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This report is taken from PN Review 202, Volume 38 Number 2, November - December 2011.

Nicholson, Suddenly John Greening
Norman Nicholson, who died almost twenty-five years ago, used to be widely read. He was a Faber poet. He won prizes, edited anthologies, had verse dramas performed, appeared on the A-level syllabus and was one of the featured writers in the American series Twayne's English Authors. He received a Cholmondeley Award the same year as Seamus Heaney. Heaney is, of course, from another generation (born, indeed, twenty-five years later, also at the outbreak of a world war) but it is hard to think that he could ever suffer the same degree of neglect. When Derry sings of a working-class childhood, of troubled landscapes, of spiritual longing, everyone listens. Why did we stop listening to Millom?

This was the English poet's omphalos: an agglomeration of iron and steel and slag, tucked away from the through-routes on the coast south of Whitehaven: an area overlooked by visitors to the Lakes, and generally unnoticed until the taxi-driver Derek Bird went berserk amongst its Viking remains in 2010. Nicholson was born in Millom in 1914 and remained there, in the same terraced house, all his life.His mother died in the flu epidemic when he was very small, and he was brought up by his shopkeeper father and his second wife. They lived above the outfitter's shop, their existence strictly tailored to the needs of a community for which the chief preoccupation was making ends meet and where any spare time involved church or chapel. The neighbouring Lake District was considered as exotic as ...


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