Nessie Dunsmuir

NESSIE DUNSMUIR was the widow of the poet W. S. Graham. As his reputation grew and he was increasingly invited to give readings, he frequently asked for his wife's expenses to be covered too, for, as he put it, "Nessie is necessary."

The youngest of the nine children born to David and Mary Dunsmuir, she was educated at Hamilton Academy, and became an expert Comptometer operator before gaining a place on a residential course at Newbattle Abbey, a college for mature students outside Edinburgh. It was there that, in 1938, she met Sydney Graham, a structural engineer from Greenock, an event which was to alter radically the nature and course of her life.

Having been brought up in a strict working-class family (her father was a miner and an admirer of Keir Hardie) she was, with Sydney, to meet and make friends with many of the most creative artists and writers in Scotland, Soho and Cornwall, where in 1944 she joined Sydney, who was living in a friend's caravan. Here began a tough life, bereft not only of luxury (it was still wartime) but of what most people would call necessities.

They were both writing poetry and meeting artists and writers already in Cornwall, such as Ben Nicholson, Sven Berlin and Bryan Wynter. Friends from London, including John Minton, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde and David Wright, came at various times to stay and Burns Singer, who regarded Sydney as his poetry master, installed himself in a tent nearby for several weeks.

Increasingly, Nessie became more and more a part of Sydney's poetry and felt no need to pursue her own writing, despite Sydney's encouragement. It appears to have been a natural process because of her complete empathy with his poetry. She remained so much a part of it that, in later years, if asked for a clarification on some obscure point, she would sometimes be unable to distance herself from the poem and exclaim with gentle surprise, "I never thought of that before." Again, if asked why she had written only 10 poems, she replied, "That's all there ever were." Those fine 10 were published as Ten Poems in 1988.

After a few years they separated and Nessie went to teach English in a school for orphans in Italy. Disliking the direction of the community there, she left to teach for two years in the Berlitz School in Paris. She was considering marriage to a wealthy Frenchman when Sydney turned up from his travels in the United States and Italy. It was instant rapport and, in Nessie's own words, "Sydney was the man for me." So it was that she chose a life which, she knew from experience, would very likely be hard and financially insecure, but dedicated to Sydney and his work. They were married in October 1954 at Blantyre Registry Office and the artist Robert Frame was best man.

They went to live in an old coastguard cottage in west Cornwall. Their circle of friends grew and included many of the St Ives artists such as Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost and Roger Hilton. They survived on Nessie's seasonal hotel work, tiny publication fees, and help from interested friends. In 1967 they were given a rent-free cottage in Madron, near Penzance. Later there were small grants from the Arts Council and eventually Sydney was awarded a Civil List pension for his work. His Collected Poems 1942- 1977 appeared in 1979, and an Uncollected Poems in 1990; he died in 1986. Nessie's own selection from his work was published, by the Greville Press, last year.

Combined with Nessie Dunsmuir's gentle charm and Scottish courtesy was a strong independent intelligence and willpower. She was equally at home in the salon or the local inn and her delightful singing of the Scottish songs will be affectionately remembered.

Agnes Kilpatrick Dunsmuir, writer: born Blantyre, Lanarkshire 13 September 1909; married 1954 William Sydney Graham (died 1986); died Penzance, Cornwall 27 May 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam