Richard Devereux: "We need our best people to be our leaders: the most intelligent people and those with the most developed souls"


Interview with the Philhellenic poet Richard Devereux

Interviewer: Vasiliki V. Pappa

Richard Devereux was born in 1953, in Stourbridge. He studied Ancient Greek, Latin and Ancient History at the local High School. Later, he studied the Law at Oxford University. He was a family lawyer for over 40 years and retired in 2019. In 2016, he published "Bill", as a tribute to his grandfather. He has had a number of poems (including ones with Greek subjects) published in magazines and anthologies. He organises the Lansdown Poets - a poetry workshop group. During the lockdown of 2020, he read all of Cavafy's, in Greek and this year he has been reading all of Seferis' in Greek, too.

V.P.: Richard, in 2016 released your collection "Bill". What stimulated you to write this book?

R.D: I started to research and write Bill in January 2014, at the start of the anniversary of the war of 1914-1918. I wanted to honor my grandfather who I loved dearly as a boy. He was a poor country boy who spent three years as a φαντάρος in Salonika: I felt poetry was the best way to capture the spirit of him and his times.

V.P. : How difficult is it for someone to find his authorship?

R.D: Three points: First, a writer can only feel confident in his 'voice' when he has acquired experience of writing. Then he will have found out what works for him and what does not, what he is good at and what he is not good at. Secondly, a writer will gain more from his experience of writing if he can 'interrogate' his own writing. In other words, look over his own shoulder as an observer of his process. Educationalists call it 'reflective learning'. Thirdly, writers have always shared their writing with other writers who may give them insights they find hard to see for themselves. Ideally, a writer comes to value criticism as much as praise. Our identity 'as a writer' is part of our identity 'as a person'. When we read, observe the world and think about it, when we talk to other people and visit new places and do new things, we are feeding all our identities.

V.P.: According to T.S. Elliot "The main route to the transmission of culture is family: no one completely escapes the kind or completely exceeds the degree of culture that has acquired from the environment of his early age". What is the influence of the family on the formation of your own personality?

R.D: A big question! I have a twin sister but our characters are completely different. My grandfather, Bill, was a strong athlete and a warm man. My other grandfather was a Welsh coal-miner, highly intelligent and deeply religious. I have been greatly influenced by them both.

V.P.: Before turning to writing, you had been working as lawyer. If you did not do this job, what other profession would you like to do for a living?

R.D: Professional footballer, of course, until I was 12! Then a writer, until I was about 24. I realized I lacked the talent for both these careers. Being a family lawyer was the perfect job for me (although it is the last type of law most lawyers want to follow). It involved enough law to interest me as a lawyer and gave me the chance to help other people who came to me in a personal crisis. I enjoyed fighting a case in court and now I do not fear standing before an audience to read my poetry.

V.P.: According to Vassilis Filias, "There are many forms of heavy debts towards man and society, but the heaviest is that of the intellectual. A consequence of the absence or social under-functioning of the intellectuals is the no-judgement and the under-functionality both in expressing and in dealing with the problems that concern society". Do you believe that today spiritual people live up to their mission? And if not, how can this situation might be faced?

R.D.: We need our best people to be our leaders: the most intelligent people and those with the most developed souls. This is true in our local communities and organizations, and for our countries. Often our leaders are not the best people and the world suffers. The message all our leaders are failing to deliver is: we must not be greedy. The good people must step forward; teachers and artists must inspire them.

V.P.: How do you relax and what entertains you? What do you consider to be your greatest "luxury"..

R.D.: My working life was stressful; my retired life is not! Most of what I do I find relaxing. Each day I am studying modern Greek and reading and writing poetry. I walk, listen to music and watch sport. I do not have a luxury. Except that my wife is a wonderful cook and insists on using good, but simple, ingredients, especially excellent Greek olive oil.

V.P.: How do you feel that you are getting older?

R.D: I am lucky - I am 70 next year and, as far as I know, I am healthy and fit. I am not facing challenges, such as pain. I accept decline and I think rarely of death. But one day most of my poems may be on these two topics. Towards the end of his life, this was true, for example, of Clive James. I think of the old people I have known. All the best ones were interested in other people, they had one great interest or hobby and were always trying to be cheerful. I will try to follow their examples.

V.P. : Which is your favorite virtue?

R.D.: In others, humility.

V.P.: Tell me something that makes you optimistic...

R.D.: Hearing children playing.

V.P.: Is there a motto or a saying that expresses your mood at this time of year and which is this?

R.D.: On New Year's Day, the anniversary of her death, I think of Grace Hopper, an American Admiral (yes, Admiral, like Bouboulina), computer scientist and mathematician who said 'A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for. Sail out to sea and do new things.'

Translation: Aliki Naka