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This item is taken from PN Review 199, Volume 37 Number 5, May - June 2011.

On 28 February 2011 I received an e-mail from Linda Chase, an ex-student of mine, ex-colleague, PN Review contributor and friend. She had just come home from the film Howl at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. 'I saw it tonight and was really moved.' She was surprised: 'I found myself in floods of tears by the end. Really, it was a celebration of poetry itself. I know [Ginsberg]'s not your favourite poet, but I hope you'll see it anyway. What days they were in San Francisco!' I remember today how in class, a decade ago, watching Colin Still's 1997 Ginsberg film No More to Say & Nothing to Weep for: an Elegy for Allen,she was in tears, too, recognising the scenes and cemeteries of New York and New Jersey, recognising the voices and occasions, and being, even then, an innocent, credulous, generous favourite niece of the Beats.

Now it's time to write an elegy for Linda. She died at 5:10 am on 8 April of a breast cancer that recurred and took her at great speed.

She and I disagreed about everything and enjoyed our disagreements; we also agreed about everything and enjoyed that. At Manchester Metropolitan University, where I recruited her to teach, she always focused on the students and didn't give a fig for the politics of the university so long as she felt the students were being properly looked after.

She made things happen in the world of poetry and beyond; good things will continue happening in her name and spirit. She was the hub of poetic life in the city, a woman of irrepressible optimism, energy and good will, an organiser, facilitator, cheer-leader, agony aunt, someone for whom the process of writing was almost as precious as the product, who believed that working with words at any level, putting them into form, listening to and savouring them, was a route to well-being. She believed in some spirit or other, and she affected individual lives. Her enormous house in Didsbury with its mature garden and handsome outbuildings was the venue for poetry readings and fundraising parties: it belonged to poetry with its statuary, its verse installations, its accessibility. It belonged to us. The Manchester branch of the Poetry School opened there in the autumn of 2004 with an inaugural reading by Les Murray and - because we insisted on it - Linda herself.

Her poems were written for reading aloud, and she occupied them as if they were a space, moving in and with them, modulating her movements to theirs and always keeping the audience in view. She taught many younger writers how to read aloud and made it her mission as a teacher at the Met to draw the shyest students into a public limelight, giving them confidence, volume and pace. Language with her was safest in the mouth and in the memory. Being dyslexic, she found that on the page it tended to trip her up. She told us how as a child she had been taken into New York City to learn to read with the aid of slotted wooden rulers. It didn't work. She was never comfortable with prose.

Linda grew up on the North Shore of Long Island and studied English and Creative Writing at Bennington College, Vermont, graduating in 1963. She was a costume designer in San Francisco in the ecstatic, blurry 1960s and then, in 1968, in Edinburgh. She studied Tai Chi, started a family, and in 1980 moved to Manchester and set up a Tai Chi school, working also in psychiatric and geriatric wards. Then she started again - rather late in life - seriously writing poems (we knew she had never really stopped), completing the Masters programme at the Met in 2002 and staying on to teach. She published pamphlets and two books of poems, with a third currently at press. Her first editor, Peter Sansom at Smith/Doorstop, renewed her confidence as a poet.

Poetry and Tai Chi worked together for her. Tai Chi helped some poets 'connect the head and the heart through using movement and the physical sensations of the body'. Others connected through acting, others through listening. With her friend the musician Chris Davies she originated Poets and Players, a platform for new poets to perform alongside established writers and musicians. Events were staged around the city.

She was always a 'community artist'. For her the arts had to do with bringing people together. There was something Rilkean in her sense of celebratory mission. She knew that literature required not only creative but organisational effort and she started her 'Dear List' e-letter, keeping over a thousand people informed of events and opportunities. Manchester became a poetry city not because of the university writing programmes or the presence of the poet laureate in its leafiest suburb but because an expatriate American found a vocation there.

As debates rage about the funding of literature, it is worth celebrating one of those individuals who make a literary community without too much concern about money or institutions, thinking always of poets and readers and how best to bring them into contact with one another.

This item is taken from PN Review 199, Volume 37 Number 5, May - June 2011.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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