Obituary: Audrey Nicholson

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The Independent Online
Audrey Nicholson was a passionate Yorkshirewoman. She was passionate about her profession, school-teaching. She was passionate about poetry and poets. She was passionate about cricket, especially her own county, and was absolutely delighted to discover that I had played (school) cricket against Mike Brearley, the son of Horace Brearley, who had himself played cricket for Yorkshire. Another Yorkshireman, the Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, delighted her by sending a couple of bottles of sherry from the huge consignment he was given around the time he met the Queen of Spain.

Her extended family was the community of poets she befriended and supported. These included Ann Beresford and Michael Hamburger, Judi Benson and Ken Smith, Peter Porter and Alan Brownjohn, Eddie Linden and Gavin Ewart, and their respective circles. She did an immense number of chores for several friends, for example the blind poet John Heath-Stubbs, whose amanuensis she was for a long time, and you could always rely on her to turn up (with or without retinue) at a book launch or poetry reading - one more person could make a 10-per-cent difference to the audience on some occasions. And all for love. The life of the spirit, the life of the mind, was her ether.

But other-worldly she was not. Another practical trait which endeared her to small-press publishers was her determination to promote poetry. She put her money where her mouth was. Out of her limited disposable income, Audrey Nicholson, who lived very simply in east London, would order several copies of many books brought out by small presses, such as my own Menard Press, and give them to members of her large circle as presents - having often arranged for the author to sign the book. Small-press books can be unusual, beautiful, and good value for money: she had the discrimination to understand this, the passion to do something about it, and the generosity to deliver (via the postman).

The poetry gifts were intended to inform and educate, as well as give pleasure. In her other life, as a schoolteacher in Dagenham and elsewhere, she would take children, in her own time and at her own expense, to theatres and concerts. Many of her friends received appropriate newspaper clippings, always with an affectionate message scribbled on the hoof. To mark birthdays or examination successes, she would send my son, and other teenagers, second-hand cricket books, like a favourite aunt, which she effectively was for many young people.

She was one of nature's go-betweens, always seeking to bring like-minded or like- spirited people together, not least at her annual poets' cricket match where, for example, that unlikely cricket-lover, the brilliant American surrealist prose poet Marvin Cohen, never gave the impression he was confusing our national sport with baseball.

She had been engaged to be married. Before, during and after the engagement, her devotion and love never ceased being directed towards her family and her many friends - and she was the virtual mother to her great-niece, Joanne (the only child present at the funeral), whose own mother had died tragically young. Audrey Nicholson undoubtedly had a great need to please, to give pleasure. On occasion this might embarrass the recipient who could never, in the nature of the contract, reciprocate to the same extent. But most of the time her generosity, innate, gracious and never-ending, was a source of wonder and a cause for gratitude.

She was a good soul, a gitte neshuma - as her prematurely deceased friend A.C. Jacobs would have said in Yiddish. I hope I was not typical in sometimes taking her for granted, but I like to think that she knew the high esteem in which she was held in the poetry world. Shortly before she died she asked for the latest cricket score. It is a moot point whether poetry or cricket mattered more. Now she can argue the point (silly point?) with Gavin Ewart.

Here is an unpublished "Classical Poem dedicated to Audrey Nicholson" by Gavin Ewart:

Here it comes, with love, to Aud!

This is her very just reward

For years of friendship and support:

A serious poem where the rhymes

Must remind of olden times,

of wit and wonder, as they ought!

Orion, classical, huge and lost!

This was the price, this was the cost

Of rape of nymphs, in ancient


A Poussin picture, praised by Blunt -

Young giants, Diana led the hunt!

Known to the stars, not the police!

Audrey Nicholson, schoolteacher: born Rotherham,Yorkshire 15 July 1924; died London 1 March 1996.