James Simmons (1933-2001)

Works

Life
[James Stewart Alexander Simmons;] b. 14 Feb. 1933, Londonderry [Derry City]; ed. Foyle College, then Campbell College, Belfast; began singing in his father’s bar in Portrush; worked in London and elsewhere before taking a degree at University of Leeds, BA 1958; studied under Geoffrey Hill, editing Poetry and Audience with fellow-students Wole Soyinka and Tony Harrison; taught at Friends’ [Quaker] Grammar School, Lisburn, 1958-63; lectured at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, 1963-66; wrote and directed Akin Mata, in collaboration with Harrison, a version of Aristophanes Lysistrata; won Eric Gregory Poetry Award, 1964; issued Late But in Earnest (1967);
 
appt. lect. in Drama and Anglo-Irish literature, NUU 1968-86, in a department founded by Walter Allen and later headed by Alan Warner and finally by Alaistair Thompson; fnd . ed. The Honest Ulsterman, 1968-1972, originally as a ‘handbook for revolution’ with an introduction commending Paul Goodman (Growing Up Absurd, &c.), and printed at the Regency Press; subtitle withdrawn under pressure from the RUC; edited nineteen consecutive issues incl. early writing by Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson, Frank Ormsby and Bernard MacLaverty and otherwise marked by a wealth of contributions and the self-confidence of reviews; issued In the Wilderness (1969); also Songs for Derry (1969);
 
recorded City and Eastern, and Love in the Post (LPs) in the 1970s; issued Energy to Burn (1971); The Long Summer Still to Come (1973); West Strand Visions (1974); ed. Ten Irish Poets (1974); became first poetry reviewer of Books Ireland, 1976; issued Judy Garland and the Cold War (1976); winner of Cholmondeley Poetry Award, 1977 [var. 1972]; also Irish Publishers’ Award; lit. ed., Linen Hall Review and Fortnight Review; issued Constantly Singing (1980); issued a study of Sean O’Casey (1983); separated from his first wife Laura, 1984; m. Imelda Foley, with whom a dg. Anna, c.1982; remained in Ballymoney as home father for some years; appt. Writer in Residence, QUB, 1985-88; issued From the Irish (1985); his Poems 1956-1986 (1986), edited by Edna Longley, chosen as Poetry Soc. Recommendation and winner of the Irish Publishers’ Award; gave readings at Oxford Irish Festival, 1987;
 
writer in Residence, QUB, 1985-88; held NI Arts Bursary; issued The Cattle Rustling, based on Táin Bó Cuailnge with satirical lights on IRA-Provos, and performed Lyric Theatre, Belfast (Jan. 1993); m. Janice Fitzpatrick (b. Boston, 1954), formerly Asst. Dir. at the Robert Frost Place [The Frost Place, Franconia], with whom a son Ben (b. 1988); elected to Aosdána, 1989; fnd. with her The Poet’s House at Portmuck, Islandmagee (Co. Antrim), 14 Dec. 1989, offering degrees endorsed by Lancaster Univ.; curriculum actively supported by Martin Mooney, Seamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Carol Ann Duffy et al.; building plans vetoed by Islandmagee Borough Council in April 1996, on spurious charge of literary immorality with further planning objections by the DoE, 1994;
 
moved to Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, where courses were offered by Simmons, Cathal Ó Searchaigh and others; read with Fitzpatrick at Delaware Univ., 20 March 1995; issued The Company of Children (1999), his last collection; suffered aneurism, Dec. 1999; treated in intensive care ward, Beaumont Hosp. Dublin; object of fund-raising campaign to meet medical expenses, organised by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and others; returned for convalescence to Letterkenny Hospital before settling back at home in Falcarragh, being nursed by his wife; d. 20 June, listening to his own album Rostrevor Sessions and singing along; survived by Janice [3rd wife], and seven children; in his own estimate, a seeker after ‘profundity without the po-face’; his poem “Claudy” was read by John Hume on the HarperCollins Voices from Ireland CD-anthology, 2003. DIW DIL ORM FDA HAM OCIL

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Works
Poetry
  • Late But in Earnest (London: Bodley Head 1967);
  • In the Wilderness and Other Poems (London: Bodley Head 1969);
  • Energy to Burn (London: Bodley Head 1971);
  • No Land is Waste, Dr Eliot (Belfast: Keepsake Press 1973) [var. 1972; ltd. edn. 300 copies];
  • with Paul Muldoon, Out of the Blue: A Selection of Poems and Songs (NI Arts Council 1974);
  • The Long Summer Still to Come (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1973);
  • West Strand Visions (Belfast: Blackstaff 1974), 72pp. [‘... to the memory of John Mullan, the poet’];
  • Judy Garland and the Cold War (Belfast: Blackstaff 1976);
  • The Selected James Simmons, ed. Edna Longley (Belfast: Blackstaff 1978);
  • Constantly Singing (Belfast: Blackstaff 1980);
  • From the Irish (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1985);
  • Poems, 1956-1986 [collected], intro. Edna Longley (Dublin: Gallery; Bloodaxe 1986);
  • The Cattle Rustling [a version of Táin Bó Cuailgne] (Fortnight Educ. Trust 1992), 72pp.;
  • Sex, Rectitude and Loneliness [Lapwing Poetry Pamphlets] (Belfast: Lapwing Press 1993), 47pp.;
  • Mainstream (Galway: Salmon Poetry 1995), 134pp.;
  • Elegies (Sotto Voce Press 1995), q.pp.;
  • The Company of Children (Galway: Salmon 1999), 103pp.
 

