David Selzer and I first got to know each other in 1965 through the University of Liverpool Poetry Society. Under David’s energetic leadership, in 1966 the Society brought a young Seamus Heaney and a young Michael Longley from Northern Ireland to read to us. This was some months before Seamus Heaney’s first collection, Death of a Naturalist, appeared from Faber, and at this point Michael Longley had published no more than a single pamphlet. Neither had read outside Northern Ireland. The third of the notable young Northern Irish poets to emerge during those years, Derek Mahon, was at that time teaching in Canada, but it was through Heaney and Longley that I discovered him, too. For me these readings were cardinal events. I have followed the work of all three with admiring attention ever since.
After university, David and I lost touch for over four decades until about ten years ago when we re-encountered one another on the web – indeed, through this very site. By then we were both long-married and had families; both of us had pursued our careers in education, often – as we were to discover – in surprisingly similar grooves; both of us had continued to write. Though during my early twenties I had placed a few poems in little magazines for many years my professional and family life had taken most of my energies. When I retired, however, I was able to give more time to writing. At last, in November 2019, David and I – and our wives – managed to meet at his lovely old house in Chester – some fifty-three years late, as one might say. Given this history, being invited by David to post these poems here stirs for me a host of charged and poignant memories.
David has asked me to say a little more about myself.
I was born in Sheffield in April 1945. In 1948 my family moved to Liverpool when my father took up a post at a large hospital on the northern fringe of the city. I was educated in Liverpool, and, after a post-graduate year at the University, I went on to teach English in local comprehensive schools, first in Walton and then in Anfield. (In Walton, one of my students was for a time a certain Alexei Sayle: it was already apparent what kind of career he was destined to follow. On the staff as a French Assistant was the future manager of Liverpool Football Club, a youthful Gérard Houllier.) The mid-1970s saw me working as Head of English at a school on the Wirral – as David had, too, though at the time neither of us was aware of this. In 1980, with my wife and three children, we moved to a sub-Pennine village in West Yorkshire, where we have lived ever since. (Think, if you will: Last of the Summer Wine Country.) At my retirement I was the head teacher of a prominent local high school whose origins lay deep in the Middle Ages.
My first collection, Jigsaw, a selection going back to the early 1970s, was published by the Waywiser Press in 2003. Little Blue Man appeared from Sea Biscuit Press in 2013 with photographs by Susan de Sola. Already the Flames (Waywiser Press, 2014) was a Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year. In 2018 I won the Robert Graves Poetry Prize. My latest collection is Pedic’s Dream (Common End Press, 2021). I have read at venues around the U.K. – amongst others, at Grasmere for the Wordsworth Trust and at Oxford University – and at literary festivals in the U.S.A. and Greece. My critical writings encompass poets as diverse as Edward Thomas, Wallace Stevens, Conrad Aiken, Eugenio Montale, E.J. Scovell, Robert Mezey and Michael Longley.
My university days are now a distant memory, but what my acquaintance with David gave me, as I knew even then, was a sense that my odd avocation – the writing of verse – was not an addiction unique to me and indeed that it was “permitted”. Encountering Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and (indirectly) Derek Mahon was a powerful confirmation of that. Of course, in 1966 David knew nothing of this, but I am happy to acknowledge here my gratitude to him for his unwitting and, as it turned out, his life-long gift.
‘Twelve Poems’ by Clive Watkins – read/download here (click to open / right click > save as):
©Clive Watkins 2021