them as I should have wished.
Swift was, of course, responsible for the art side of the magazine. These were the boom years of abstract art. Swift, twenty years ahead of his time, launched a series of penetrating attacks on the cult... as well as promoting the work of then unknown or unfashionable figurative painters, among them the young Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, and Craigie Aitchison, and such as-yet uncannonized painters as Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, and the forgotten David Bomberg. Examples of their work were reproduced; more importantly, it was Swift's idea that the artist should speak for themselves, which was achieved either by transcribing their tape-recorded conversation (not 'interviews', wherein questions loaded with some obtuse interrogator’s 'impercipience' tend to darken council), or by publishing their notes. Swifts’ unearthing and editing of David Bomberg’s outspoken and apocalyptic pensées, scattered about his miscellaneous papers, was an outstanding contribution.
All exercises in criticism or exegesis published in X were written, be it noted, by practising painters, writers, or poets; a deliberate policy, for already a cloud no bigger than the dead hand of academe was hovering over the arts....
Our first two numbers were filled with work by writers and artists we knew, or knew of. But by the time the third number of X appeared we were starting to attract unpublished writers of the kind we were looking for, but had begun to despair of finding...
X survived for nearly three years, and ended with its seventh number. After our first year, when his original guarantee expired, Michael Berry generously agreed to back a further two numbers while we looked around for another Maecenas. Though optimistic about our prospects — after all, as someone remarked, we had won our first backer with nothing but a nimbus and a swift tongue — wherever we tried we drew a blank; and to tell the truth, we did not try very hard. If our efforts were lukewarm, it was not because we felt the job we had set out to do with X was anything like accomplished; it was because neither of us felt we could stand much more of the stress and pressure to which we were subjected. Besides, we had our own work to get on with. Mary Hutchinson, without whom the magazine would never have come into being, proved to be its old lady of the sea. Almost daily letters, almost twice-daily telephone calls, conveying an endless succession of notions, suggestions, and sometimes demands that the work of so-and-so be included, and some key essay or article thrown out to make room for it, emanated from that quarter... There was not a page of the magazine that we did not have to pay for with hours of argumentation, till in the end Swift had to give up answering his telephone altogether... This well-meant harassment finally inhibited us from any serious effort to continue the magazine, although, financed by the sale of old letters and manuscripts that had accumulated from past numbers, we did manage to bring out a seventh, and valedictory, issue. This accomplished, Swift and I were free to pursue our different avocations.
— David Wright, August 1985, Introduction to An Anthology from X, selected by David Wright, Oxford University Press, 1988


by David Wright

I never imagined I
Should write your elegy.
I look out of the window
As you taught me to do.
All creation is grand.
Whatever is to hand
Deserves a line, praising
What is for being.

Thus at Westbourne Terrace
In long ago days
Brush in hand I'd see you
At your morning window
Transfer the thousand leaves
Of summer heavy trees
And delighting light
To another surface
Where they will not turn
With the turning season
But stay, and say
This is the mystery!
Or you would repeat
In pencil or in paint
The old stuffed pheasant too
That lived in your studio
Among jars of turps
With a visiting ghost,
Charles Baudelaire's photo.
All the eye lights on
There for delighting.
Or put it this way,
A thing of beauty
is joy perceived.
So you would give
Thanks for what is:
All art is praise.

Ah, those mornings
In many-hilled
Pombaline Lisbon:
The roads we travelled!
I do not mean
Only in Portugal —
Though now recalling
How, somewhere near
The river Guardiana
Going to Alcoutim,
We stopped the car
For, winding down
Round hills and bare,
Over no road came
The muleback riders
And blackshawled women
On foot, following
A coffin to nowhere:
Memento mori!

Or recollect
— Each of us unique —
Your head suddenly
Thrown back, oblique
Eye over the laughter:
An aslant look
As if to say
Did the joke carry? The
Underlaid irony
Over the joke?

I see now
Out of my window
Mist rising from
A leaden Eden
Drifting slowly
Under trees barely
Leaved to the ford.
Gentle and aloud
The water breaks
As white as bread
Over the under road.
On the far bank
A field with trees
Each standing naked
On a fallen dress,
Brown and gold leaves.
I might relate
How Swift my friend
Has gone, like these!
But I will not.
No cause for sadness,
You reader of Aquinas
And clear Horace.
Whom the gods love, die
Young but not easily.


Dublin Oil - Dublin Watercolour/ Ink - Italy - Oakridge/ Ashwell Watercolour - Oakridge/ Ashwell Oil - London Oil - London Watercolour/ Ink - France - Algarve Oil - Algarve Watercolour/ Ink - Self-Portraits - Trees - Portraits I - Portraits II - Porches Pottery - Books - Misc - Algarve Studio
Note: many of the reproductions displayed here are of poor quality

By Swift
Nano Reid - Some notes on Caravaggio - Italian Report - The Artist Speaks - X magazine - RHA Exhibition 1951 - Eça de Queiroz & Fernando Pessoa - The Portuguese Enigma - Notebooks - All

About Swift
Patrick Swift: An Irish Painter in Portugal - IMMA 1993 Retrospective Catalogue - Dublin 1950-2 - By His Friends - X magazine - Poems - Further Quotes About - All

By His Friends
Anthony Cronin - John Ryan - John Jordan - C.H.Sisson - Martin Green - John McGahern - David Wright - Lima de Freitas - Katherine Swift - Tim Motion - Lionel Miskin - Jacques D'Arribehaude - Brian Higgins - George Barker - Patrick Kavanagh

Further Quotes
Brian Fallon - Aidan Dunne - Derek Hill - Brendan Behan - Lucian Freud - Patrick Kavanagh - Elizabeth Smart - Further Quotes About