Wednesday, 10 March 2010

And so to Leeds...

George at Leeds 1969

I was at the art school (ex Jacob Kramer) from 1969 to 1972, though by 1969 it was the first year of art under the wings of Leeds Polytechnic, which some time ago underwent another change and is Leeds Metropolitan University. The big new building you cannot see because the photographer is facing directly away from it, was still surrounded by what remained of the building site, and the pile I am standing on in that photograph is rubble. Behind me and about twenty foot down, runs the inner city motorway (LEEDS, THE MOTORWAY CITY cried the signboards!). If I turned to my left in the photo, scrambled down the hill I would be practically on Woodhouse Lane, looking up at the poly, from whose steps, one day, an ex-school student of mine, Emma, was blown by one great gust of wind that left her at the bottom of it, unconscious. I wrote a poem about it in An English Apocalypse that has a number of Leeds poems. Maybe the dreamlike effect of being carried off by the wind served as a metaphor for my experience of the place.

I loved Leeds for what it opened up to me. A studio, a sense of urban history, a kind of warmth and directness in the people I met, and the poetry, primarily through Martin Bell.

Martin Bell

I went to his weekly Wednesday afternoon sessions and was introduced by him to work by poets like Wallace Stevens, John Crowe Ransom, Alexander Pope, Norman Cameron, Peter Redgrove, Pierre Reverdy and many others, far too many to mention. Martin was, to me, the gift of poetry.

I proposed to C in Leeds, to be precise in The Cobourg pub. We lived together in Leeds for two years.

Martin did not love Leeds. His Leeds poems tell quite another story. Leeds was exile to Martin. To me, being young, it was the first big breath of adulthood.


Mark Granier said...

Interesting to see some synchronicity in our pasts. I too went to Art School (in Dún Laoghaire, a few years later) and had a mentor, an older poet who introduced me to many new writers. My hair even had a similar parting to yours in that photo, though like an eejit I let it grow far too long, till I looked like walking haystack:

George S said...

I remember the names of various fish and chips establishments, such as Those Magnificent Men in The Frying Machines (in Leeds, as was) as well as more feeble efforts such as Big Fry (in Wymondham), and considering alternatives like For Cod's Sake!, and Something for a Haddock?

Hairdressers are the other trade for joky names (Fringe Benefits, Beyond the Fringe, Bob and Curly's) though Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow is the one that has always taken my fancy. And it is going of course, albeit slowly and a touch scraggily. It's the Transylvanian genes keep it going.

Mark Granier said...

Those are great. I thought punning shop-names was more of an American thing, since it first caught my attention in San Francisco (when I lived/worked there for about 6 months in 1982): a bakery called All You Knead and a sweet shop called (more campily) Kiss My Sweet. I haven't noticed any in Dublin, or London for that matter (though I haven't looked).

Transylvanian genes, eh? Reminds me of Bela Lugosi's night-children:

The word verification is MUDDLESS: might be a good title for something.

James said...

"..a kind of warmth and directness in the people I met.." Always the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about my (infinitely smaller than your) experience of Leeds.