Poetry and Music

There were elective courses that you could choose if you wanted to, no compulsion, but they were all of high quality. I had always liked to write so I took the opportunity to study poetry with James Kirkup. James was a gentle homosexual who had been a conscientious objector during the war and for his service he worked on the land.. It was interesting to me later to find out that he trained with the Quakers at Pontelands. There were about six of us in the group. He introduced us to the Japanese haiku form.

There was a kind of secret garden at the back of Corsham Court, it was behind the open air  bath house. All of the grounds were designed by Capability Brown, including the bath house. The garden was enclosed by shrubs and roses, in the centre there was a circular stone pond. It was a beautiful hot summer and he held his classes there. I can’t remember what I wrote but I do vividly remember that we had to go to the opposite side of the pond to declaim our work because water was a natural amplifier. I associate the sound of poetry with the heavy perfume of roses and lavender. My great friend Janet Harrison did the course with me, she became a published poet in her own right and later became Professor of Creative Writing at one of the leading universities in the USA. Sadly she died in her fifties.

James was a very prolific writer during his life, he died at 92. His autobiography called An Only Child is a beautifully written account of early childhood. He was born on Tyneside and his father was a carpenter. Although he was quite gentle he liked to be shocking and sadly all his other work has been eclipsed by the provocative side of his nature. He is mostly remembered now for his poem ‘The Love that Dares to Speak it’s Name’ (which deals with the homosexual love of one of the Roman centurions for the dead Christ’) it was published in Gay News. Mary Whitehouse won a case in the High Court for Blasphemous Libel. It was a notorious case.

Afterwards James spent most of his life in Japan writing and lecturing in Japanese Universities. His most valued poems are in the  form of  Japanese tankas.drawingkirkup


I’d grown up with music, and studied the piano for a bit but above all I liked to sing I , I’m took a short course in singing. The musical director was Henry Boys, a quiet erudite man but full of zeal to promote contemporary music. I can’t say that I enjoyed the singing lessons as he kept telling me that I was a soprano not an alto. I felt uncomfortable in the register that he was making me use. I had sung in the school choir and as one of a duet but always as an alto. I gave up after a term but I did go on with the choir.

There was an elegant drawing room at the Court with red plush chairs, huge original 18th century paintings on the walls, a decorated plaster ceiling, polished wood floors and fine rugs. The first thing I noticed when I went in there was a very old fashioned looking gramophone with a gigantic horn, it was in fact a state of the art sound system. Every week Henry put on a concert of recorded music and introduced us to the best of avant- garde music. I have already said he was a friend of Benjamin Britten, we listened to Ligetti, Stravinsky, Aaron Copeland et al. Some people that elected to do the course were examined by another friend of his William Glock. William eventually Sir William,  became Director of Music on the third programme and was responsible for the BBC Proms. The greatest contribution that he made to music however was founding the annual music school at Dartington, which attracted the best musicians from around the world, Stravinsky, Pierre Boulez, Nadia Boulanger and others too numerous to mention. So we learnt about classical music but of course our young hearts were already into different music.

Women greatly outnumbered men, this didn’t affect me much as I always had a bloke in tow, first Eric then later Robin. The principal thought the solution was to have country dancing in the barn every week. Some people loved it but others wanted proper dance music.There were two solutions 1) to hitch hike to Bristol and go to the club with The Avon City Jazz band (Trad) or 2) to go on the coaches that picked up females to be partners for the Navy Base (called the Royal Arthur), the Air Force Base at Colerne, or Cirencester Agricultural College, all male establishments hungry for women. Before I met Eric I went on the bus to Colerne, it was pretty horrible with drunk sweaty men trying to paw you and get you outside. One of the girls in my hut brought her bloke home with her. He stayed in her room, strictly forbidden. When the warden came around she hid him in her wardrobe! There was a sad end to the story she got pregnant and had to leave in disgrace.

The photograph shows the Royal Arthur camp as it was in 2011 , are there ghosts there?.Drawingroyalarthur

It has been my misfortune (or maybe fortune) to have three men that have all played in bands. Eric played the fiddle for the folk dancing band, Robin played the piano in the dance band and later Ken played the sax, clarinet and flute also in a band. The snag is that you are at the dance but you don’t have your own partner. Later I played in bands myself, and that was much better.

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