Note also Janet Fitzpatrick Simmons, The Bowsprit (Belfast: Lagan Press 2005), 66pp.; Saint Michael and the Perils of the Sea (Moher: Salmon Poetry 2009), 57pp.

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Drama
  • The Cattle Rustling (Belfast: Fortnight Educ. Trust 1992), 72pp., ill. Martyn Turner [for schools; being a 2-act version of Táin Bo Cuailgne which ‘illuminates the tragedy and farce of Ireland’s heroic myths, highlighting the human side of mythmaking - and how we live on it still’;
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Miscellaneous
  • ed., The Honest Ulsterman [1st iss., contents];
  • ‘Joyce Cary in Ireland’, in On the Novel, ed. B. S. Bendekz (London: Dent 1971), q.pp.
  • ed. Ten Irish Poets (Cheshire: Carcanet Press 1974), 92pp. [contents];
  • ‘“The Recipe for all Misfortunes, Courage”: A Study of Three Works by Ulster Protestant Authors: Apostate by Forrest Reid, Castle Corner by Joyce Cary and December Bride by Sam Hanna Bell’, in Across the Roaring Hill: The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland - Essays in Honour of John Hewitt, ed. Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985). pp79-98 [extract];
  • ‘The Trouble with Seamus’, in Seamus Heaney, Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Elmer Andrews (London: Macmillan 1992), pp.39-66;
  • ‘James Simmons’ [ contrib.], in Letters from the New Island, 16 on 16: Irish Writers on the Easter Rising, ed. Dermot Bolger (Dublin: Raven Arts Press 1988), 47pp., pp.23-25;
  • [Autobigraphy], in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 21 (1996).
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Discography
  • City and Eastern (Belfast: NI Arts Council 1971);
  • Love in the Post (Coleraine: Poor Genius Records 1975);
  • The Rostrevor Sessions (Rostrevor: Spring Records 1987). [3 LPs.]
  • Resistance Cabaret (q.d.)
 

John Hume reads “Claudy” by James Simmons on Voices and Poetry of Ireland (London: HarperCollins 2003).


For ‘“The Recipe for all Misfortunes, Courage”: A Study of Three Works by Ulster Protestant Authors: Apostate by Forrest Reid, Castle Corner by Joyce Cary and December Bride by Sam Hanna Bell’ (1985) - see RICORSO Library, “Irish Critical Classics”, attached.)

Bibliographical details
The Honest Ulsterman: A monthly handbook for a revolution, Number 1 (May 1968). CONTENTS, Editorial [2]; Stevie Smith, ‘A Soldier Dear to Us’ [7]; Brendan Kennelly, ‘The Stones’ [9], ‘A Man in Yellow Oilskin’ [10]; John D. Stewart, ‘Let Us Be Human’ [11]; John Hewitt, ‘From the Tibetan’ [14]; Derek Mahon, ‘Dying Art’, ‘Ecclesiastes’ [15]; John Hearsum, ‘The Running of Things’ [16]; W. Price Turner, ‘Full Supporting Programme’ [18]; Michael Stephens, Five Poems [19]; Interview with Roger McGough [23]; James Simmons, ‘After Donald Davie’, [25]; Michael Stephens, ‘Drugs v. Drink’ [26]; Peter Lewis, ‘A Tale of a Turd’ [28]; THEATRE: ‘Mary O’Malley and the Lyric Players Theatre’ [31]; James Simmons, ‘The Use of Histo’ [36]; W. Price Turner, ‘Procrastination’ [38]; REVIEW: Louis McNeice [39]; Gavin Ewart, Epitaph [43]; James Simmons, ‘New Song’ [44]; Thoughts For The Month [45]; Gavin Ewart, ‘Y.M.C.A’ [46]; ‘Irish Atheist’, James Simmons, ‘Two In The Cafeteria’ [47], Drawing by Colin Middleton; Price: 3/- 60 cents; Manuscripts to the Editor, The Honest Ulsterman, Main St., Castlerock, accompanied by stamped addressed envelope. Advertising: £13 per page; £7 half page; £4 quarter page. Payment On publication. The photograph of the Antrim Round Tower is from the library of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Fabel [sic] Faber Ltd. lent us the photograph of Louis McNeice. Circulation: Michael Stephens. Advertising : Patrick Boyce. Printed by Regency Press, Belfast.

