During World War II he was a conscientious objector, and worked for the Forestry Commission and on the land in the Yorkshire Dales and at the Lansbury Gate Farm, Clavering, Essex. He taught at The Downs School in Colwall, Malvern, where W.H. Auden had earlier been a master. Kirkup wrote his first book of poetry, The Drowned Sailor at the Downs, which was published in 1947. 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. Moving on 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. In Japan, he found acceptance and appreciation of his work, and he settled there for 30 years, lecturing in English literature at several universities.
After 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 artefacts 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 a 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, notably 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.
Poet Could Not But Be Gay: Some Legends of my Lost Youth by James Kirkup
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Peter Owen Ltd; First Edition edition (December 31, 1991)
Amazon: Poet Could Not But Be Gay: Some Legends of my Lost Youth
Moving and humorous as well as uninhibited in its homo-erotic exposures, this recounts the author's disaffections with England and subsequent experiences in Sweden and then in Spain, where he falls passionately in love with a young American man. Kirkup is a distinguished poet who has spent much of his life teaching in Japan. It is the idea of the homosexual, like the poet, seeking impossible beauty in dark places that is at the core of this funny and sometimes painful work."" - Sunday Times.
Me All Over: Memoirs of A Misfit by James Kirkup
Hardcover: 239 pages
Publisher: Peter Owen Ltd; 1ST edition (July 6, 1994)
Amazon: Me All Over: Memoirs of A Misfit
In this further volume of autobiography, the poet leaves England in the late 1950s when his affair with a young man ends. To escape loneliness he accepts an invitation to teach English literature in Japan and begins a long and passionate love/hate relationship with that country. After two years he feels impelled to leave and travels to Vienna and then Malaysia, returning to Japan again to accept a post at the Japan Women's University. Kirkup sketches brilliant, idiosyncratic impressions about his travels and includes anecdotes and insights about many well-known writers Simone de Beauvoir, E.M. Forster, D.J. Enright, Bertrand Russell, and Jean-Paul Sartre, among others. Lively and witty."" - Publishers Weekly.
Queens Have Died Young and Fair:: A Fable of the Immediate Future by James Kirkup
Hardcover: 175 pages
Publisher: Peter Owen Ltd (June 8, 1994)
Amazon: Queens Have Died Young and Fair:: A Fable of the Immediate Future
Kirkup's latest novel is a racily written, satirical, bisexual romp through outerspace, set in the near future against a backdrop of AIDS. A crazy plot of increasingly comic confusion, with gory deaths and multiple murders by a serial killer. Gloxinia, Kevin de Boys, Mad Mad Middlesex, and Ethelred Wheeler are a few of the misfits.
A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages by Matt Cook, Robert Mills, Randolph Trumbach & H.G. Cocks
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Praeger (June 30, 2007)
Amazon: A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages
The book explores the changing ways in which male-male sex and love have been perceived and experienced from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the present. Celebrated figures, such as Richard Lionheart, whose love for Philip Augustus of France was so well-documented, Oscar Wilde, gubject of the most explosive scandal of the Victorian period, and Derek Jarman, the great artist and chronicler of the age of AIDS, are examined alongside little-known figures: Eleanor/John Rykener, a cross-dresser in Chaucer's England, the mollies of eighteenth-century London, the habituants of underground gay bars and cafes in 1930s Manchester and Brighton, and the newly-confident gays of contemporary Britain, who marry, adopt children and command the increasingly powerful 'pink pound'. Drawing on a fabulous wealth of research, the authors - each an expert in his field - have worked closely together to deliver a powerful, highly-readable and eye-opening history of love and desire between men in Britain.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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