South Shields Local History Group

Under Construction

Kirkup, James (Poet)

James Kirkup was born in Shields in 1918 and was one of the leading poets of the mid to late twentieth century.

Age 3 Robertson St

Dorothy Fleet recorded James in about 1970 talking fondly about his childhood years spent in the town.

He went to Baring Street School, Westoe Boys School then Kings College at Durham University.  After the war he worked as a school teacher.

Age 18 Portrait

His first book of poems was called the Drowned Sailor and was published in 1947, he published 33 books of poetry, 7 plays and 5 travel books.

Many of his poems recall his childhood days in South Shields.  Places include: Ferry, Groyne, King Street, Lifeboat, Market, Marine Park, Ocean Road, Old Town Hall, Pier, Town Hall, Trow Rocks and Westoe Village.

Shields Sketches
Child of the Tyne
Marsden Bay

After 1956 he mainly worked abroad lecturing in English in Sweden, Malaya and Japan.

1982 (South Tyneside Libraries, Unknown STH0008515)

He spent 30 years in Japan lecturing in English at several universities where he is very highly regarded.

James in his garden in Japan

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962.

In 2005 he was celebrated with an exhibition of his works at the Central Library in South Shields.

James at the library with Dorothy Fleet
Poems on the wall at the library

The Guardian called him “One of the genuine masters of verse in the middle to late twentieth century” (The Guardian)

James Kirkup died in 2009 in Andorra and is buried at Kyoto in Japan. 

James’ grave 2019

His friends and poetry admirers come to pay their respects on the anniversary of his death.

Friends at his grave 2019

Dorothy Fleet became Curator of the James Kirkup Collection.  The artefacts are held in South Shields Museum and the literature is held by South Tyneside Libraries.

Overview – South Tyneside Council






Description and travel


Dorothy Fleet
Wikipedia (Bibliography)
South Tyneside Libraries

South Tyneside Libraries

Around the formal pond,
Like huge eggs laid in new grass,
The hulls of model yachts recline,
Or like exhausted pets
Bare smooth bellies to the sun.
Planes rip the cloud-stuffed blue
And wrap it with loose
Fraying bandages. The sly
Children crouch under
The threat of summer,
Pretending not to see
How the Spring’s cold ripples
Shiver the top-heavy day;
How the wind cripples
The shrubbery, stabs
The lake, flusters the sails of toy
Arks, while a careless boy
With a barking dog disturbs
The couples who dust each other down,
Groaning and rising out of the earth
With resurrected clothes,
The dead town
Rising with them, and
With all its living graves,
Quietly, in catastrophic re-birth.

(South Marine Park)

The cobbles spread their broken flag.
On wooden stalls, tented with clouds
of canvas a grimy resurrection lies.

The old jackets rub shoulders
on the racks of life and death,
the crumpled trousers all undone
swing in a driving wind,
a boneless abandon,
soft-shoe shuffle in the sands of time.

These skeletons out of their cupboards
are human, still warm with dying.
There are crumbs in their pockets,
dust in their turnups,
broken feathers in best hats,
glad rags in the seats of their pants,
in elbows where the striped lining
pokes out like fractured bones.

Laid away, the painter ‘s dungarees
are dingy white, stained with forgotten schemes
for houses decorated out of sight.

Here are the collier’s clogs, the seaman’s denims,
the housewife’s shifts and Sunday coats.
-These are the limbless ghosts
jumbled here on the old wooden stalls,
heaped in confusion or suspended
like out-of-work puppets in
the north wind of curious hands and faces

stirring them in their graves
Iike the bones in the churchyard of
St Hilda’s, on the resurrection morn

From To the Ancestral North, Asahi Press, Tokyo

The turnstile’s enigmatic tongue
Reluctantly announces the impending passage.
Row-boats nibble at the long,
Floating body of the landing-stage.

The passengers embark, anonymous
Beneath the swinging arc-lamp’s
Gesticulating melodrama. Their elastic shadows
Rage suddenly and vanish down the heaving ramps.

From the leaning smoke-stack, cables
Of heroic steam are hauled. The broken
Water glitters when departure’s
Hidden bells are shaken.

The boat gently valses, and a course is set
Across the unseen harbour’s springing darkness.
Louder the winds leap through the black proscenium of night,
And slowly now the landing’s floodlit emptiness

Glides like the setting for a nameless play
With sinister, deceptive urgency away.

At the end of the narrow, empty room
the entire window, before the drawing of the blinds,
strains like a membrane to contain the sky,
or like a quartered sail upon a mast of air
swells with the coming night, the clouded winds.

Like a vast water-colour framed in bone,
the last blue rectangles of dusk begin
to overlap and darken. The iron Hermes on the dome
dissolves, and unseen statues that with evening rain
will shine beneath their lamps, begin now to exchange

their daylight postures for the attitudes of night.
A balustrade continually crumbles out of sight
into the park’s drowning trees, that cover and uncover
shaking stars, an avenue of lamps, a lighted ship’s
descending constellation. The clock-tower rises out of falling

waves of traffic, laughter, seas of brick, and streets
of rustling sand. -Like a strange face pressed inconveniently

to mine, the changing features tell, with changeless tick
and tock, that now is forever now. But at no other time
will it be quite the same -the winter loneliness, and four o’clock.

(138, Fowler Street)
From The Submerged Village and Other Poems, Oxford University Press

Remember, no men are strange, no countries foreign,
Beneath all uniforms, a single body breathes
Like ours: the land our brothers walk upon
Is earth like this, in which we all shall lie.

They, too, aware of sun and air and water,
Are fed by peaceful harvests, by war’s long winter starv’d,
Their hands are ours, and in their lines we read
A labour not different from our own.

Remember they have eyes like ours that wake
Or sleep, and strength that can be won
By love. In every land is common life
That all can recognise and understand.

Let us remember, whenever we are told
To hate our brothers, it is ourselves
That we shall dispossess, betray, condemn.
Remember, we who take arms against each other.

It is the human earth that we defile,
Our hells of fire and dust outrage the innocence
Of air that is everywhere our own,
Remember, no men are foreign, and no countries strange.

error: This content is protected.