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Contributions to Threshold: ‘Forrest Reid on Yeats’ (Winter 1977?), p.60-67 [‘I first came across Forrest Reid’s work in my teens in Derry when a girl friend lent me a battered Penguin copy of Peter Waring ... &c.’ [see extract under Forrest Reid, supra]; ‘Sean O’Casey, The Autobiographies’, Threshold, 33 (Winter 1983), pp.36-49; ‘A Boyhood in the Colony’, Threshold, 36 (Winter 1985/86), pp.68-78 [reprint under same title in Honest Ulsterman, 83, 1987].

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Ten Irish Poets, ed James Simmons (Cheadle: Carcanet 1974), 92pp. CONTENTS: ‘Introduction’; Acknowls.; George Buchanan [‘Conversation with Strangers’; ‘A Wave of Joy’; ‘War-and-Peace’; ‘Philanthropy’; ‘The Animals’]; John Hewitt [‘An Irishman in Coventry’; ‘Gathering Praties’; ‘A Victorian Steps Out’; ‘O Country People’; ‘Because I Paced my Thought’; ‘The Scar’; ‘An Ulster Landowner’s Song’; ‘From the Tibetan’]; Padraic Fiacc [‘Dirge’; ‘First Movement’; ‘The Poet and the Night’; ‘The Other Man’s Wound’; ‘Alive Alive O’; ‘Gloss’; ‘The British Connection’; ‘The Black and the White’; ‘Enemies]; Pearse Hutchinson [‘Connemara’; ‘Lovers’; ‘Bright after Dark’; ‘A Rose and a Book for Sant Jordi’; ‘Fleadh Cheoil’; ‘A Man’; ‘The Nuns at the Medical Lecture’]; James Simmons [‘Ode to Blenheim Square’; ‘Join Me in Celebrating’; ‘A Good Thing’; ‘Husband to Wife’; ‘Letter to a Jealous Friend’; ‘Experience’; ‘Outward Bound’; ‘Old Gardener’; Me and the World’]; Michael Hartnett [‘The Person Nox Agonistes’; ‘The Poet as Black Sheep’; ‘Crossing the Iron Bridge’; ‘The Lord Taketh Away’; ‘The Night before Patricia’s Funeral ...’; ‘The Third Sonnet’; ‘A Small Farm’; ‘The Person as a Dreamer’; ‘All That is Left’]; Eileán ní Chuilleanáin [‘Early Recollections’; ‘Death and Engines’; ‘Evidence’; ‘The Apparition’; ‘The Second ‘Voyage’; ‘A Poem on Change’; ‘Ferryboat’; ‘Letter to Pearse Hutchinson’; ‘Swineherd’]; Michael Foley [‘Recruiting Song’; ‘Heil Hitler’; from ‘Instead of a Rose’; ‘The Fall of the Bedsitter King’; ‘O’Driscoll’; from ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu’; ‘Autumn Leaves’; ‘I Feel, These Days’; ‘Into the Breach’; ‘I’m Scared ...’ Sois Sage ...’]; Frank Ormsby [‘Business as Usual’; ‘Interim’; ‘Winter Offerings’; ‘In Great Victoria Street’; Floods’; ‘Dublin Honeymoon’; ‘Hair Horseworm’; ‘Three Domestic Poems’; ‘Onan’; ‘McQuade’; ‘Castlecoole’; ‘An Uncle Remembered’; ‘Virgins’]; Tom Matthews [‘Restless’; ‘The Singing Lady’; ‘Anton the Elephant Boy’; ‘Young Girl’s Diary’; ‘Robert Sat’; ‘The Cowboy Film’; ‘Tom’s Song’; ‘Geriatric’; ‘The Poet with Bad Teeth’; ‘Foolstop’; ‘L’Enfant Fatigue’; ‘Gustav the Great Explorer’; Notes on Contribs.

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Criticism
  • Edna Longley, ‘Searching the Darkness: The Poetry of Richard Murphy, Thomas Kinsella, John Montague, and James Simmons’ in Two Decades of Irish Writing, ed. Douglas Dunn (Cheadle: Carcanet 1975), pp.118-53;
  • Terence Brown, ‘Four New Voices, Poets of the Present, in Northern Voices; Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.171-213, espec. pp.186-90;
  • Terence Brown, ‘Poets and Patrimony, Richard Murphy and James Simmons’, in Across the Roaring Hill, The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland, ed. Gerald Dawe and Edna Longley (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985), pp.182-95 (chiefly 190-end);
  • Michael Longley, introductions to The Selected James Simmons (Belfast: Blackstaff 1978) and Poems 1956-1986 (Gallery Press/Bloodaxe Books 1986);
  • Martin Mooney, ‘Still Burning, James Simmons in Conversation with Martin Mooney’, in Rhinoceros, 2 [q.d.], pp.101-22;
  • Thomas MacCarthy, ed., ‘James Simmons and Martin Luther in the Larne district’ [Festschrift for Simmons at 60] (Belfast: Lapwing [?]1993);
  • A. S. Knowland, ‘The Thoughtful Songs of James Simmons’, Contemporary Irish Poetry: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. in Elmer Andrews (London: Macmillan 1996), pp.264-85;
  • Philip Hobsbaum, ‘The Belfast Group: A Recollection’, in Éire-Ireland, 32, 2 & 3 (Summer/Autumn 1997), pp.173-82.
  • John P. Kirby, ‘James Simmons: A Poet Like No Other’, in ABEI Journal - The Brazilian Journal of Irish Studies, No. 1 (June 1999), 43-44.
 

