Pickard, Tom

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Nationality: British. Born: Thomas MacKenna in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, 7 January 1946. Education: Newcastle secondary schools; Ruskin College, Oxford, 1977–78. Family: Married1) Constance Davison in 1964 (dissolved 1978), one son and one daughter; 2) Joanna Voit in 1979, one son; 3) Svava Barker in 1999. Career: Worked for a seed merchant, construction company, and wine merchant, 1962–64; served an apprenticeship to Basil Bunting; co-founder and manager, Morden Tower Book Room, 1963–72, and Ultima Thule Bookshop, 1969–73, Newcastle; C. Day Lewis Fellow, Rutherford Comprehensive School, London, 1976–77; creative writing fellow, University of Warwick, Coventry, 1978–79. Director of documentary films. Occasional articles for The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, and New Statesman & Society.Awards: Northern Arts award, 1965; Arts Council grant, 1969, 1973. Agent: Judy Daish Associates, 83 Eastbourne Mews, London, W2 6LQ, England.



High on the Walls. London, Fulcrum Press, 1967; New York, Horizon Press, 1968.

New Human Unisphere. Newcastle upon Tyne, Ultima Thule, 1969.

The Order of Chance. London, Fulcrum Press, 1971.

Dancing under Fire. Philadelphia, Middle Earth, 1973.

Hero Dust: New and Selected Poems. London, Allison and Busby, 1979.

O.K. Tree! Durham, Pig Press, 1980.

Domestic Art. Vancouver, Slug Press, 1981.

In Search of "Ingenuous." Vancouver, 1981.

Custom and Exile. London, Allison and Busby, 1985.

Tiepin Eros: New & Selected Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe Books, 1994.

fuckwind: poems and songs. Buckfastleigh, Devon, Etruscan Books, 1999.


Radio Documentary: The Jarrow March, 1976.

Television Scripts: Squire, 1974; The Dragon Story, 1983; Lambton Worm (Everybody Here), 1983; We Make Ships (also director), 1988; Tell Them in Gdansk (also director), 1989; Finnegan's Wake, 1990; Birmingham Is What I Think With (also director), 1991, 1997; The Shadow & The Substance (also director), 1994; On the Job, 1995.

Short Stories

Guttersnipe. San Francisco, City Lights, 1972.


Serving My Time to a Trade. Orono, Maine, Paideuma, 1980.

The Jarrow March, with Joanna Voit. London, Allison and Busby, and New York, Schocken, 1982.

We Make Ships. London, Secker and Warburg, 1989.

Bibliography: In Poetry Information 18 (London), 1978.

Manuscript Collections: Northern Arts, Newcastle upon Tyne; State University of New York, Buffalo.

Critical Studies: "Tom Pickard," in Lip 1 (Philadelphia), 1972, and in Poetry Information 18 (London), 1978, both by Eric Mottram; "Pick's Progress" by Richard Caddell, in Literary Review 6 (London), 1979; "Hero Dust" by Kenneth Cox, in Montemora 7 (New York), 1980; by Tony Baker, in Sharp Study and Long Toil: Basil Bunting Special Issue of A Durham University Journal Supplement (Durham), 1995.

Tom Pickard comments:

Instead of a personal statement I send this poem, which says all I want to say about writing poetry at this moment.

in search of "ingenuous"
opening a dictionary
between inflict
and inhuman
my eye falls
on a flower
placed there
and preserved
by you
it informs
my heart
between idolize
and I.L.O.
a violet
whose moth petals
hover on
ignotum per ignotius
obscures the object
*  *  *

"ad rather be skint than an industrial cog"

Apparently against all the odds for a working-class Newcastle school-leaver, a commitment to poetry and a refusal to accept the menial life allocated to him lay behind the achievement of Tom Pickard's first book, High on the Walls. His "horror of being limited" helped him to an early awareness of modern American writing, fostered by contact with Dorn, Creeley, and others. The spareness of such lyrics as "City Summer" certainly has affinities with Williams and these later poets, yet Pickard sought to remain true to his own area and language and to his working-class experience. His work is permeated by a sense of the Northumbrian locality, whether a countryside still close to Thomas Bewick's ("The Game Bird"), the industrial heritage of "Stowell Street Corporation Yard," or the settings of his prose work Guttersnipe. The human consequences of this heritage are set out in "Birthplace—Bronchitis" ("The old men cannot walk up banks / without leaving brown cockles on the path"), and local speech is strongly used in such poems as "Rape" and "Scrap." Completing the work are lyrics of sexual love and involvement ("To Puberty," "The Bodies Are Touching") and the experience of parenthood ("The Bairn").

