London: Faber and Faber, 1983. First edition. 128pp.; illus. Oblong octavo; blue textured-paper boards, in dust jacket. Edges of boards faintly dust soiled, else about fine in a very good plus, price-clipped jacket, moderately toned and with some light crumpling along the top edges. Signed by both Hughes and Keen to title page.
An interesting association copy of this work pairing poems by English poet Ted Hughes (1930-1998) with color photographs by Peter Keen (1928-2009). Hughes and Keen met in 1976 at the suggestion of Hughes’ second wife Carol, and quickly bonded over their shared love of fishing. Though conceived as a collaborative project soon after, according to Hughes scholar Ann Skea, the publication of River was delayed for several years as their agent worked to find a publisher willing to commit to high-quality color reproductions. Faber eventually brought the book out in an edition of 2,500 hardcover and 15,000 paperback copies, with Hughes’ poems on the verso and full-color photographs by Keen on the recto. Keen, meanwhile, was displeased to learn that according to the publisher’s contract he would not be splitting royalties evenly with Hughes, as he had originally believed; though a more amenable 60/40 division was ultimately negotiated, the dispute apparently lingered with Keen, who in 2004 submitted an account of his version of events to the British Library. Whether because of that schism or not, copies signed by both collaborators are relatively scarce.
In addition to being signed by both Hughes and Keen, this copy also bears a long dated inscription on the front end paper by the English fly fishing expert Dermot Wilson. Wilson, like Keen, was a friend and fishing partner of Hughes’s. Of Wilson’s 1970 work Fishing the Dry Fly, Hughes wrote: “Wherever I open it my eye alights on a paragraph that is delightful to read, and that leads on irresistibly to the next paragraph that is equally delightful and that leads on irresistibly...etc etc.” Though the recipients of Wilson’s inscription—”Patrick (and of course darling Sally)”—are unknown, they were evidently quite close friends, to judge by the evocative list of shared memories Wilson invokes: “...getting shaken but unhurt at Bullington Cross, finding your car a useful bottle-opener on the Itchen, filling it with wine not water to effect a crossing of the Alps, darts in the Itchen Abbas pub, catching you almost in flagrante delicto when we shared a London flat, waiting an hour for you to saunter downstream to gaff my only Wye salmon...”
Though we can make no definitive claims as to the ownership history of this copy, it does not strike us as improbable that it may originally have been given to Wilson by Hughes himself, with Wilson choosing to pass it on to close friends a couple of years later. Regardless, a highly collectible copy with a unique constellation of associations.