Derrick Porter’s Voices Of Hoxton
It is my great pleasure to announce that Derrick Porter’s impressive debut collection of poetry Voices of Hoxton is published this week. Click here to order a copy. Hear Derrick read this Friday 13th November at the launch at Peer Gallery, 97-99 Hoxton St, N1 6QL from 6:30pm.
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.”
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.
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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