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SORRY I MISSED YOU
(or ‘Huddersfield the Second Poetry Capital of England Re-visited’)



What was it Janice Simmons said to me as James lay dying in Ireland?

“Phone Peter Pegnall in Leeds, an ex-pupil of Jimmy’s.
He’s organising

A benefit reading, he’d love to hear from you and have your help.




‘Like hell he would’ I thought but I phoned him all the same

At his converted farmhouse at Barswill, a Lecturer in Creative Writing

At the uni.
But what’s he written, I wondered, apart from his CV?



“Well I am organising a reading but only for the big people, you understand,

Hardman, Harrison, Doughty, Duhig, Basher O’Brien, you know the kind,

The ones that count, the ones I owe my job to.


We nattered on and on until by way of adieu I read the final couplet

Of my Goodbye poem, the lines about ‘One Leeds Jimmy who could fix the world’s.


Duhigs once and for all/Write them into the ground and still have a hundred

Lyrics in his quiver.




Pete Stifled a cough which dipped into a gurgle and sank into a mire

Of strangulated affect which almost became a convulsion until finally

He shrieked, “I have to go, the cat’s under the Christmas tree, ripping

Open all the presents, the central heating boiler’s on the blink,

The house is on fucking fire!”



So I was left with the offer of being raffle-ticket tout as a special favour,

Some recompense for giving over two entire newsletters to Jimmy’s work:

The words of the letter before his stroke still burned.
“I don’t know why

They omitted me, Armitage and Harrison were my best mates once.
You and I

Must meet.




A whole year’s silence until the card with its cryptic message

‘Jimmy’s recovering slowly but better than expected’.




I never heard from Pegnall about the reading, the pamphlets he asked for

Went unacknowledged.
Whalebone, the fellow-tutor he commended, also stayed silent.


Had the event been cancelled? Happening to be in Huddersfield on Good Friday

I staggered up three flights of stone steps in the Byram Arcade to the Poetry Business

Where, next to the ‘closed’ sign an out-of-date poster announced the reading in Leeds

At a date long gone.




I peered through the slats at empty desks, at brimming racks of books,

At overflowing bin-bags and the yellowing poster.
Desperately I tried to remember

What Janice had said.
“We were sat up in bed, planning to take the children

For a walk when Jimmy stopped looking at me, the pupils of his eyes rolled sideways,

His head lolled and he keeled over.


The title of the reading was from Jimmy’s best collection

‘With Energy To Burn’

with energy to burn.
Written by: Barry Tebb