Markham, E(dward) A(rchibald)
MARKHAM, E(dward) A(rchibald)
Pseudonyms: Paul St. Vincent; Sally Goodman. Nationality: British. Born: Montserrat, West Indies, 1 October 1939. Immigrated to England in 1956. Education: Montserrat Secondary, until 1956; Kilburn Polytechnic, London, 1960–62; University of Wales, Lampeter, 1962–65, B.A. in philosophy and English; University of East Anglia, Norwich, 1966–67; University of London, 1967. Career: Lecturer, Kilburn Polytechnic, London, 1968–70, and Abraham Moss Centre, Manchester, 1976–78; director, Caribbean Theatre Workshop, Eastern Caribbean, 1970–71; creative writing fellow, Hull College of Higher Education, Yorkshire, 1979–80; media coordinator, Enga Provincial Government, Wabag, Papua New Guinea, 1983–85; editor, Artrage magazine, London, 1985–87; writer-in-residence, University of Ulster, Coleraine, 1988–91. Since 1980 assistant editor, Ambit magazine, London; editor, Enga Nius magazine, Papua New Guinea, 1983–85; editor, Writing Ulster.Member: Member of the general council, Poetry Society, 1976–77; member, GLA New Writing and Distribution Committee, 1986–87; director, Minorities Arts Advisory Service, London, 1987–90; member of the managing committee, Poetry Book Society, London, 1987–90. Awards: C. Day Lewis fellowship, 1980–81. Address: c/o Bloodaxe Books Ltd., P.O. Box 1SN, Newcastle upon Tyne NE99 1SN, England.
Cross-Fire. Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, Outposts, 1972.
Mad and Other Poems. Solihull, Warwickshire, Phaeton Press, 1973.
Lambchops (as Paul St. Vincent). Leicester, Omens, 1976.
Philpot in the City (as Paul St. Vincent). Yorkshire, Curlew, 1976.
Lambchops in Disguise (as Paul St. Vincent). London, Share, 1976.
Master Class. Yorkshire, Curlew, 1977.
The Lamp. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1978.
Love Poems. Cambridge, Lobby Press, 1978.
Games and Penalties. Hatch End, Poet and Printer, 1980.
Love, Politics, and Food. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Von Hallett, 1982.
Family Matters. Stafford, Warwickshire, Sow's Ear, 1984.
Human Rites: Selected Poems 1970–1982. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1984.
Stafford, Warwickshire, Sow's Ear, 1986.
Living in Disguise. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1986.
Towards the End of a Century. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1989.
Maurice V.'s Dido. London, Hearing Eye, 1991.
Letter from Ulster & The Hugo Poems. Todmorden, Lancashire, Littlewood Arc, 1993.
Misapprehensions. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1995.
The Masterpiece (produced Lampeter, 1964).
The Private Life of the Public Man (produced St. Vincent, West Indies, 1970).
Dropping Out Is Violence (produced Montserrat, West Indies, 1971).
Making Time. Leeds, Peepal Tree, 1999.
Something Unusual. London, Ambit, 1986.
Ten Stories. N.p., Sheffield Hallam University, School of Cultural Studies, 1994.
A Papua New Guinea Sojourn: More Pleasures of Exile. Manchester, Carcanet, 1998.
Editor, with Arnold Kingston, Merely a Matter of Colour. London, Q, 1973.
Editor, Hinterland: Caribbean Poetry from the West Indies and Britain. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1989; Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour, 1990.
Editor, with Howard Fergus, Hugo Versus Montserrat. London, Linda Lee, 1989.
Editor, The Penguin Book of Caribbean Short Stories. London and New York, Penguin, 1996.*
Critical Studies: "Bold Survivor" by Carol Rumens, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 24 October 1986; "Caribbean Lines" by Robert Welch, in Yorkshire Post (Leeds), 17 May 1990; "White Words on a Black Ground" by Giles Foden, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 2 March 1990; "E. Archie Markham: A Poet of Many Voices" by Bruno Gallo, in Caribana (Milan, Italy), 5, 1996; A Fertschrift for EA Markham edited by Freda Vollaus and Tracey O'Rourke, Leeds and Sheffield, Linda Lee Books, 1999.* * *
"We are multi-national; cosmopolitan," E.A. Markham says in the introduction to a volume of Caribbean poetry he edited. His own poetry roams among Montserrat, Britain, Papua New Guinea, and Albania, takes on different identities—Sally Goodman, Paul St. Vincent—and speaks in the voice of a housewife or a character called Lambchops, but it nevertheless maintains an identifiable style. It is interesting that it was his Pessoa-like adoption of two alter egos that seems to have helped give force and confidence to a voice that in his first publications hardly stood out from the crowd.
