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Derrick Porter, Poet Of Hoxton

July 26, 2015
by the gentle author

Derrick Porter

This is the gentle face of Derrick Porter, craggy and wise, framed by snowy hair and punctuated with a pair of sharp eyes that reveal a hint of his imaginative capacity. Standing against a rural backdrop upon the banks of the river Ching in Essex not far from High Beach where John Clare was confined, Derrick looks every inch an English poet and he is quick to admit his love of nature. Yet, although he acquired an affection for the countryside at an early age and Chingford is his place of residence, the focus of Derrick’s literary landscape and centre of his personal universe is his place of origin – Hoxton.

“It was a place we all wanted to get out of - it was a tough place to live,” Derrick confessed to me, recalling his childhood, ”but the the culture of Hoxton and that era was my imaginative education.”

“My interest in literature stems from spending so many years in hospital up to the age of thirteen and they used to read to us – I looked forward to it so much, I learnt to love reading stories,” he confided, explaining that he suffered from tuberculosis as a child and was exiled from London for long stretches in hospitals. “They made us stay out in the fresh air which was the worst possible thing because it actually helped the germs to flourish, when the foggy atmosphere of London was much more beneficial to sufferers – but they didn’t understand that in those days.

My dad worked at the Daily Mail as a printer and my mum was a housewife, but I never saw him until I was six when he returned from the war. He had been captured by the Japanese and was held in a prisoner of war camp. At first, they sent him to America which was where they kept them to build them up again before they came home.

Before the age of ten years old, I lived in a prefab in Vince St next to the Old St roundabout and then we moved to Fairchild House in Fanshawe St. The prefabs were made of asbestos without any insulation and were very cold in winter. As children, we used to break off pieces of asbestos and throw them on to the bonfire to watch them explode. Maybe that affected my health? We had free rein then and we played in the old bombed buildings at the back of Moorgate – that was our playground.

At thirteen, I had an operation to have half of my lung removed and they told my mother that they didn’t know if I would recover. From then on, I took care of my own health and I became a fitness and health junkie. When I left school I thought I’d like to go back to the countryside and, when the teacher asked my ambition, I said, ‘I’m going to work on a farm,’ he told me, ‘You won’t find many in ‘Oxton, Porter.’ My father got me a job as in the general printing trade but it did my lungs in.

I always had this compulsion to get away from Hoxton and write. So I decided to emigrate to Australia on my own. I knew I had to get away. I was nineteen when I went for two years. I was engaged to be married but I broke the engagement and emigrated. I went to writing workshops in Australia and my earliest poems were written while I was there. I got a job as a printer on the Sydney Morning Herald. At first, they told me I couldn’t get a job without a union card, but then there was a bit of skullduggery. They took pity on me and, when I got a job, they gave me a card.

After that, I travelled in the USA with this small bag of my poems. Then, in Las Vegas, I stayed in this $1-a-night fleapit for three nights while I was waiting for the coach to take me to Los Angeles. Twenty minutes after I had boarded the bus, I realised I had left my bag behind with all the poems I had written in the previous two years. I cried, I felt so dismayed. It was a significant loss.

On my return, I moved into Langbourne Buildings off Leonard St in Shoreditch. I was surrounded by my friends and family and this was where I first joined a writing group. It was in Dalston and I started to write regularly. After seven years, I began to write some decent poems and then I read in the Hackney Gazette about Centreprise Literary Trust. So I went along there and met Ken Worpole, and gave him some of my poems. Then he got back in touch and said he’d like to publish them, and that was the first work I ever had in print.

By now I was twenty-nine and married with two young children, and we were offered the opportunity of swapping our flat for a house in Orpington. It was a fabulous house with a garden and we couldn’t refuse, but the rent was three times the price. We lived there for thirty-odd years and my poetry developed, I became a member of the Poetry Society and had my works published in magazines, although I rarely send my poems out because I always think I can do better.

I bought paintings from D & J Simons & Sons Ltd, picture frame and moulding makers, in the Hackney Rd and, when I moved to Orpington, I bought all their ‘second’ picture frames off them and sold them there. I started working for myself, buying reproduction furniture and selling it in Orpington Village Hall and I earned a living from that for twenty years. But all the time I was writing, writing and I had a lot of encouragement from people.

I rework my poems a lot because I’d rather have one good one than a lot of mediocre ones. I have written a lot of poems and discarded most of them because I’d rather just keep my best. I love letter writing and I believe it can be an art if it is done well. As long as I live, I’ll carry on writing.”

Writing has always been at the centre of Derrick Porter’s life and, now in his seventies, he is to publish his first collection of poetry entitled Voices of Hoxton, from which I reprint three poems below.

Derrick and his childhood friend Roy Wild on the steps of the eighteenth century house in Charles Sq where they played as children

.

Sitting Under a Tree in Charles Square

.

The clear urgency of the voice caused me

to look up, my finger marking the place

in the newspaper I was then reading…

.

How old do you think this tree is? it asked.

I said it was here when I was a boy.

Well, it won’t be for much longer, it said.

.

The owner of the voice began to circle

the tree before running his hands over

the gnarled trunk as if in search of a precise spot.