See also Heather Clark, The Ulster Renaissance: Poetry in Belfast 1962-1972 (Oxford: OUP 2007); Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, Writing Home: Poetry and Place in Northern Ireland, 1968-2008 (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer 2008), xii, 306pp.


Obituaries
  • The Irish Times, Obituary Notice (30 June 2001) [see extract];
  • Peter Pegnall, ‘Poet Who Nurtured the Writers of Ireland North and South’, in Guardian (10 July 2001), [see extract];
  • P. J. Kavanagh writes an appreciation of James Simmons, in “Bywords” (Times Literary Supplement, 1 Feb. 2000) [see extract];
  • Martin Mooney, ‘James Simmons: An Appreciation’, in Fortnight, 397 (July/Aug. 2001), p.33 [with photo-port; see extract.].

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Commentary
Douglas Dunn
Anthony Cronin
Patricia Craig
Katie Donovan
Brian Lynch
Peter Pegnall
...
The Irish Times
Martin Mooney
P. J. Kavanagh

Douglas Dunn: ‘[Simmon’s] writing denies imagination its rights, and language its sensuousness. His meaning is that the domestic must triumph above all else (‘The Speckled Hill, the Plover’s Shore’, Encounter, Vol. XLI, No. 6, Dec. 1963, p.74; quoted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices,Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975, p.191).

Frank Ormsby calls Simmons ‘a refromer or secular evangelist who is firmly on the side of life and freedom’, his work pitting ‘theory against personal experience and human fallibility, especially in the areas of love, sex, marriage, the family, growing old.’ (Intro., Poets from the North of Ireland, 1979.)

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Anthony Cronin greeted the Selected James Simmons as ‘my book of the year ... he is one of the three or four most exciting poets to have emerged from any quarter of Ireland, Scotland, England, or Wales during the last twenty years or so ... [See Blackstaff catalogue, 1980.]

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Patricia Craig, ‘History and its Retrieval in Contemporary Northern Irish Poetry: Paulin, Montague and Others’, in Elmer Andrews, ed., Contemporary Irish Poetry: A Collection of Critical Essays (London: Macmillan 1996): ‘Among the Ulster poets, James Simmons is the one least possessed [116] by a feeling for the past and its bearing on the present (unless it’s his own past: in Simmons, you could say, the historical impulse is subsumed under autobiography.) When he does turn his attention to an object of antiquity, Simmons in fact reverses the procedures of those who go in for reclamation; with this author, it is always the present that imposes itself. [Writes of his From the Irish poems, ‘bang up to date’ with references to up-market adulteries and a policeman shot in banal circumstances.]; ‘succinct, spontaneous, and without undertones: the thing is happening at the moment, as far as Simmons is concerned, and needs no analogical accompaniment to make an impact. Simmons is demotic and accessible [...]’. (pp.116-17.)

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Katie Donovan, interview with James Simmons and Janice Fitzpatrick: ‘The Hedgeschool of Portmuck: Are creative writing courses a scam or an inspiration? The Poets House in Antrim impresses the initially skeptical [KD]’ (Irish Times 8 August 1995): ‘At Queen’s and Coleraine they assume that what we are doing is a scam, I was surprised to encounter this level of hostility. I though there might be indifference, but not this level of suspicion ... The teachers at Poet’ House are working poets who pass on what they know. How can this be a bad thing?’ Donovan cites Theo Dorgan as calling it ‘the hedge-school of Portmuck’, and concludes that it would be churlish to criticise a haven where the art can be nourished. Bernard O’Donoghue is an examiner.

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Brian Lynch notices Elegies, with works of other poets, Irish Times (24.2.1996), p.8, quoting from the Preface to the effect that the author ‘looks forward to the day when I find a publisher who will reprint all the old books ... It is fortunate that small presses appear with humility and enthusiasm to save old heroes and foster younger talents’; highly commends ‘Elegy for a Deadborn Child’, in which craft is married to felt subject; considers the whole not a major book.

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Peter Pegnall, ‘James Simmons, who has died aged 68, was a cavlier poet with an indelible puritan streak. in a time of specialists, he was also a master of many crafts: singer, songwriter, critic, playwright, teacher, entrepreneur, half-decent artist, and wizard of the frying pan at 3 am. [... &c.]’ further, ‘Simmons [developed] an uncomfortable ability to focus on domestice interiors - things we would rather not talk about. For him, making horrible mistakes was not a denial of humanity, but a part of it’ [quotes “balad of a Marriage”]. (‘Poet Who Nurtured the Writers of Ireland North and South’, obituary in The Guardian, Tuesday 10 July 2001.)