In his preface to High on the Walls, Basil Bunting (whose work Pickard helped to rescue from neglect and who in turn offered encouragement and continued advice) praised Pickard's "skill to keep the line compact and musical" and hoped that he would learn "to sing with a longer breath." This can be related to the problem of evolving forms to embody a range of themes, from the most personal to the social and political. A subtle merging is already apparent in as brief a poem as "Factory" ("fingers of a hand / that whisper softly / at my napes hair / / smoke blowing / in the winds of engines"). But The Order of Chance begins with a poem that marks a new move forward. An angry lament for generations of such men as his father, "The Devil's Destroying Angel Exploded" is dedicated to John Martin and has something of the Northumbrian painter's somber vision, while referring insistently to the present:

		no colour
    but dancing black
producers of heat
    confused in the cold
         moon full above the dole

As Eric Mottram (his most perceptive and informed critic) has stressed, mythic and folk elements were becoming important in Pickard's work, nourished by his reading in Jung, his own dreams, and his direct knowledge of local folk rituals. Such elements are notably present in "New Body," with its magical transformations: "As you felt my bear's claw / I was a snake / / As you stroked my cat's fur / I was a fish." The volume ends with the prose sequence "Warmth," but before that comes part of a long poem bearing the title "Magpie."

This poem became the substantial and complex "Dancing under Fire." It used varying forms to explore the possibilities of energy in, for instance, a move from stone as defensive wall or the oppressiveness of "city concrete" to stone as used constructively, to walls dissolved by love and "stone stances" that "one fixed gaze / burns into life" or, to cite another example, the sequence from plant (in the now separate poem "The Order of Chance") to coal to fire. The past, the mythic, and the personal alternate and merge. A row of street lamps is "… a dragon coiled / in the valley" but also is sexual love and the flames of industrial fires, energy whose exploitation can be damaging, both socially and personally, or revivifying. A sequence of individual transformation, reiterating the word "dissolve," precedes the evocation of the shell-shocked victim, Marta, whose "lack of words makes us suppose so much," counterbalanced in turn by "a voice from someone's telly," which offers only "shadows / of the real event."

The final stress is on love, on active acknowledgment ("father you built the lines I travel on"), and on the assertion, perhaps central to Pickard's work, that "what is chosen / remains." A group of "Snake Poems" continues the dragon-fire-energy theme in dreamlike, often violent visions of family relationships still rooted, as in "Gateshead," in actuality. A family is more directly seen in the television play Squire, while the poems interspersed in his radio documentary, The Jarrow March, stress the human warmth, the solidarity of parents and children, in that political action by "family men / hunger dancers."

"Hero Dust," Pickard's next long poem, opposes to a blues-style prophecy of "bad news" a synthesis, in twenty-eight numbered but formally differing verses, of several recurrent themes. These range from industrial desolation ("moss mottled with oil / and slime") through the possibilities of chance, love, action, the entwining of pain and joy, and a fierce energy ("my fury flames furnaces") to end in lostness and betrayal counterbalanced by the quoted words "I have saved the bird in my breast." The transforming potential of love is again suggested in "Ballad" and "City Garden," while such poems as "Rat Palace" (with the unanswered "how can we help each other?") detail the evils of political control. An enhanced European awareness, aided by periods of living in Warsaw, is shown here and in Custom and Exile. There are no long poems in this collection, but elements and themes recur, building toward a complex unity. Sensuous perception is explored in "Signed and Dated on the Lover," one of several poems related to paintings (in this case Ingres's La Grande Odalisque), the concern being both what is perceived and "… the act/of seeing" ("Diana at Her Bath"); "We compare notes, and / they compare" ("Goya Sketching"). Other poems explore personal themes of sexuality, tenderness, pregnancy, birth, and physical separation in ways both subtle and direct: "a bird / in your bush / sings" ("Words"); "ok tree / you can bloom / Spring's arrived / with two green eyes" ("OK Tree").

