Flowers and Insects, some Birds and a Pair of Spiders, Faber, 1986

“Who was Norman Nicholson to whom the poem ‘Tern: for Norman Nicholson’ (THCP 720) is dedicated?”

‘Tern’ was first published without the dedication by The Scolar Press in 1980 as part of a limited edition portfolio of manuscript poems by Ted Hughes accompanied by original water-colours by Leonard Baskin. It was published again in a limited edition by Baskin’s Gehenna Press in A Primer of Birds in 1981; then in 1984 it appeared in the limited edition book, Between Comets: For Norman Nicholson at Seventy, edited by William Scammel (TAXVS), which also contained poems by Seamus Heaney, R.S Thomas, Melvyn Bragg, and others. In 1986, it was collected in Flowers and Insects (Faber), where it is accompanied by Baskin’s water-colour illustration.

Norman Nicholson (8 January 1914 - 30 May 1987) was one of the select band of ‘Faber Poets’. His writing career began in the 1930s. As well as being a poet, he was a well-known broadcaster and public speaker. He lived for most of his life in Millom, in West Cumbria, and he is best remembered for his mature poetry which celebrates this part of England. His poem, ‘Windscale’, which was written at the time of the fire and release of radioactive material at the nuclear reactor at Windscale (Sellafield) in 1957, is still much admired by anti-nuclear activists. In 1997, he was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry; and in 1981 he was awarded an OBE.

Norman Nicholson was a school-friend of John Fisher (1914-80), with whom he remained in touch all his life. John Fisher was Ted Hughes’ English teacher at Mexborough Grammar School from 5th form onwards and Hughes regarded him as being one of the major influences on his early writing of poetry. Hughes credited Fisher with aiding his admission to Cambridge University by sending a selection of his poems to Pembroke College, and he remained in touch with him and his family for the rest of his life.

For more information about Norman Nicholson, his life and his poetry, see David Boyd’s essay “Verse rooted like a Tree”: The Cumbrian Poetry of Norman Nicholson at, Spring 2008; and his review of Nicholson’s Wednesday Early Closing in Poetry Week, May 9, 2009.

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