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The Irish Times, Obituary Notice (30 June 2001): Simmons ‘brought an anarchic humour and sexual frankness to the often austere moods of Ulster verse’; turned sonnet into popular and accessible frorm; unique voice in Irish letters; Honest Ulsterman; Claudy’ commemorates victims of 1972 bombing; “From the Irish”, title poem of collection of 1985, ‘show a poet whose sense of wider political and social realities is memorable, acute and strident’.

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Martin Mooney, ‘James Simmons 1933-1001: An appreciation’, Fortnight, 397 (July/Aug. 2001), p.33: ‘Though often thought of as a contemporary and conederate of tha Belfast “Group” of heaney, Longley and Mahon, [Simmons] was slightly older than all three and his literary allegiances were significantly different’; ‘shared with the Hobsbaum Group (and with his friend Tonyharrison) an adherence to the traditional shapes of verse, the well-made poem, but his love of song made for a solider vision of the public life of poems and poetry.’ Cites his “Ballad of Claudy”; quotes Edna Longley: ‘art and life never look like becoming polite strangers. Their intimacy declares itself through the effortlessly natural tones of the poet’s voice - at once source and focus of the the pervasive vitality.” Speaks of his founding of Honest Ulsterman, and of his establishing Poet’s House with Janice Fitzpatrick - ‘an unparalleled process of discovery for its participants, and often for Simmons himself, who has an undogmatic, open and again, generous approach to the style and intelligence of other poets’. Cites his literary-editorship of Fortnight in the 1980s; writer in residence (QUB); Poems 1956-1986 incl. ‘a number of New Poems written during this difficult period of his life’; ‘self-ironising’. [Cont.]

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Martin Mooney (‘James Simmons 1933-1001: An appreciation’, 2001): ‘Unquestionalbly Simmons work was over-shadowed by the attention awarded to the poems of Heaney and Mahon, and the collections of the 1990s ... try to consolidate the old and new, and occasionally strike notes of bitter self-justification: Simmons saw himself, as he had seen the late John Hewitt, as a [s]ort of Prospero, unjustly exiled.’ Further: ‘But the democratic wit, sceptical voice of the singer, sure of the value and validity of the everyday, the rich significance of the lived life, remains.’ Mooney considers it too early to attempt a full literary evaluation’ but urges that ‘ ‘the expansive, discursive later poems ... demonstrate his continual readiness to reconnoitre styles outside his immediate inheritance’. Finally: ‘From a protestant [sic] background, and defensive of his tribe, his was nevertheless a secular not a tribal imagination, and if he does not fit easily into the anthologies and reader’s guides to Irish poetry, then it is our notion of that poetry that must change. [...]’. (Note that the ‘Appreciation’ has no by-line though ascribed to Mooney in the table of contents.)

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P J. Kavanagh writes an appreciation of James Simmons, in “Bywords” (Times Literary Supplement, 1 Feb. 2000): Simmons fnd. Poet’s House in 1990 with Janice Fitzpatrick, his third wife; ‘For a politically disengaged man (in his own opinion), he certainly engaged himself in the cultural life of his native Province, and invited others to share it; it was probably that which made him enemies there.’ Quotes “Winter 1991”: ‘I was hit / by distant blows of malicious gossip, along / or with Janice. Why? For asking one / why he gave grants of public money to his mistress / for books she did not write?’ For failing to employ / or flatter bad poets? [...] I thought life /was too short for lies. Too bloody virtuous / I was, too vain, too beautiful …” - and calls it Simmons at his late-night loosest. Also quotes “From the Irish” and and “Ulster Says No” [see under Quotations, infra]. Kavanagh remarks: ‘On the whole, although his aim is to redeemed his Province, his tradition, from itself - by telling the truth of all things! - his subject is himself and his private life’, and further remarks that ‘too much detail [about sex] seems an aesthetic mistake.’

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Quotations
West Strand Visions (1974): “Peasant Quality” [invective against rural nationalism]: ‘Possessed by three unities, they will never escape - / ignorance, poverty, hate - they definitely are / stylish, passionate, and [on] great shape.’

From the Irish”, ‘Familiar things you might brush against or tread / Upon in the daily round, were glistening red / With the slaughter the hero caused, though he had gone. / By proxy his bomb exploded, his valour shone.’ [See Peter Fallon & Derek Mahon, eds., Contemporary Irish Verse, Penguin 1990).

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Ballad of a Marriage”: ‘We stayed together out of shame / and habit, and then the children came. /.../ As greens hoots through harden4ed soil / where nothing seemed ot be, / so tenderness, caresses, jokes / grew out of her and me. // No families wave, no organs play, / this long and gradual wedding day’. (Quoted in Peter Pegnall [obituary], The Guardian, Tuesday 10 July 2001.) Also, “Claudy”: ‘An exposion too loud for your eardrums to bear / And young children squealing like pigs in the square / And all faces chalf-white and streaked with bright red, / And the glass and the dust and the terrible dead.’

