Monday, May 25, 2009

James Kirkup (1918-2009)

James Kirkup, poet and translator, was born in South Shields on April 23, 1918. He died on May 10, 2009, aged 91

Most newspaper obituaries including the one in Times OnLine highlight his involvement in the Gay News blasphemy trial, and its sad that this is what he is most remembered for.

Some of us remember him more for his poetry and especially his contribution to the world of haiku and tanka.

I've had periodic correspondance with him since the 70s when he submitted poetry to me. THE GUITAR-PLAYER OF ZUIGANJI was first published in Headland #8.

I had previously published in a limited edition his "MANY-LINED POEM", one or two extant copies of which I have buried in a box somewhere. He was still sending me work from Andorra as recently as a couple of years ago.

The latest issue of The Tanka Journal #34 includes a tanka sequence THE WEDDING GROUP which begins
In one day's rare sun
they smile their assembled smiles
from the bright heaven
of otherworld garden's own
unplucked bouquet of summer.
As Patricia Prime writes in her review of his collection THE AUTHENTIC TOUCH (Bluechrome Publishing ISBN 1 904781 59 4)
Kirkup's poems are a privilege to experience, their generosity and musicality complementing and complicating the reader's own truths with each and every read. The poems strike a tone of light, deft whimsicality, but within the wit and whimsy, the wisdom and fine irony, is a ruthless commentary on the human condition.
His last published book was Marsden Bay and his publishers Red Squirrel Press are inviting people to a celebration of his life from 10.00 am - 12.00 midday on Saturday 13th June at South Shields Central Library.

I won't be there but I will be remembering him.


  1. I always thought of James Kirkup with respect. He was a phenomenon. In his death, the haiku world has lost a strong pillar.He was a guru to many of his readers in most unknown places in the world.
    I used to read him REGULARLY in every zine and journal that published my haiku. In fact reading his original, translated and recreated haiku in KO, I always learned a lot.

  2. I can imagine them together now like two canaries on a swing: James Kirkup (1918-2009) and Mary Whitehouse (1910-2001) -

    nice links Gerald

  3. So many of us appreciated James during his lifetime, as we will still appreciate him now he is gone.

    I hope you are still composing tanka and haiku up there.

    With Words

  4. thanks for this Gerald I've been on holiday and only two days ago was reading'Blue Bamboo' and wondering how James was