Markham, E(dward) A(rchibald) 1939–
E(dward) A(rchibald) Markham 1939–
Edward Archibald Markham is a successful writer in many different genres, including poetry, plays, fiction, short stories, and criticism. Born in the Caribbean, he moved to England when he was 17 and after attending college became a teacher. Not content with teaching and writing alone, Markham also became known as a director of a Theatre Workshop, staging his own plays.
Markham, better known simply as E.A. Markham or as “Archie” Markham, was born in 1939 on the island of Montserrat, in the Eastern Caribbean. He attended Montserrat Secondary School until 1956. Beyond that, little is known about Markham’s childhood or his life in Montserrat. Markham provided no information about his family, either parents or siblings. And he released no information about any family that he may have had as an adult, neither spouse, partner, nor children. What is known is that in 1956, at age 17, Markham left Montserrat, which was a United Kingdom Overseas territory, and immigrated to Britain.
Sometime after his arrival in Britain, Markham enrolled at Kilburn Polytechnic in London, where he attended classes from 1960 to 1962. In 1962 Markham then enrolled at St. David’s University College, a part of the University of Wales campus in Lampeter, Wales, from which he graduated in 1965 with a B.A. in philosophy and English. While at St. David’s, Markham wrote and produced his first play, The Masterpiece, in 1964. To continue his education, Markham next studied at the University of East Anglia in Norwich from 1966 to 1967. He also spent part of 1967 studying at the University of London, which consisted of a federation of associated colleges throughout Britain.
After completing his university studies, Markham turned to teaching, returning to Kilburn Polytechnic where he held the position of lecturer from 1968 to 1970. Following this brief experience, Markham also served a short period as director of the Caribbean Theatre Workshop in the Eastern Caribbean from 1970 to 1971 before again returning to teaching. During this time, he wrote and staged two plays, The Private Life of the Public Man, (1970) and Dropping Out If Violence, (1971). At the same time, Markham wrote poetry. His first collection of poems, Cross-Fire, was published in 1972. Subsequent collections of poetry appeared in the years that followed, including, Mad and Other Poems (1973), Master Class (1977), and The Lamp, (1978).
Although he was busy writing, Markham also taught. From 1976 to 1978, he was a lecturer at the Abraham Moss Centre in Manchester, before becoming the Creative Writing Fellow at the Hull College of Higher Education in Yorkshire from 1979 to 1980. In 1980, Markham became editor at Ambit, a journal of art, poetry, and prose that was published quarterly. He continued as editor until 1986. In the years that followed, from 1983 to 1985, Markham undertook a position that was vastly different from that of university professor: he became the media coordinator for the Enga Provincial Government in Wabag, Papua New Guinea. At the same time he served as editor for an Enga magazine, Nuis. Although Markham spent only a few years as a media coordinator, that period of time
At a Glance…
Career: Kilburn Polytechnic, lecturer, 1968-70; Caribbean Theatre Workshop in the Eastern Caribbean, director, 1970-71; Abraham Moss Centre, lecturer, 1976-78; Hull College of Higher Education, Creative Writing fellow, 1979-80; Ambit, editor, 1980-86; Media coordinator for the Enga Provincial Government, Wabag, Papua New Guinea, 1983-85; editor, Artrage, 1985-87; writer-in-residence, University of Ulster in Colaraine, 1988-91; senior lecturer in Creative Writing, Sheffield Hallam University, 1991-. Author: Cross-Fire, 1972; Mad and Other Poems, 1973; Master Class, 1977; The Lamp, 1978; Love, Politics, and Food, 1982; Family Matters, 1984; Human Rites: Selected Poems 1970-1982, 1984; Living in Disguise, 1986; Something Unusual, 1986; Toward the End of a Century, 1989; Maurice V/s Dido, 1991; Letter From Ulster & The Hugo Poems, 1993; Ten Stories, 1994; Misapprehensions, 1995; Taking the Drawing Room Through Customs: Selected Short Stories, 1970-2000, 1997; Λ Papua New Guineas Sojourn, 1998; Marking Time, 1999; A Rough Climate, 2002.
Awards: Recipient, CD, Lewis Fellowship, 1980-81; Certificate of Honour, Government of Montserrat, 1997.
Addresses: Office—Bloodaxe Books, Ltd., PO Box ISN, Newcastle upon Tyne NE99 ISN, England
had an important influence on his literary career. Eventually the time that he spent in New Guinea would become a topic in later works of poetry, as well as the topic of a nonfiction memoir.
