James Kirkup born 21 April 1918 (d. 2009)
James Kirkup was a prolific English poet, Japanese scholar, translator, and travel writer. He was brought up in South Shields, and educated at Durham University. He wrote over 30 books, including an autobiography and plays.
During World War II he was a conscientious objector, and worked on the land in the Yorkshire Dales. He taught at The Downs School in Colwall, Malvern, where W H Auden had earlier been a master. Kirkup wrote his first book of poetry, The Drowned Sailor at the Downs, which was published in 1947. From 1950 to 1952 he was the first Gregory Poetry Fellow at Leeds University, making him the first resident university poet in the United Kingdom.
In 1952 he moved south to Gloucestershire and became visiting poet at Bath Academy of Art for the next three years. Moving on from Bath, he taught in a London grammar school before leaving England in 1956 to live and work in Europe, the Americas and the Far East. In Japan, he found acceptance and appreciation of his work, and he settled there for 30 years, lecturing in English Literature at several universities.
His poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which describes a sexual fantasy of a homosexual soldier for the dead Christ, was banned in 1979 under the UK's rarely invoked blasphemy laws after it was published by Gay News in 1976.
The blasphemous libel charge named Gay News Ltd and the publisher, Denis Lemon and was brought by self-appointed media watchdog, Mary Whitehouse, founder and first president of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association. Following the trial Lemon received a nine-month suspended jail sentence.
This still genuinely shocking poem is accessible via the Internet but is still technically banned in the UK. In 1996, the NVLA attempted to prosecute Lesbian and Gay Christian Association when it posted a hyperlink to the poem on its website. In 1997, the charges against the Lesbian and Gay Christian Association were formally dropped.
In 1997 he was presented with the Japan Festival Foundation Award and invited by the Emperor and Empress to the Imperial New Year Poetry Reading at the Palace in Tokyo.
In the early 1990s Kirkup settled in Andorra. He continued his prolific work and correspondence, notably becoming a frequent contributor to the obituary section of the British newspaper The Independent until 2008.
Kirkup died in Andorra on 10 May 2009.
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