Barry Tebb

Huddersfield — The Second Poetry Capital of England

It brings to mind Swift leaving a fortune to Dublin
'For the founding of a lunatic asylum — no place needs it more'.
The breathing beauty of the moors and cheap accommodation
Drew me but the total barbarity of the town stopped me from
Writing a single line: from the hideous facade of its railway
Station — Betjeman must have been drunk or mad to praise it —
To that lump of stone on Castle Hill — her savage spirit broods.

I remember trying to teach there, at Bradley, where the head
Was some kind of ex-P.T. teacher, who thought poetry something
You did to children and his workaholic jackass deputy, obsessed
With practical science and lesson preparation and team teaching
And everything on, above and beneath the earth except 'The Education
Of the Poetic Spirit' and without that and as an example of what
Pound meant about how a country treats its poets "is a measure
Of its civilisation". I once had a holiday job in a mill and the
Nightwatchman's killer alsatian had more civilisation than
Huddersfield's Deputy Direction of Education.

For a while I was granted temporary asylum at Royds Hall —
At least some of the staff there had socialism if not art —
But soon it was spoilt for everyone when Jenks came to head
English, sweating for his OU degree and making us all suffer,
The kids hating his sarcasm and the staff his vaulting ambition
And I was the only one not afraid of him. His Achilles' heel was
Culture — he was a yob through and through — and the Head said to me
"I've had enough of him throwing his weight around, if it comes
To a showdown I'll back you against him any day" but he got
The degree and the job and the dollars — my old T.C. took him
But that was typical, after Roy Rich went came a fat appointee
Who had written nothing and knew nothing but knew everyone on
The appointing committee.

Everyday I was in Huddersfield I thought I was in hell and
Sartre was right and so was Jonson — "Hell's a grammar school
To this" — too (Peter Porter I salute you!) and always I dreamed
Of Leeds and my beautiful gifted ten-year olds and Sheila, my
Genius-child-poet and a head who left me alone to teach poetry
And painting day in, day out and Dave Clark and Diane and I,
In the staff room discussing phenomenology and daseinanalysis
Applied to Dewey's theory of education and the essence of the
Forms in Plato and Plotinus and plaiting a rose in Sheila's
Hair and Johns, the civilised HMI, asking for a copy of my poems
And Horovitz putting me in 'Children of Albion' and 'The
Statesman' giving me good reviews.

Decades later, in Byram Arcade, I am staring at the facade of
'The Poetry Business' and its proprietors sitting on the steps
Outside, trying to look civilised and their letter, "Your poetry
Is good but its not our kind" and I wondered what their kind was
And besides they're not my kind of editor and I'm back in Leeds
With a letter from Seamus Heaney — thank you, Nobel Laureate, for
Liking 'My Perfect Rose' and yes, you're right about my wanting
To get those New Generation Poets into my classroom at Wyther
Park and show them a thing or two and a phone call from
Horovitz who is my kind of editor still, after thirty years,
His mellifluous voice with its blend of an Oxford accent and
American High Camp, so warm and full of knowledge and above all
PASSIONATE ABOUT POETRY and I remember someone saying,
"If Oxford is the soul of England. Huddersfield is its arsehole".