…was how Boyd Tonkin introduced EA Markham’s first Tindal Street book of short stories, Meet Me in Mozambique, to The Independence readers of 2005. And it’s a good and fair description – here was a man unafraid to use complex syntax to deal with straightforward ideas and straightforward syntax to deal with complex ideas – but in doing so he never reduced the subjects he was writing about, yes, he showed them up for their absurdity (and the absurdity of language’s limitations as a conduit for ideas) and he put them through the intellectual wringer, but he did it with such playfulness – with such lack of earnestness – that by the end of reading his work, understandings (which doesn’t mean acceptance, not by a long chalk) of racism and the complexities of colonialism and immigration, of displacement and hinterland are left under your skin. In fact I’m looking at this paragraph and realizing that it’s actually only made up of two sentences and that, because of this, this blog will fail its SEO grading for using too complicated syntax. I think I like that! See – Archie’s still freeing me from the tyranny of writing expectations and rules!
I knew Archie, (the A in EA Markham) for about fifteen years before he died. He was my tutor at Sheffield Hallam where he was Professor of Poetry and where he helped set up the creative writing programme (I did my BA & MA there) and later we became friends through my work at The Poetry School. In fact he was the one who encouraged me to focus on writing poetry. Archie was a poet, playright, critic, editor, and a memoirist (is there such a word?), but it was really when he formed his relationship with Tindal Street and produced his wonderful collections of short stories, often about his alter ego Pewter Stapleton, that, it felt to me, like Archie had finally found his literary home, and even as I loved his poems, I loved his stories more.
So, I’ve been reminding myself why I love his stories by re-reading Meet Me in Mozambique and I was half way through ‘The Moseley Connection’ – an excellent, funny, dark and important story – when I saw the inscription in the front. Look at the date. This blog was fated to be written (and I don’t believe in fate, and I doubt Archie – the philosophy graduate – did either). But look, the last day of Black History Month – anyone who knew Archie knew how he always pushed deadlines to the very end!
I could write pages about Archie’s work, and why this writer “from a small island” is important, but I won’t. I’ll suggest you read the books and listen to his poems at the Poetry Archive and let you make up your own mind
This blog is part of Writing East Midlands’ I Have a Dream…Blog Hop celebrating Black History Month. There are some other fantastic blogs taking part. #ihaveadreambloghop
Writing East Midlands – http://www.writingeastmidlands.co.uk/dream-blog-hop/
Carol Leeming – http://choreopoems.blogspot.co.uk/
Martin Parker – http://www.silbercow.co.uk/
Liz Gray – http://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/
Beccy Shore – http://beccysblogforwritingeastmidlands.wordpress.com/
Trevor Wright – TheRaggedlycradphilanthropist.Wordpress.com