Simon Curtis: Poet and academic whose inspirations included music, sport and English woodcut and landscape artists

 

As probably befitted a lifelong supporter of Burnley FC, in the town were he was born, Simon Curtis had about him an habitual air of rueful good cheer. Although there was much about modern life not to his liking – he sometimes gave the impression of having wandered into the 20th century by mistake – he avoided hectic denunciations of the world in which he found himself. He knew that in many ways he had landed softly.

Soon after his birth, his father, an Anglican priest, became vicar at Towcester, Northants, where Curtis grew up in semi-rural circumstances. After studying under the Yeats scholar, TR Henn, at St Catherine's College, Cambridge, he began a PhD thesis on 19th century American travel writing at the new University of Essex, under the supervision of Donald Davie. In the 1950s Davie had been a key poet in the Movement, whose formalism was greatly to Curtis's taste, though by the early 1960s he was an enthusiastic champion of Ezra Pound, to whose work Curtis was at best politely indifferent.

After gaining his doctorate, Curtis, a good linguist, joined the French department at Manchester University, remaining until he took early retirement. Poems of his were soon appearing in magazines, and in 1973 he brought out a privately printed pamphlet, Something for Nothing, identified in an introductory note as "the first, and probably the last, pamphlet under the 'Long John Silver' imprint. (Motto: "One-Eyed.")

Two years after this fugitive sheaf of poems, Davis, Poynter published a full collection, On the Abthorpe Road, which carried an endorsement by Kingsley Amis. "How rare it is in these days," Amis wrote, "to come across a good new poet (one who attracts on a first reading and yet requires many subsequent ones to be fully appreciated.)" The title poem, a lament for the effects of time's alterations, sets the tone for the collection, and for much of Curtis's later poetry: "Tonsured trim as a suburb box, / This hawthorn hedge, en brosse, / Invests the lane with change -- / With city stylishness."

The collection attracted enough favourable notices for Curtis to be included in a Faber Introduction. His next collection, Sports Extra, was published by Littlewood Press in 1988. The title testifies to his abiding love of football and cricket (he was an ardent, if usually woebegone supporter of Northamptonshire CCC), and various poems in this and subsequent collections explore his passion for music (from jazz to "dull old Haydn and Mozart"), as well as his appreciation of English woodcut and landscape artists, among them Bewick, Cotman, and the lesser known William Payne and John Glover.

Curtis discovered the work of Glover, who had emigrated to Tasmania in 1831, when he spent 1989 as a visiting lecturer at the University of New South Wales. From this experience came The Chronometer: some Australian and other poems, published by the Australian Paper Bark press in 1990. It includes a fine poem about Glover. In the same year he brought out in a limited edition a sequence of poems, Views, beautifully produced and with sympathetic wood engravings by Ian Stephens.

By then Curtis had become fed up with the manner in which, as he saw it, the proponents of Critical Theory had usurped the academic study of English, and he detested its rebarbative, scarcely intelligible jargon. He voiced his dislike in the poem "Colleague", which ends: "He's a brand-new desk computer, / For poems he takes to bits. / The author's dead, you understand; / In his place our Ernest sits." Then he left.

From Stockport, where he had lived for many years, caring for his widowed mother, he moved to the south coast. First Dorchester, where, as an admirer of Thomas Hardy, he became for some years editor of the Thomas Hardy Journal, then Plymouth, where he succeeded Merryn Williams as editor of the poetry journal The Interpreter's House. Punctilious in attending to his editorial duties, he still found time for his own work, and while never a copious poet he rarely produced a bad poem.

A fine elegist, he wrote a number of outstandingly good sonnets, and "D. I. Y.", in which he compares a carpenter's skills to the "unreal" poem, is both a manifesto and a stylistic tour de force. When in 2005 Shoestring Press published Reading a River: New and Selected Poems, it ran to no more than 64 pages. But many of the poems had appeared in the best journals, including The London Magazine, London Review of Books, Poetry Review, The Spectator, and The Times Literary Supplement.

A further collection from Shoestring, Devil Among the Tailors, took its title from a folk song Curtis had heard sung in a Manchester underpass. In 2013 the same press published an enhanced New and Selected, Comet Over Greens Norton. As modest as he was charming, Curtis hoped his poems would bring readers some pleasure. There is not much doubt that for a long time yet the best of them will continue to do so.

Simon Curtis, poet and academic: born 10 January 1943; died 20 December 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015