Wednesday, 17 February 2016
Terry Kelly Remembered
Roger Garfitt remembers Terry Kelly
The man who was waiting for me at Newcastle Central Station a couple of years ago when I returned to the North East to read at the Lit Phil looked just as lean and fit as the student who had brought his concentrated stride into my workshop almost forty years ago when I was Writing Fellow at Sunderland Polytechnic. That's because he really was fit – Terry used to run three times a week – but it also reflected an inner intensity, the quality that enabled him to sustain a close engagement with contemporary poetry while working full-time as a journalist on the local paper. Many people let the passions of their student years die back into reminiscence once the pressures of the working life take over. Terry didn't do that. He was actively engaged, for example, in setting up The Bridge, the Bob Dylan magazine that now has an international readership, and on his visit to the States – the visit on which, ironically, he contracted the mystery virus that brought about his early death – he was invited to lunch with Christopher Ricks.
The first impact of the Morden Tower Readings, when Tom and Connie Pickard enabled a new generation to rediscover the poetry of Basil Bunting, was over by the time Terry came of age. But he absorbed something of those energies through his older brother Tom, who has published six collections with the Red Squirrel Press, and he kept his ear tuned to the particular possibilities of North Eastern speech. I was grateful to him for alerting me to the fine lyrics Tom Pickard was able to strike from that speech in The Dark Months of May. It was Terry who chaired the launch of Hoyoot, Tom Pickard's Collected Poems and Songs at the Lit Phil. He also, as it happened, shared a newspaper office with Barry MacSweeney, and he contributed a brief memoir of that time to the volume edited by Paul Batchelor, Reading Barry MacSweeney.
D.M. Thomas once told me that he and his friends had been amusing themselves by inventing collective nouns for the various denizens of the literary world. They had come up with "an advance of publishers" and "a vanity of poets". What would they have found for critics? "A crossfire of critics"? None of that would have been true of Terry, who was modest about his own poetry but passionate about his criticism, relishing the chance The London Magazine and The Next Review were giving him to stretch out in extended pieces on the life's work of major figures that were always thoroughly researched and carefully considered. That concentrated stride I had first glimpsed in 1978 was finally paying off and it is a real loss that it should have been brought to such an abrupt end.