|Just Published by The Book Mill|
When I was approached by the Trustees of the Norman Nicholson literary estate, they (and I) hoped that the book would be funded by one of the big publishers. Norman was one of the Faber poets and had been published as a prose author by Robert Hale and Penguin. But publishing has changed massively in the last five years and there's been a seismic shift in attitude to literary biography. Unless there is some kind of marketing angle, they just aren't interested. A centenary isn't much of a marketing angle, so, unless I could reveal some kind of scandalous revelation, I was never going to get a contract.
|Drawing by Percy Kelly|
But I carried on - why? Because I loved his poetry and I was intrigued by his life - a motherless, gifted, working-class boy who survived teenage tuberculosis and the loss of his ambitions and who locked himself away in his attic room like a hermit and refused to go to London, even when he became famous. Seamus Heaney described him as 'a fathering voice'. Norman was a poet of landscape - writing about the coastal fringes of the English Lake District - a very unfashionable place at the time. And he was what is now called an 'eco-poet' writing about humankind's relationship with the landscape - in his case the rise and decline of a small industrial town and what it meant for the environment and for the people who relied on it to make a living. His poem 'The Closing of Millom Ironworks' sets out the bleak dilemma.
..... The hum
And blare that for a hundred years
Drummed at the town's deaf ears
Now fills the air with the roar of its silence.
They'll need no more to swill the slag-dust off the windows;
The curtains will be cleaner
And the grass plots greener
Round the Old Folk's council flats. The tanged autumnal mist
Is filtered free of soot and sulphur,
And the wind blows in untainted.
It's beautiful to breathe the sharp night air.
But, morning after morning, there
They stand, by the churchyard gate,
Hands in pockets, shoulders to the slag,
The men whose fathers stood there back in '28,
When their sons were at school with me.
It's companion poem 'On the Dismantling of Millom Ironworks' apparently moved the Queen very much. She awarded him the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1981 - a year after Ted Hughes got his.
.... They cut up the carcass of the old ironworks
Like a fat beast in a slaughter-house; they shoveled my childhood
On to a rubbish heap. Here, my father's father,
Foreman of the back furnace, unsluiced the metal lava
To slop in fiery gutters across the foundry floor
And boil round the workmen's boots; here five generations
Toasted the bread they earned at a thousand degrees Fahrenheit
And the town thrived on its iron diet....'
|Another working-class northern author|
Norman Nicholson: The Whispering Poet is now published in enhanced paperback format and on Kindle. There's a special introductory offer on Amazon - paperback for £8.50 instead of £13.00, Kindle at £4.79
If you'd like to read more about the book and the writing of it, check out my previous Authors Electric post - 'My Life as a Man'. And you can read one of Norman's poems here.
20 days to go until Christmas and the
With acknowledgement to the genius of Tenniel...