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Peter and I have just returned from a lovely holiday in the UK.  We were mostly based in South Shields (where I was born) but made several trips to nearby areas such as Newcastle and Ebchester, and spent several days in Scotland (Edinburgh & Dundee).

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We were lucky to hit surprisingly mild weather – one or two frosty mornings, but mostly crisp and sunny.  Perfect for walking about in if you’re well rugged up.

My big excitement last Saturday was the letterbox arrival of the Iron Book of New Humorous Verse (edited by Eileen Jones and published by Iron Press) which has one of my poems in it.  The poem is ‘Please Rush Me’ and seeing as I can’t get to the launch in Newcastle, I read it at the Ballroom Cafe yesterday. 

Iron Press is a small press in North Shields, Northumberland (all the way over on the other side of the River Tyne from South Shields, where I was born).   I’m really enjoying the book, which includes well-known UK poets like Wendy Cope, Linda France and W N Herbert.  The Iron Press website says of the book : “Subjects include the annual shindig for Greenland’s literary elite, a paean to a wonderbra, a knitted orgasm, Superman’s pet lemming and a sonnet to a Yorkshire Pudding.”  Who says poetry can’t be fun.

I have made a video clip of myself reading the poem, which  I would have inserted into this post, but WordPress would charge me $US60 a year for the privilege.  Instead, I have made a new blog on Blogspot where I don’t have to pay to upload videos:

http://janisfreegard.blogspot.com/

Tim Jones did a fine job as the Ballroom’s featured poet yesterday – I’m very much looking forward to his next collection: Men Briefly Explained.  The Ballroom has really taken off as a poetry venue.  Next month, Saradha Koirala will be the guest poet.

Don’t forget to check out the other Tuesday poems, via the quill button to the left.

While I was in South Shields (in the North-East of England) in August, I was lucky enough to attend a memorial reading of James Kirkup’s poetry at the local museum.  James Kirkup was a prominent British poet who was born in South Shields in 1918 and died earlier this year.  My interest in him was sparked by my friend Jean, who sent me a book of his poems after noticing we were both born in South Shields.

James Kirkup wrote dozens of poetry collections, several volumes of autobiography, plays, haiku, tanka and many translations.  He was the UK’s first poet-in-residence at an academic institution (at Leeds University in 1950) and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.  He held numerous awards, including the Atlantic Award for Literature from the Rockefeller Foundation, the P.E.N. Club Prize for Poetry, the Scott-Moncrieff Prize for Translation and the Japan Festival Foundation Award. 

James Kirkup lived in Japan for many years, but spent the last part of his life in Andorra.  He was a conscientious objector during the second world war and one of his collections is titled ‘No More Hiroshimas’.  In “Not Cricket”, he writes about those experiences:

 

“I, too, remember brutal overseers

In the labour camps of Britain, men

Who could only relish power

If they could degrade, mock, punish

 

With violence as sad as any commandant’s

With anger that reveals the heart of war.”

and in “White Shadows”, he commemorates a man “annihilated in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima” who left only his white shadow:

 “Your shade – poor forked human creature – fled

Like a mist of dew on morning glories.  Your breath

Evaporated, taken away, lost soul, before

You even had time to scream.  Your shade was white.”

 Another collection, ‘The Body Servant’, contains a sequence of poems about parts of the body:

 “CHEST

Box, barrel, bastion

of the heart and lungs,

rigid with side-

winding ribs, yet

accordion-pleated,

bagpipes, bellows of bone

breathing like the sea…”

James Kirkup was gay and the publication of one of his poems in Britain’s Gay News in 1976 led to Britain’s last successful prosecution for blasphemy.  Amazingly, it is still banned in Britain today.  If you want to read it, you can find it here http://www.annoy.com/history/doc.html?DocumentID=100045, but the poet would probably rather be remembered for such poems as “A Correct Compassion” (dedicated to Mr. Philip Allison, after watching him perform a Mistral Stenosis Valvulotomy in the General Infirmary in Leeds), which begins:
“Cleanly, sir, you went to the core of the matter.
Using the purest kind of wit, a balance of belief and art,
You with a curious nervous elegance laid bare
The root of life, and put your finger on its beating heart.”

The memorial reading I attended was organised by Red Squirrel Press, who published one of Kirkup’s collections (Marsden Bay) recently and who have a reprint of one of his other books coming out soon.  At another Red Squirrel Press event, publisher Sheila Wakefield kindly pointed us to some places where we’d be likely to see red squirrels – fast being edged out of their habitat by the American grey squirrels (though I gather this is as much about diseases as it is about competition) – but alas, they proved elusive on our searches.  Next time, maybe. 

More about James Kirkup and Red Squirrel Press here: http://www.redsquirrelpress.com/index.php?marsden

and a nice painting of him here:

http://www.leeds.ac.uk/library/spcoll/leedspoetry/kirkup.htm

1. It’s home of one of the best punk bands ever, the Angelic Upstarts.

2. It has beautiful beaches.

3. You can visit the remains of a Roman fort (Arbeia) there, if you like that sort of thing.

4. There’s lots of interesting birdlife and wild flowers, especially along the cliffs around Marsden.

5. South Shields people are really friendly.

6. There are some great restaurants.

7. My Nanna lives there and so does my aunty and my cousins.

8. Lifeboats were invented there (there’s a lovely example on display on Ocean Road).

9. You can get Minchella’s ice cream there.

10.  There are lots of very nice parks (we saw the Troggs playing in Bents Park last time we were there.)

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