Among Markham's early pamphlet collections, Mad contains just two poems that might be worthy of a place in a collected edition. "The Early Years of a Tyrant" is a telling thumbnail sketch of a rebel manqué who "after an unfinished /novel, a dab at teaching, and /a mini-tour of foreign /parts (returning to mourn /a much-loved dog) joined the local /library, bored with politics." Here the quiet but lethal derision and the smooth enjambment of the lines give promise of Markham's mature voice. "Anonymous" establishes the mood of much of the poet's intimate work, a poetry of departure, reunion, and communication by letter that is shot through with moving observations of a transience that so many contemporary poets seem to eliminate from their work (and perhaps their lives). The language here is less specific than in later poems, but it avoids the adolescent use of metaphor that weakens the worst of Markham's early verse, as in "I am the recurring pause /that you envy."
The high point of Markham's small press publications came with Love, Politics, and Food, important for the reprinting of a BBC radio talk in which he explained the conception and birth of the Lambchops character. As a reviewer of a later volume has remarked, Markham has "forged for himself a fresh, original voice out of Standard English" without recourse to dialect. The reference to Standard English is contentious, but Markham's eschewal of broad dialect has been made possible by his adoption of fictional personae, beginning in the 1970s with the Sally Goodman housewife poems and continuing in the 1980s with Lambchops. His own name and identity seem to have become "an affliction contracted under some insidious Victorian dispensation." It is characteristic of the writer's good humor and lack of pretension that he can make such a statement without raising hackles. His work can be aggressive, and it is always committed but never polemical. The Lambchops persona is intended as an everyman figure:
Lambchops are classless like the old mini was said to be:
both the Swiss and the Albanians eat Lambchops
conceive of a fat man as well as a thin man tucking into a
Lambchop. Aesthetically too, lamb chops are about right—
somewhere between the Diner's card and the breadfruit.
By this time the different strands in Markham's work had become clearly identifiable: (1) the pseudonymous poems, (2) poems about sex, politics, and travel, combining what blurb writers, for once, correctly identify as acute observation and trenchant humor, and (3) intensely personal poems, often epistolary in form, about love, friendship, and family.
On the surface "Life after Speracedes," a long poem written as a sequence of letters to a distant intimate, speaks evocatively of a love interrupted by distance but held together by memory:
These are not attempts to nudge memory,
not straws that friends glance at, guardedly.
They are yours, without this letter. They speak
of shared address, a suitcase left, a plan for home.
But there is a playful undertow to the poem that gives it its force—"You do not recall last year in Speracedes, in Cabris … It was not last year, you're growing literal"—and enables Markham to speak both as the romantic and restless poet who is afraid to put down roots and as a lover keen to hold on to a relationship. This is a strain that can never tire of expression, and it is good to find a modern poet giving it contemporary utterance:
But for the drug which lures me to the more
perfect, more remote place from which to say, 'Come home', I would not
still bother you...
Figurative writing was still not a strength in this book—two poems make use of an identical, and not very brilliant, image ("In Albtown's carless 'Lowry' Squares")—but it prepared the way for the major collections of the 1980s, Human Rites and Living in Disguise, which, together with Markham's editorial and performance work, have secured his position as one of the more important writers of modern English-language poetry.
Living in Disguise organizes its poems into their constituent groups, the final section, "Four Letters and a Sermon," containing work of a richness and compassion that is immensely satisfying to read. "Letter to Mauritius," written in rhyming couplets, is representative of Markham's finest work, and he glosses a reference to Gracchus at the back of the book in a manner that is worth quoting, since it can give new readers a sense of the flavor of the man:
Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus, tribunes of the
plebs, and their agricultural reforms, were as passionately
discussed as, say, the recent political independence of
Jamaica, or anticipation of Worrell's cricket team to
after having destroyed India (five-nil) in the West
Indies in 1962. Everyone seemed to believe that a new era
of possibility was opening up (even across the At
and that we were poised to participate in it. Ah well, even the
Gracchi brothers died violently.
Markham's later collection, Towards the End of a Century, has confirmed the growing stature of a poet who can write with equal brilliance in several different guises and registers.