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The Conservative”, ‘Time now to consider knickers ...’; ‘go easy, love, on the reformed old sexist, his agonies/of withdrawal, the long effort’; ‘If this is liberty/to fuck and be fucked/in puritan simplicity/I am a counter-revolutionary’; ‘When your old conservative dies/before you, dry your blue eyes’; ‘The Provos may not know/themselves from the Stickies,/If in eternity no one bickers/over old hurtful distinctions,/if nothing that mattered matters/and nobody wears knickers’. (Printed in A. Carpenter and P. Fallon, eds., The Writers: A Sense of Place, 1980.)

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Intrusion on the Idyll” (in Mainstream), ‘Beautiful masks - our island with its thirty shades of green/iots browns, its sunset gold/the rat holes, corpses, shrieking gulls, bones, old combative nature, hungry, angry, dirty/Nature; The nature of life to be dual;/hospitable, voluble, musical ... and superstitious;/slow, enduring intelligent ... and vicious./I hear the cries of my people, wrong and cruel./So are the English./So are we all./The lights/of home draw us smiling to the green and pleasant land, the barren high bog, the picturesque peasant, bowing to the clergy, voting for ignorant shites.’ (p.14.)

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From the Irish”: ‘Most terrible was our hero in battle blows:/hands without fingers, shorn heads and toes / were scattered. That day there flew and fell / from astonished victims eyebrow, bone and entrail,/like stars in the sky, like snowflakes, like nuts in May,/like a meadow of daisies, like butts from an ashtray. //Familiar things you might brush against or thread / upon in the daily round, were glistening red / with the slaughter our hero caused, though he had gone. / By his proxy bomb exploded, his valour shone.’ (Quoted in P. J. Kavanagh, Bywords, Times Literary Supplement, 1 Feb. 2000.)

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Ulster Says No”: ‘One Protestant Irishman/wants to confess this: /We frightened you Catholics, we gerrymandered, / we applied injustice. // However, we weren’t Nazis or Yanks, / so measure your fuss / who never suffered like Jews or Blacks, / not here, with us; // but, since we didn’t reform ourselves, / since we had to be caught red-handed, justice is something / we have to be taught.’ (Quoted in P. J. Kavanagh, Bywords, Times Literary Supplement, 1 Feb. 2000.) Note that Kavanagh also cites ten lines of Simmon’s poem “From the Irish” [‘most terrible our hero in battle blows’] in Voices in Ireland, 1994, p.6.)

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Ulster novels (‘“The Recipe for all Misfortunes, Courage”: A Study of Three Works by Ulster Protestant Authors [Forrest Reid, Joyce Cary and Sam Hanna Bell]’, in Across the Roaring Hill: The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland - Essays in Honour of John Hewitt, ed. Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985). pp.79-98: ‘[...] Forrest Reid, Joyce Cary, Sam Hanna Bell: three Protestant names are worth dwelling on. At a time when Ulster Protestants lack leadership, when thoughtful Protestants remain embarrassed because Terence O'Neill’s attempt to apologise for misrule and set things to rights proved to be more than we would let him deliver, when we must feel like very poor and distant representatives of the great reforming movement that beagan with Luther, there is some encouragement in finding that Protestant novelists have been covering the situation, keeping some sort of flame alive. [...; 81] You get in these novels what you would expect from common Ulster experience: that such human leaps forward as we are likely to have come from individuals, not from any of the Churches. Yet the individuals who bolster and support their weaker brethren have some sort of faith and a belief in something greater than themselves. The Protestant experience offers the best paradigm of this because it is central to the ethos that the individual should reach beyona the Church to God: to some positive image, created by men at the height of their imagination that embodies permanent [97] truth and inspiration, like the life of Christ. In a barbarous time when we have lost touch with our inspirational past, and the way back is barred by dead forms, fallible human beings still stumble forward by instinct, sometimes. / It seems to me that these three books are inspirational; in each case the compassion, energy and passion of the author presents the dark material of reality beautifully, humanely, cogently. (pp.81-97; for full text, see RICORSO Library, “Irish Critical Classics”, attached.)

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The Trouble with Seamus”, in Elmer Andrews ed., Seamus Heaney, Collection of Critical Essays (London: Macmillan 1992), pp.39-66: Simmons asks himself if he is not ‘a Cassius figure resentful of a local Caesar’ and proceeds to demolish revered poems by Heaney for their sentimentality and incompetence, focusing on the element of nationalist ‘suffering’ to which he thinks Heaney groundlessly pretends. Note, this article is characterised as the ‘button-holing’ manner of Simmons by Gerald Dawe, in Linen Hall Review (Autumn 1993).