The living warmth and fertility of human relationships are typically contrasted in "Blue Brood" with

...a passing train
nuclear waste

Pickard's often angry concern with public, political events and their impingement on people continues. Such poems as "Sweet F.A." are related to the earlier years of the Thatcher administration, and "Spring Tide," his tribute to Bunting, is set in the context of "a filthy winter to have lived through, / … A year-long miner's strike / broken." "A Sense of History," with its pensioners scraping "the dry earth" for "small bits of coal," suggests a sad continuity with the world of his early poems and contrasts sharply with the society glimpsed in "Golden City Delivery Boy," which is inhabited by managers, directors, bankers, and their attendant servants and where "a general's daughter / prepares roast lamb / in an immaculate kitchen."

Later, a period as writer-in-residence at Austin and Pickersgill's shipyard in Sunderland led to We Make Ships, a documentation of Pickard's talks with workers there. The shelving of his play for BBC television, Left Over People, which dealt both with the 1936 Jarrow March and the situation in Sunderland in 1986, was seen by Pickard as "part of a much wider dismantling of our civil liberties." The experience gives an added retrospective edge to such poems as "My Radio, 1" ("its timing is perfect / and variable / / … its motives / pure…") and "My Radio, 2" ("interprets the past / manages the present"). Yet, against this he can set his own practice as a writer: "my pen wants to manage / its own affairs, / thinking it knows best: / / my pen demands / complete autonomy" ("My Pen," a poem, as it happens, with a Polish context). The vivid and playful "Recipe: Pastime for the Unemployed" ends with words that, although referring to the hazards of cookery, express the spirit of much of his work: "fight back."

This spirit is certainly present in Tiepin Eros, which contains both new and selected earlier poems. It is expressed in "The Double D Economy/Depravity and Deprivation," for instance, and in the angry, riddling questions of "Who Is the Whore of Armageddon?": "Whose smile is manicured money talking? / Whose arms embrace the globe?" Anger also more directly informs human concern in poems such as "Contractor Song," which deals with the harsh and dangerous life of shipyard workers, while in "The Bridge" two people become lovers in a setting of "abandoned factories / and shutdown shipyards … / … collapsed wharfs, / idle slipways, skeletal staithes." This bringing together of the individual, the personal, with social or political factors occurs in other poems, such as "A History Lesson from My Son on Hadrian's Wall," where past and present are set side by side, reinforcing and illuminating each other. "Energy" moves from observation of swallows gathering in an autumnal north to "slow flying jets under / a low lying sky" that "… fly south over armies assembled in the dust" to a scene of desert war, and it does this with an elliptical brevity that is also found in, for instance, "Nues (a painting by Djurdje Teodorvic)," "Dedication," and the toughly sensuous "Sea Trout." Pickard's practice of revising poems, such as "The Order of Chance," in successive printings has been perceptively discussed by Tony Baker. A further paring down, an even greater succinctness, is often involved, "Diana at Her Bath," for instance, being reduced to thirteen lines from twenty-five in Custom and Exile, so that the rapidity of our reading mirrors "the act / of seeing." This combination of brevity and subtlety with passionate involvement contributes much to Pickard's very distinctive voice.

The first section of Tiepin Eros ends with "The Sayings of Chairman Q," a satire on our obsession with queuing that prefigures the list poems in Pickard's 1999 volume fuckwind, a hymn of praise to physical love. The book is comprised of forty-seven new poems, divided into four sets, that span all manner of styles in an explosive, creative diversity. There is the sea shanty ("Ballad of Jamie Allen"), the blues ("Gypsy Lady"), the folk narrative ("Rope"), the song lyric (literally, with the music printed out), list poems, and permutational poems like "Satchi & Satchi" (although these may be closer to the rhythms of children's stamp-the-foot games). There are brief haikulike lyrics such as "Dark" and "Holymire," each of six telling lines. But often the elements of nature and love are combined, as in "Wroth," "Rift," and "Kip Law," for Pickard's excitement is no longer framed in urban contexts but increasingly reflects the high, morose hills around Alston in the Pennines where he lives. The introduction is contributed by Paul McCartney, and the front cover pictures Pickard's inspiration, Svava.

—Geoffrey Soar and

Bill Griffiths