The Catch: Fishing for Ted Hughes by Mark Wormald - review by Tom Fort

Tom Fort

The Poet and the Pike

The Catch: Fishing for Ted Hughes


Bloomsbury 336pp £20

What do poets do to refresh their spirits when they are not writing poetry or trying to earn a living in order to write it? Wordsworth and Coleridge tramped immense distances over moor and fell. Byron swam. Emily Dickinson sat in her bedroom. Ted Hughes went fishing.

For Hughes fishing was much more than a mere pastime or hobby or even an escape from the demands of his professional life and the extreme turbulence of his love life. ‘Fishing is my way of breathing,’ he once remarked to Aoine Cooke, the daughter of his most regular and closest fishing pal, the Irish painter Barrie Cooke. One of Mark Wormald’s many achievements in his thorough and revealing exploration of Hughes’s angling life is to show the profound truth hidden behind that apparently throwaway line. ‘He needed to fish,’ Wormald writes. ‘It sustained him. It took him into the natural world and reminded him of who he was, who he had been.’

The seething drama of Hughes’s literary and personal life has already been documented in abundant detail, notably in Jonathan Bate’s biography of the poet. Bate has many virtues as a biographer, but he is not an angler and was thus not equipped to understand the importance of the

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