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Contested nationality: ‘Nationality preoccupies people when it is contested. One is not surprised that Yeats and Joyce, in their different ways, were very conscious of being Irish, and the post-rebellion writers like O’Connor felt they had a specifically Irish task to perform. By Beckett’s time the sense of nationality is secure enough to be ignored. Northern writers must still be confused in this area whether they are in favour of the political link with Dublin or London. The problem can seem at the same time trivial and inescapable. One can hardly be drawn towards either political set-up very strongly. Any solution that would stop the killing would suit, perhaps; but that sort of feeling can hardly speak with “passionate intensity”. There is no unjust monster to be endured and resisted; but the uncomfortable knowledge that we and our immediate ancestors have burnt our collective backside, and we must sit on the blister. / I am not sure there is anything common to these ten poets apart from their being Irish; but that means that they have experienced the matter of Ireland first hand, speak or have spoken with an Irish accent, come in contact with Gaelic and read translations. I suspect most of them have read Yeats, Joyce, Synge, Beckett, O’Casey, Kavanagh, MacNeice, and Flann O’Brien with peculiar inwardness and intensity. [... &c.]’ (Introduction, Ten Irish Poets, 1974, p.9; quoted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, 1975, p.186.)

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History lessons: ‘[...] it gradually became apparent that the history of the English in Ireland was one of cruel exploitation to which one’s first reaction must be, “Brits Out”; that Northern Ireland had no business to exist. However the evidence for this opinion came slowly, and with it came the confusing evidence that free Irishmen had produced a state even worse than Northern Ireland, where books and plays were banned, where there was no Health Service and where the Catholic Church had inordinate power to inhibit freedom and progress. [...] By the time I came to think of Northern Ireland as a place to live rather than to get out of, the positive thing seemed to be that Northern Ireland should discover socialism, rather than that it should join the even more backward South. By the time I knew something of the history of Ireland I knew that the Irish people had tried and failed. They had produced a few good writers, but were not in any vanguard.’ (p.24.)

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John McGahern, Amongst Women (1990), in Linen Hall Review (Summer 1990), p.32: ‘I have carried the torch for McGahern since I read The Barracks twenty years ago ... The Dark had power all right [but] much less intellectual distinction [than Joyce’s Portrait] ... two novels that followed were neither here nor there ... frankly embarrassing passages ... three books of short stories ... had half a dozen pieces even better than The Barracks ... there was no better writer of prose fiction in Ireland. [...] Holding to this position makes the critics enemies. I only began to realise in the last ten years that there is a growth industry called ‘Irish writing’ and it is kept going by all the published Irish writers either praising each other or shutting up. This works well for everybody [...;’ for further, see under McGahern, supra.]

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Neil Jordan, Sunrise with Sea-Monster (1995), reviewed in Spectator (Jan. 1995): Simmons professes to be unable to read it; condemns The Crying Game as a remake of O’Connor’s Guest of the Nation, with black and transvestite thrown in.

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Poetry Ireland (with Gabriel Fitzmaurice, Paul Muldoon, and John Hughes), reviewed in Linen Hall Review (Autumn 1993): Simmons writes fulsomely of Muldoon as a genius of more than modest intelligence, ‘tricksy and teasy as well as brilliantly in touch with the surface of modern life’ and parenthetically dismisses Francis Stuart ‘(whose novels I can’t stand)’, but quotes a full stanza of “Berlin 1944”.

Anthony Cronin, The End of the Modern World, review in Linen Hall Review (1990): ‘technically it’s as easy as snedding turnips if you have the gift but what a relief to have a poet interested in such interesting matters ...’.

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References
Frank Ormsby, Poets from the North of Ireland ( 1979), calls Simmons called him ‘a reformer or secular evangelist who is firmly on the side of life and freedom’ and whose work pits ‘theory against personal experience and human fallibility, especially in the areas of love, sex, marriage, the family, growing old.’

Peter Fallon & Seán Golden, ed., Soft Day, a miscellany of contemporary Irish Writing (Notre Dame/Wolfhound 1980), ‘What Will You Do, Love?’; ‘Cavalier Lyric’; ‘The End of the Affair’; ‘Stephano Remembers’.

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Andrew Carpenter & Peter Fallon, eds., The Writers: A Sense of Place (Dublin: O’Brien Press 1980), incls. “The Conservative” [poem in 5 pts.], pp.196-200.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, selects from Energy to Burn, ‘The Silent Marriage’; from The Long Summer Still to Come, ‘Didn’t He Ramble’; from Poems 1956-1986, ‘Ulster Says Yes’ [1357-59; 1432-33, BIOG & WORKS [as above].

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Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “One of the Boys” [191]; “West Strand Visions” [192]; “From the Irish” [193].

Hibernia Books (1996) lists At Six O’Clock in the Silence of Things: Festschrift for James Simmons (Lapwing/Poet’s House 1993).

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Notes
Sam Hanna Bell: In an Irish Press review of December Bride (1951), Simmons wrote: ‘No book in the world means more to me than this one does .... it goes to the heart of the Ulster experience, the look and feel of the place, and the nature of the people.’ (Quoted in inside cover of December Bride, Blackstaff rep. edn. 1974, 1982.

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Tom Kinsella: Michael Smith, reviewing Derval Tubridy, Thomas Kinsella, The Peppercannister Poems (2000), in The Irish Times (27 Jan. 2001), notes that James Simmons, inter alia, resented Thomas Kinsella’s ‘interfering’ in a Northern ‘situation’ with his response to Bloody Sunday Butcher’s Dozen.

