William Oxley – a poet who celebrated more than the surface of things

william oxley side view[1653]William Oxley, our friend and a veteran of Rockingham Press – see the Stock List – died on 4 February 2020. Here his fellow poet, Danielle Hope, pays tribute to a multi-talented friend of literature.

The poet, writer, literary commentator and philosopher, William Oxley, who has died aged 80, dedicated his life to literature, literary magazines, festivals and reviewing, kindling a rebellion towards writing that celebrated more than the surface of things and co-founding the ‘vitalist’ movement in poetry.

Having spent some years helping Norman Hidden, then Chairman of the Poetry Society, with his poetry workshops in the Dryden Room in the Lamb & Flag and the Society’s magazine, Oxley, in 1972, founded the magazine Littack (Literature Attack). The first issue set out the manifesto of Littack, to ‘defend critical intelligence’, ‘standards in literature’, ‘free speech’ and the ‘offensive for poetry’. The magazine rejected the idea that ‘the state is something men serve, rather than vice versa’, and that ‘money justifies’, a poke at the Arts Council.

Subsequent issues, and its supplements, running until 1980, brought attention to eclectic voices such as Hugh MacDiarmid, Kathleen Raine, James Kirkup, Lotte Kramer, Anthony L Johnson, Peter Russell, Robert Graves, John Heath Stubbs, Glady Mary Coles, Brian Louis Pearce, D.M. Thomas, Ann Ward, Jenny Joseph, Cecily Lambert. Spoof letters fuelled the controversy – for example, from Len Inn, Transportation House, which accused the magazine of inciting a strike at the Wigan Pier Strut Factory. Littack also took a broader international sweep to literature than was common at the time, for example interviewing and including the poetry of Eugenio Montale – shortly before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Oxley supported many other magazines and poetry endeavours. He edited the magazines New Headland (1969–74), Laissez Faire (1971–75), Orbis (1972–74), Village Review (1973–74), Poetry Newsletter (1976–78), and Lapis Lazuli (1977–78). In 1985 he became the hon. treasurer, reviews editor and then interviews editor of the new literary journal, Acumen, edited by Patricia Oxley and in 1995, co-founded with Sebastian Barker The Long Poem Group Newsletter. In 1990, he became a member of the General Council of the Poetry Society and, with Alan Brownjohn and others, opposed the society’s move from Earl’s Court Square and the sale of its stunning Georgian building. In 2000 he spent a year as The Poet Laureate of Torbay, encouraging poetry in that area, and in 2001 co-founded, with Patricia Oxley, John Miles, Danny Pyle and others, the Torbay Festival of Poetry, which ran until 2019.

Oxley wrote extensively, resulting in 23 poetry books or chapbooks, culminating in his Collected and New Poems, (Rockingham Press, 2014), plus four books of poetry translations or co-translations, 15 other publications, including of criticism, plays, a poet’s notebook, correspondence with his father, and an autobiography. His work has been included in multiple anthologies, broadcasts, newspapers and magazines including: The Independent, New York Times, The Scotsman, London Magazine, Stand, The Spectator, and The Observer.

His poetry is widely admired for its powerful visionary lyricism, whether dealing with life, love, intense poems of place and landscape, intimations of eternity or paradise, or a combination of all these. For example, In the Drift of Words (1992, Rockingham) and London Visions (2004, bluechrone) takes us around streets, snack bars, stations, parks and ponds, and praises bus stops; Walking Sequence and other poems (2015, Indigo Dreams) travels the coastal and river paths, cliffs and coves in South Devon. The Hallsands Tragedy (1993, Westwords) evokes the voices and lives of Hallsands, Devon, a fishing village destroyed by coastal erosion and dredging from the bay.

Oxley was also skilled with wit and comic timing. His longer poems, although less well known, were praised for their ability to tackle major ideas through strong form, narrative and discursive idioms. Oxley’s long poem The Playboy (1992, Salzburg University), almost a political thriller, explored materialism’s implications; its ironic dialogue and perceptive character sketches make it both readable and thought provoking. Salzburg University published a collection of his major long poems in 1994.