After returning to England, Markham became editor of Artrage, a London literary magazine, from 1985 to 1987. He was also busy writing, and in 1986 Markham published a collection of short stories, Something Unusual He published several other books of poetry during the mid-1980s, as well. These include Love, Politics, and Food (1982), Family Matters (1984), Human Rites: Selected Poems 1970-1982 (1984), and Living in Disguise (1986). By 1988 Markham was the Writer in Residence at the University of Ulster in Colaraine, a position that he held until 1991. During this period, Markham, always a prolific writer, continued to write and publish his collections of poetry, including Towards the End of a Century (1989), and Maurice V/s Dido (1991). While in Ulster, he also served as editor for Writing Ulster, an on-campus literary magazine that published poetry by local writers. Finally, in 1991, Markham assumed a position as senior lecturer in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Another collection of poems, Letter From Ulster & The Hugo Poems (1993), quickly followed this move. Since his arrival at Hallam, he has become director of the Hallam Literature Festival, an annual poetry and short story competition. Markham has also assumed the role of editor of Sheffield Thursday, a magazine recognized for its high national standard of poetry, short stories, and reviews. Although Markham has moved quite easily between his teaching and editing obligations, he has also found time to express his creativity in other ways.
Markham has been a successful writer for many years and in several different genres. He has written poetry, plays, fiction, short stories, and criticism. From his first book of poetry in 1972 to his most recent book of poetry, A Rough Climate, in 2002, Markham refused to be confined to either a specific genre, culture, or even voice. Several of his books of poetry have been written under pseudonyms he has adopted, including two very different personas, Sally Goodman and Paul St. Vincent. He used these personas to provide a different voice to his work, the voice of a housewife or a character that he called Lambchops, a sort of Everyman. Markham’s works of poetry reflected his travels to the Caribbean and to New Guinea, as well as the experiences gained living in Britain. His poems incorporated themes as varied as love, politics, family, and travel.
Because virtually nothing was known about Markham’s personal life, there has been a temptation to use his intensely personal poems as a way to decipher the mystery of an unknown life. The reader has searched for references and has wondered such things as if the aging West Indian woman was his mother or if the house described was the one in which he lived as a child? Such speculation; however; is often pointless since writers are often inclined to assume a persona for even the most personal poems. Indeed, with Sally Goodman and Paul St. Vincent already revealed as pseudonyms, the truth of Markham’s poems have continued to be a mystery.
In later years Markham turned increasingly to prose as a means of expression. In addition to the 1986 short story collection, Something Unusual, Markham published two additional collections, Ten Stories in 1994 and Taking the Drawing Room Through Customs: Selected Short Stories, 1970-2000 in 2002. The latter collection focused on travel, largely from Montserrat to Britain. These stories suggested that Markham was using his own recollections as source material, although, as always with Markham, it was impossible to separate the fiction from the author’s own ambiguous past. In 1999 Markham also published Marking Time, a novel loosely based on his observances of the world of academia. In addition to plays, short stories, and poetry, Markham has also edited several collections of poetry, including Merely A Matter of Colour (1973), with Arnold Kingston, Hinterland: Caribbean Poetry From the West Indies and Britain (1989), and Hugo Versus Montserrat (1989), with Howard Fergus. Markham has also edited a collection of short stories, The Penguin Book of Short Stories (1996).
Although Markham published several books, he remained less well known than might be expected, perhaps because collections of poetry and short stories rarely achieve the critical notoriety of a best selling novel. In spite of not being well known, Markham’s works have usually met with critical praise. In her 1995 review of Ten Stories for the Caribbean Writer, Jessica D. Thorpe pointed out that the stories in this collection “form a rich tapestry of the Caribbean experience at home and abroad.” These stories were, as Thorpe observed, for “serious readers,” who hope for more than just easy and mindless entertainment. Instead, Markham was, according to Thorpe, “a skilled word-smith who can carry the reader from the mundane to the meaningful—with great humor and pathos—in a single sentence.” Clearly, Markham was more than a West Indian writer who happened to reside in Britain. Thorpe was not alone in her praise of Markham’s work. In a 1996 review of Misapprehensions (1995), for the Caribbean Writer, Howard A. Fergus maintained that Markham’s work showed “a breadth and maturity of vision, an intellectual energy, a deft wit, and a distinctive idiom which spell genuine art.” Markham drew on his West Indian roots, his experience as an immigrant, and his cultural adaptation to English society to suggest his family’s experience in moving between two such disparate cultures. Fergus suggested that “Markham’s migrant freight of a Caribbean consciousness never leaves him.” Whether it was his status as an alien in a culturally different land or his seemingly easy adaptation and adoption of his British world, Markham’s work managed to easily straddle both worlds.
His willingness to use his own varied travel experiences has served Markham especially well in writing nonfiction. Markham’s 1998 travelogue, A Papua New Guinea Sojourn, was, as the title suggests, about the actual experience of living in this area, and not simply a source of facts or details about Papua New Guinea. Markham’s impressions and observations were a central part of this book. At times it seemed as if the author was using the writing of this work as a means to reflect upon and perhaps understand a society that scarcely functioned as such. With occasional humor and even a suggestion of surprised incredulity, Markham created a picture of a world that was very alien to his existence in Britain.
