‘The time is now, it can never be again; it is enough.’
Remembering Valley Press poet Nigel Gerrans, 1931–2021
I’m writing today with some sad news: Nigel Gerrans, the very first Valley Press author, passed away peacefully near Scarborough last week at the age of 90.
Nigel’s full and eclectic life included time spent as a teacher, a filmmaker and a priest, all of which found their way into his poetry, a hugely important pursuit from childhood onwards — we have published unforgettable Gerrans poems written at the ages of 17 (‘Night Express’), 77 (parts of his ‘Song Sequence’) and every decade in between.
When he eventually retired to Scarborough, Nigel became an important part of the local literary community, and was well-established there when I wandered in at the age of 20. He went on to play a crucial role in my development as an appreciator and editor of poetry, blessing me with his time, wisdom, expertise and — to fuel all this literary education — sandwiches, traditionally on a Sunday evening after finishing my shift at the local Waterstones. Although I was also an English Literature undergraduate at the time, I learnt as much about poetry on those evenings with Nigel as I did in the lecture hall; and a good deal more about life, with its many privileges, tragedies, triumphs and compromises.
The following year, Nigel handed over a selection of his life’s work to become my first serious publishing project, taking a chance on a publisher with no experience, contacts, or at that point even a logo — the resulting book, Tenebrae, was the first to feature the words “Valley Press” on the back cover. The influence this project had on everything that’s happened since is incalculable. The second Valley Press poet, Felix Hodcroft, offered me a chance to work on his poetry based on the successful publication of, and recommendation from, Nigel, which in turn attracted other early VP poets like Helen Burke, Jo Reed and Norah Hanson; the rest is history. (Felix went on to edit the definitive collection of Nigel’s poetry, It Is I Who Speak, in 2015.)
So, if you’re a Valley Press author yourself, or have enjoyed any of the books we’ve published over the past twelve years — which I would hope applies to most of you! — raise a glass to Nigel tomorrow afternoon, as we meet for his memorial service in Scarborough.
I will end with a poem, of course, avoiding the many excellent choices from the Gerrans canon that are a little too on-the-nose for these circumstances (like ‘Recessional’, which opens ‘The experiments of Time are done / and lessons learnt, a few’, or ‘Prodigy’ which provided the achingly beautiful and efficient words in the subject line). I ended up re-reading every word of Nigel’s Selected Poems while writing this; they remain some of the best I’ve ever worked on, and I suspect that will still be the case fifty years from now.
Meanwhile, life (and publishing) goes on, at an increasingly hectic pace, but with all our 2021 titles now at the printers, I should find time in the coming month to write to you about them. Until then, here’s wishing you a good week ahead, with enough time to read, to laugh, and to think.
Choral Evensong, Ash Wednesday, King’s College Chapel, 1997
Lighten my darkness,
Into the vaulted roof
The harmonies hang in the air
Now at last
Will you let me depart
It is ended.
The glory dissolves
Into the darkness
And is silent.
Down the nave.
But your voices
In the vault
Of my memory,
O the tears,
The tears at the heart of things.