John Montague dedicates the poem “Fairy Fort” to Ben Simmons, the son of James Simmons and Janice Fitzpatrick: ‘As an immense privilege / he is brought down / to the underground hall / where all the giants / have been slumbering / since Time’s beginning [...] Rascally, he cannot resist / a boastful hallowing [...]’ (Smashing the Piano, Gallery Press, 1999, p.16.)

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Derek Mahon dedicated “Afterlives”” to James Simmons; the poem concludes with the the sentiment, ‘What middle-class twits we are / To imagine for one second / That our privileged ideals / Are divine wisdom, and that the dim / Forms that kneel at noon/In the city not ourselves’, and ending, ‘Perhaps if I had stayed behind / And lived it bomb by bomb / I might have grown up at last / And learnt what is meant by home.’ (Selected Poems, 1991, pp.50-51; and note ‘cunts’ for ‘twits’ in the first book-printed version.)

Note: Simmons reviewed John Montague and Derek Mahon in a essay which dilates on Mahon’s private life and his troubles with drink as well as the warmth of his personal poetry. (Linen Hall Review, Spring 1994), pp.18-20.)

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Michael Longley dedicates a poem, “White Water”, to James Simmons in his collection Snow Water (Cape 2004): ‘We should have been fat jolly poets / In some oriental print [...]’.

John Montague: ‘[...] Regarded as a pioneering voice among “the Northern poets”, he [Montague] struck a homely chord when he sang the praises of Derry poet, James Simmons,  who was also a lecturer at the University of Ulster. He was “an engaging fellow.” Dr Montague recalled the only other occasion on which he had spoken in the Great Hall at Magee. “I was introduced by Jimmy Simmons, whose grandfather had, I think, been a Mayor of Derry, and Jimmy, as you all know, was a scallywag and a rogue,” he quipped.  “And he tried to change the North of Ireland on his own.” / “He wrote some very nice poems and a wonderful song called ‘Claudy’. It’s very hard to write a song about violence, but he did that, about Claudy." When Professor Moore commented - “Jimmy Simmons taught me”,  Montague responded immediately: “Did he? Well, his ghost is here. Greetings!” (See "John Montague: Man of Moment and Memories", in Univ. of Ulster News, report on “Life Stories” lecture/interview series, held in the Great Hall Magee, 29th November 2011 - online; accessed 25.02.2014).

Brendan Kennelly quotes “Claudy: a Ballad”, Simmon’s poem on the IRA bombing at the town of that name, in ‘Poetry and Violence’, in Joris Duytschaever and Geert Lernout, eds., History and Violence in Anglo-Irish Literature [Conference of 9 April 1986; Costerus Ser. Vol. 71] (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1988), 5-27; pp.13-14.

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Letterhead: Letterhead of The Poet’s House in 1995 cites Janice Fitzpatrick and Janes Simmons; 80 Portmuck Road, Portmuck, Islandmagee, Co. Antrim, BT40 3TP, Northerin Ireland; also Advisory Panel: John Farleigh, Dr James Hawthorne CBE, medbh McGuckian, Joan Newman, Frank Ormsby (Northern Ireland); Prof. David Craig, Pamela Gillilan (England); Thomas McCarthy,Gabriel Rosenstock [Chairman of Poetry Ireland] (Ireland); Dr. David Keller, Dr. Sherod Santos, Jean Valentine (USA).

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Portmuck blues: refused planning application at Islandmagee due to objections of local councillors to the ‘sex on train’ theme of a poem in his collection Mainstream, sent anonymously to a councillor called Bobby McKee; UUP councillor Roy Beggs, former chair of NE Education and Library Board, proposed that the book should be banned in schools; Simmons, speaking from Galway, said that ‘it has been one of my lifelong ambitions to help release Ulster people from guilt and furtiveness over sex. The poem that he is talking about describes a married couple who make love - triumphing over the filth and dirtiness of the Northern Railways toilet to produce joy and happiness.’ He instanced a tradition stretching from Solomon to Sappho and from John Donne to Blake, Robert Burns, D. H. Lawrence, and James Joyce. Simmons is the grandson of Sir Frederick Simmons, a Presbyterian lord mayor of Derry; the poet’s house has four MA students from America, Scotland, and Ireland. (Irish Times, Sat. 20 April, Home News, p.5).

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Warned off: Editor noticed in Books Ireland, First Flush (Feb. 1996, p.36), indicating that the editors were recently ‘warned off’ Simmons by a ‘not entirely literate letter from a clerical gentleman, which had of course the reverse effect.’ (Vide the Islandmagee affair of 1996.) [Query Eligies.]

Ulsterman Publications - which first published Tom Paulin, et al. - had an address at 70 Eglantine Ave., Belfast BT9 6DY.

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Zorba?: Kyle Magee, the ‘Zorba of the North’, in Michael Foley’s novel The Road to Notown (1996), is thought to be based on Simmons, whose second wife Imelda Foley may also be a model for a character of this largely autobiographical novel.

 

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