Born in Manchester in 1939, at the age of five Oxley suffered three years in and out of hospital with severe illnesses, including rheumatic fever and its complications, which handicapped his education. He became an office boy in Salford when he was 16, and then an articled clerk, eventually qualifying as a chartered accountant. He moved with his wife Patricia to London in 1964, first to Kentish Town and then Epping. Later in 1976 the family moved to Brixham, Devon, where Oxley lived until his death, although with excursions and periods in Nepal, Montreal, Salzburg, around Ireland and back in London

William Oxley loved life, family, friends and celebrated it to the full, as he wrote:

To be loved

To be loved by someone
that is the tremendous, the great thing,
loved not just for body, shape,
for that easy, flesh-tint,
eye-sparkle and the run of smiles,
but – O such trust! – for one’s nature
mind, spirit and crumpled character.

To be loved, it is like
looking into the heart of the sun
and not going blind. O love,
	thank you.

He is survived by his wife, Patricia, his daughters Elizabeth and Kate, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. William Oxley, poet, writer, philosopher, born 29 April 1939, died 4 February 2020.



The Last Walk of Giovanni Pascoli, translated by Danielle Hope, goes from strength to strength.  A crowded London launch in early October was followed by Danielle’s well-received slide and audio accompanied reading at the final Torbay Poetry Festival.  Already there have been reviews in Acumen 95 and London Grip, as well as Kathleen McPhilemy comparing Pascoli (in Danielle’s translation) to ‘Why Brownlee Left’ by Paul Muldoon (https://kmcpoetry.blog/).

The Last Walk – a dual language book – is a subtle and beguiling sequence of poems about rural life, sometimes compared to the poems of AE Housman or Robert Frost. The book is illustrated with vignettes of rural life by Frances Wilson, who also designed the cover.


Paperback £9.99 ISBN 978-1-904851-776

POST FREE – Send order and cheque to Rockingham Press, 11 Musley Lane, Ware SG12 7EN or go to Inpress : https://inpressbooks.co.uk/collections/rockingham-press-1 – where you will find nearly all of our titles.



Beautiful Contraptions

Beautiful Contraptions is the second collection from us by John Godfrey.  As readers of his earlier book, The Man on Crewe Station, will know, John is a former railway man – in management – but the new work opens up the surprising world of ‘contraptions’ old and new, and the people who devised them.           ‘John Godfrey is one of those writers who has the trick of launching the reader straight into the otherworld of poetry, with no preambling waffle, where the switch goes on directly, and off we go.’ – Christopher J.P. Smith in Acumen 73.

Paperback      £9.99      ISBN 978-1-904851-752

NOW AVAILABLE POST FREE – Send order and cheque to Rockingham Press, 11 Musley Lane, Ware SG12 7EN


Dancing Against


Dancing Against the Wind is a first collection from Penny Dopson, who has four children and seven grandchildren. She is interested in people, the past, gardening, travelling and Sixties Music. The collection is dedicated to her family and to two poetry friends and mentors – Wendy Bowker and Frances Wilson who designed the cover.

Paperback      £9.99      ISBN 978-1-904851-769

NOW AVAILABLE POST FREE – Send order and cheque to Rockingham Press, 11 Musley Lane, Ware SG12 7EN






9781904851707The Crocus King tells the story of one of the great gardeners of the Twentieth Century – E.A. Bowles or ‘Gussie’ as his friends and admirers called him.  The propagator of hundreds of plants still cherished today – particularly crocuses – he asked in his will that his garden at Myddelton House, Enfield, should remain as he left it in 1954.  But it is only recently that his wish has come true and his garden has been revitalised, due mainly to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  This expanded edition of the Bowles’ biography tells the story of the new and popular gardens – with a new Foreword by Gussie’s great-nephew, Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles.

Paperback      £9.99       ISBN 978-1-904851-707

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