Obituary: Geoffrey Holloway

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The Independent Online
Geoffrey Holloway, poet and social worker: born Birmingham 23 May 1918; twice married (two daughters, one stepson, one stepdaughter); died Lancaster 25 October 1997.

Geoffrey Holloway was a pacifist by nature and by conviction, and when the Second World War broke out he might have registered as a conscientious objector but chose instead to join the Royal Army Medical Corps, in which he could help to save life rather than take it. He parachuted into France on D-day and later took part in the Rhine landings. He seldom talked much about this experience but commemorated it in his fine book of poems Rhine Jump, published by Alan Ross's London Magazine Editions in 1974.

This stands in the truth-telling tradition of such earlier war poets as Wilfred Owen and contemporaries like Keith Douglas. The laconic last verse of the title poem eschews heroics in favour of the brutal facts:

Oh and a gun-pit by the way, an 88:

bodiless, nothing special -

only the pro's interest in others' kit:

grey slacks, for the use of, old, ersatz;

with a brown stripe inside: non-

ersatz.

This was a Poetry Book Society choice, and brought him a national reputation.

Holloway was born in Birmingham in 1918; his family later moved to Liverpool and then Shrewsbury, where he worked as a librarian until the outbreak of the Second World War. After the war he trained as a social worker at Southampton University and settled in Cumbria in 1953 as a mental health officer, where he lived, worked and wrote for the next 45 years.

He didn't publish his first book until he was 54, but thereafter a steady stream of books and pamphlets appeared, including All I Can Say (1978), The Crones of Aphrodite (1985), The Leaping Pool (1993) and A Sheaf of Flowers (1994). He was a regular contributor to dozens of little magazines, a keen supporter of the Arvon Foundation (set up to give practical help to writers), both as student and tutor, and the moving spirit behind the Brewery Poets, a monthly workshop for established and aspiring poets in Kendal. Here he trod a difficult and graceful line between encouraging talent and discouraging the tosh that is sometimes assumed to be "poetic" on account of its archaic diction and sugary sentiments.

He could be gruff on the outside and liked to take a Hardyesque "look at the worst" both in life and in verse, but those who got to know him found this a front for a warm heart and a store of unshowy kindness, bestowed especially on those least likely to make claims on their own behalf. "The Lovers", a poem read out at his funeral - a secular one, incidentally, movingly conducted by his friend and fellow poet Neil Curry - shows his delight in happiness too. It celebrates a pair of young lovers on a station platform, "naked with happiness". He "rocks her gently, / as a lazy tide a boat", she "falls on him like a sunbeam", both of them oblivious of "the northern flier" as it slices past. "Why are they travelling? We don't know. / What they're waiting for they already have."

Holloway's first wife Bessie, by whom he had two daughters, died in 1975. Later he married the poet Patricia Pogson and became a devoted stepfather. His last book And Why Not? was published in 1996.

Geoffrey Holloway had an extraordinary, fierce sense of humour, a passion for small things and a sensibility which relished everything from bawdy to the quietest of Japanese haiku.

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