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This article is taken from PN Review 114, Volume 23 Number 4, March - April 1997.

Graham's Fanatic Disciple James Keery

August, 1946, I hitchhiked to make my first visit to Cornwall and the Wheelhouse where Sydney was living with Nessie Dunsmuir in what turned out to be a nest, or congeries, of ancient gipsy caravans. In a field across the way stood, or leant, a rickety one-man canvas bivouac inhabited by a fanatic disciple of Sydney's, equipped with portable typewriter and insupportable ego: a young lad of seventeen, buck-toothed, voluble, manic, shy: this was Jimmy Burns Singer.
   David Wright, 'W.S. Graham in the Forties'


The two poets had met first, according to Hugh MacDiarmid, 'in Glasgow, in the War years', when Singer, aged fifteen or sixteen, was a visitor to 'a house which at that time accommodated W.S. Graham the poet, Helen Biggar the sculptor, Robert Frame and Benny Creme, artists, and others' (Preface to The Collected Poems of Burns Singer, ed. W.A.S. Keir, Secker and Warburg, 1970). MacDiarmid notes that older figures tended to resent Singer's 'adolescent presumption', and records affectionately how on one occasion his wife, unable any longer to bear 'his time-consuming visits', had thrown him 'by the seat of his trousers' over the garden wall.

James Burns Singer (1928-64) was a prolific author, with, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a considerable reputation as poet and critic, as evidenced by his participation, alongside Donald Davie, John Holloway and Bernard Williams, in a radio debate on obscurity in poetry ('Dark Sayings', Third Programme, June 1957). His main publications are: Still ...


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