.

From under his coat appeared a long-handled axe.

It would be better if you moved, he said.

But not before the tree had endured

.

several blows…and a large, older woman, shouted

Are we to suffer this nonsense again?

Come home and do something useful for once.

.

Instantly the attack ceased and – without

another word passing between them – his steps

quickened to reach, if not overtake, the other.

.

My thumb then lifted from the newspaper

returning my eye to the Middle East

where, as yet, no allaying voice can be heard.

.

Derrick standing outside the flat at Fairchild House in Fanshawe St where he grew up

.

Derby Day in Fairchild House

.

Walking along our third floor balcony

I can see – before I enter the door – the piano

blocking the view into our living room.

You are watching the TV, circling horses

in The Sporting Life as John Rickman

calls home another of those certainties

you always said you should have backed.

.

From the kitchen the clang of pots

tells me it’s a Friday and mum’s busy

preparing a stew. A day perhaps

when sand had been kicked into my face

and I’d come home to pump iron.

If so, my bedroom door will be locked

and I’ll be lifting sand-filled-petrol-cans

hung along an old broom handle.

.

It’s also possible it’s the evening

of the Pitfield Institute’s Weight-Lifting final

when I won my only trophy. Or the day

cash went missing and I bought my first watch.

But as I turn the key and enter the door

I want it to be the day when even

the piano joined in…and Gordon Richards

rode Pinza to victory in the Derby.

.

.

The Apprentice

.

When Mr Hounslow asked the class what jobs

we had in mind, I answered,

Working on a farm, sir. “You won’t find many

in Hoxton” the reply. Come summer

I started work for a musical instrument

supplier in Paul Street, close to the old Victorian

Fire Station later re-sited in Old Street.

For one day a week I was promoted

to van boy and helped deliver to the likes

of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho,

a world far removed from that of Hoxton.

Here I saw the upbeat side of the business,

the posh shiny part that could open doors

if you had the right kind of connections.

.

After a year working with men who enjoyed

nothing better than to send the new boys out

to buy rubber nails and glass hammers,

if never themselves discovering who put

the mouse droppings into their biscuit tin,

I began to question where I was heading.

That summer – while on holiday in Ostend

with the Lion Club – my dad handed in

my notice…and when I returned, was told

I had to start work in the Printing Trade.

Its every aspect – machinery, ink, oil,

noise and dust, the very air – a sort of

road taken, as old Hounslow might have said,

for there being no farms in Hoxton.

.

Derrick Porter at Fairchild House, Hoxton

Poems copyright © Derrick Porter

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. July 26, 2015

    I like Derrick’s poetry, he’s good. Valerie

  2. Cathleen Willoughby permalink
    July 26, 2015

    Very interesting life.
    My father was also a POW in Japan. He never spoke of it. He couldn’t.

  3. July 26, 2015

    very good. I don’t usually like poems. I enjoyed all of them. The first one is most suprising. Thank you

  4. July 26, 2015

    Honest, clear-eyed, unsentimental yet evocative poems. Imagine coming back from a holiday to find your father had handed in your notice and found you a new job? One that was bad for your health.

    I liked the structures too.

  5. July 26, 2015

    Beatiful poems, very evocative. Thank you for sharing.

  6. John Williams permalink
    July 30, 2015

    Always knew you was good I remember reading one about cats when we lived in langbourne blds and working now and then on the same news paper keep well Derek keep writing luv from your ole cuz John x

  7. Roy Wild permalink
    July 31, 2015

    I am proud to have such a talented life long friend!!

  8. August 1, 2015

    Oh, how I wish this post
    will reach out its tree like branches
    to kindly holder of battered bag
    which stayed in Vegas

  9. Terry maher permalink
    August 1, 2015

    My lovely uncle Derrick… very proud of you x

  10. Andrew Taylor permalink
    November 2, 2015

    good to bump into you on the virtual street as I start to walk out myself. Well done old friend, dear mentor and literary strongman. I always think of you lifting the words, feeling their weights, readying your voice and releasing its compounds of cockney gravitas and jazzily reflected light, discovering your own language amongst our wreckage … Hope to compare notes soon, Andrew Taylor (Borrie)

  11. November 6, 2015

    May you prosper dear brother as I know how much this all means to you.

  12. Sonia Jarema permalink
    March 5, 2016

    What a lovely post! Love your poems Derrick Porter – you are a diamond in the poetry world. xx

  13. Danny bodle permalink
    January 7, 2017

    Derrick you are an inspiration and a special man also my dear uncle x

  14. David Gray permalink
    February 28, 2017

    I love your poems as much as I loved our morning chats over tea and toast back in Orpington
    I was pretty low in the water back then, you helped give me the confidence and self belief to rise above feelings of failure and heartache. I still have that letter you wrote me. All power to you Derrick you are one of a kind.

  15. Tyra permalink
    March 31, 2017

    My inspirational granddad. What beautiful, emotive poems you write.
    Discovering this page, has reminded me how very respectful of you that I am.
    I know you’ll become famous, obviously, because you have me as your granddaughter ;)
    Love you, keep making us grandkids (and your whole family) proud.

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