James Kirkup  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

James Kirkup, FRSL (23 April 1918 – 10 May 2009) was a prolific British poet, translator and travel writer, best-known for his controversial poem The Love that Dares to Speak its Name, which describes a sexual fantasy of a homosexual soldier for the dead Christ. The poem was banned in 1979 under the UK's blasphemy laws after it was published by Gay News on June 3, 1976.


Early life

During the Second World War he was a conscientious objector, and worked on the land in the Yorkshire Dales. 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. 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. He found the Japanese accepted him and appreciated his work, and so he settled there, lecturing in English Literature at several universities.

Blasphemy case and after

Kirkup came to particular public attention in 1977, when the newspaper Gay News published his poem "The Love that Dares to Speak its Name", which dealt with a Roman centurion's supposed love for Christ on the Cross, and was prosecuted, with the Editor, for blasphemy by Mary Whitehouse, then Secretary of the National Viewers and Listeners Association.


Since writing simple verses and rhymes from the age of six and the publication of his first poetry book, 'The Drowned Sailor' in 1947, Kirkup's published works encompassed several dozen collections of poetry, six volumes of autobiography, over a hundred monographs of original work and translations and thousands of shorter pieces in journals and periodicals. His skilled writing of haiku and tanka is acknowledged internationally. Many of his poems recalled his childhood days in the North East, and are featured in such publications as 'The Sense of the Visit', 'To the Ancestral North', 'Throwback', and 'Shields Sketches'.

His home town of South Shields now holds a growing collection of his works in the Central Library, and artifacts from his time in Japan are housed in the nearby Museum. His last volume of poetry was published during the summer of 2008 by Red Squirrel Press, and was launched at a special event at Central Library in South Shields.


Amongst his honours, Kirkup held the Atlantic Award for Literature from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1950; he was elected the Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962; he won the Japan P.E.N. Club Prize for Poetry in 1965; and was awarded the Scott Moncrieff Prize for Translation in 1992.

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, noteably becoming a frequent contributor to the obituary section of the British newspaper The Independent until 2008. He also had several virtual books published on the internet by Brindin Press. A great encourager of young talent in all aspects of the arts, he was the Honorary President of Switch Drama Company youth theatre.

Kirkup died in Andorra on 10 May 2009.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "James Kirkup" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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