At the same time, he showed it as a world worth understanding. In his 1999 review for the Caribbean Writer, Roland B. Scott described Markham’s writing style in this book as, “droll, understated, non-judgmental.” Scott went so far as to state that Markham’s book should be required reading for anyone who intended “to travel to a Third World country for the purpose of engaging in a development program.” Another 1999 review of this same work focused on the opportunity to learn about this region. In his review for the London Times, Martin Kuhn first described the difficulties that Markham faced as a media officer in a country that was undergoing such a rapid cultural change and the risks inherent for any non-native who might be present during these changes. In discussing the author’s style, Kuhn noted that “Markham’s chatty, anecdotal style carries one easily along.” Although, as Kuhn suggested, the reader never really gets to know the people of this region very well, the book was “an entertaining account of a fascinating corner of the world.” One thing that A Papua New Guinea Sojourn suggested was that Markham was comfortable in any number of different literary genres, moving easily between poetry, short stories, and nonfiction.
As has been the case with his previous work, Markham’s most recent work, a collection of poems and prose work that he called A Rough Climate, 2002, was greeted with critical praise. Although Markham used this collection to create a literary return to his childhood home, it was impossible to know how much or even if any of the content actually reflected an autobiographical truth. In recent years, more than half of Montserrat has been decimated by volcanic activity, an event that seemed to be suggested by the title of this work. But in fact, Markham has more on his mind than the destruction of land. In a review for The Guardian, Polly Pattullo saw Markham as “too original and too skillful” a poet to limit his work to just the ruin that the Sonfriere Hills volcano has brought to the people of Montserrat. What Pattullo suggested was that these works suggested something of Markham’s own past on this island. Although it was unclear what in these poems might really have reflected that past, Pattullo argued that Markham “carries with him in both his prose and poetry that powerful legacy of childhood.” It seemed certain that the memories of the home that he left at age 17 still infused his writing. Pattullo saw the evidence for this in Markham’s ability to use his writing as a way “to engage in an often unsettling debate.” Markham actually said much the same thing about his writing in an author’s statement that was provided to James Proctor for inclusion in an article published on the Contemporary Writer’s website. Markham stated that he wrote because “writing helps me to discover and reveal things about myself that I would prefer, in polite company, not to have revealed.” In essence, writing may function, as Markham suggested, as a “poor-man’s therapy.” This sounded very much like the “debate” that Pattuita observed.
In what appeared to be an effective blending of several cultures, most obviously West Indian and British, Markham demonstrated that he was far more than a Caribbean poet. As Bruno Gallo noted in his lengthy 1996 analysis on Markham’s work, Markham “not only wants to write poetry; he aspires to be a poet and to act like one.” To be defined as a poet is to capture the tradition of the great English poets that, as Gallo observed, Markham referenced in his works—poets such as William Shakespeare, John Milton, Andrew Marvel, and William Blake. Markham’s use of these works revealed a comfortable affinity with Britain’s literary past, even though his works might deal with Britain’s more recent past, especially the problems associated with colonialism, immigration, and racial conflict. Such a blending of cultures, as well as his apparent ease in doing so, suggested the level of Markham’s talent. Gallo defined Markham as a “highly self-conscious artist,” who was “constantly reflecting on the words he uses.” Gallo argued that Markham was forced to be cautious of language, since he was a “West Indian poet forced to choose between native-language and Standard English.” According to Gallo, Markham’s refusal to write in the dialect of many other Caribbean poets was “both his pride and his penalty.” As a West Indian writer, Markham has been forced to choose between the dialect of his native childhood home and the language of his adopted home. He has chosen to write in the language of the latter, even though it carried with it a connotation of the history of oppression that the West Indies has endured.
Markham’s extensive travel and study of literature gave his works an international tone that appealed to readers from many different backgrounds. His extensive literary references to other, earlier works also provided a more cosmopolitan appeal. As a result, his works evoked the images of the Renaissance poet, which earned Markham a wider reader base. Regardless of the nature of his appeal, Markham said in the Proctor article that, “It’s always useful to remind yourself that the music of words when strung together by the right sort of composer, is one of the joys of living.” For readers of his many books, Markham’s words capture the truth of his work—words perfectly joined together by the right creator.
Cross-Fire, Outposts, 1972.
Mad and Other Poems, Phaeton Press, 1973.
Master Class, Curlew, 1977.
The Lamp, Sceptre Press, 1978.
Love, Politics, and Food, Von Hallett, 1982.
Family Matters, Sow’s Ear, 1984.
Human Rites: Selected Poems 1970-1982, Anvil Press Poetry, 1984.
Living in Disguise, Anvil Press Poetry, 1986.
Something Unusual, Ambit, 1986.
Toward the End of a Century, Anvil Press Poetry, 1989.
Maurice V.’s Dido, Hearing Eye, 1991.
Letter From Ulster & The Hugo Poems, Littlewood Arc, 1993.
Ten Stories, Sheffield Hallam University, 1994.
Misapprehensions, Anvil Press Poetry, 1995.
Taking the Drawing Room Through Customs: Selected Short Stories, 1970-2000, Peepal Tree Press, 1997.
A Papua New Guinea Sojourn, Carcanet Press, 1998.
Marking Time, Peepal Tree Press, 1999.
A Rough Climate, Anvil Poetry Press, 2002.
Caribana, Volume 5, 1996, pp. 71-116.
The Guardian, August 31, 2002.
The London Times, July 16, 1999, p. 33.
—Sheri Elaine Metzger
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