Tom Pickard

Author of "High on the Walls," "More Pricks Than Prizes," and others

Born in the north-east of England in 1946, Tom Pickard is one of the most accomplished English poets writing today. At the age of 17 Pickard discovered the modernist poet, Basil Bunting, living only ten miles away from his home city of Newcastle. Pickard became apprenticed to Bunting’s economic poetic style, and their friendship helped to draw the ex-poet out of his retirement, and Bunting later wrote his masterpiece, Briggflatts. Together with his first wife, Connie, Pickard set up a reading series at the Morden Tower in Newcastle, which hosted some of the most eminent poets of the day. Pickard became associated with the American avant-garde and poets of the Black Mountain School such as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Duncan. Robert Creeley said of Pickard’s first collection, High on the Walls, “[s]ong sings itself in these poems. Their heart is clarity, spoken. Why shouldn’t the heart follow—and the mind be the wonder of their witness? This is a great poetry made of such common life, each word a step along the way.” Pickard’s work has always been concerned with the natural and industrial life of his region; he has always been politically engaged and during the miner’s strike of 1972 he organised a “benefit weekend” of poetry readings. In the 1980s he would return to this interest as the writer and producer of a TV series and book, We Make Ships, on the Sunderland docks. Soon after moving to London in the 1970s he was accused of involvement in a drug deal and was only saved by the intervention of Bunting, who impressed the court as a character witness. An account of this appears in Pickard’s 2010 memoir, More Pricks Than Prizes. Shortly after his acquittal, Pickard moved to live with his second wife in Poland, where he witnessed the rise of the Polish trade union movement which would contribute to the end of Soviet rule. In recent years, following a move to a remote location in rural Cumbria, Pickard’s work has become increasingly concerned with nature and the pastoral: his sequence “Lark and Merlin” was published by Poetry magazine in 2010 and, later that year, awarded the Bess Hokin Prize. His 2007 book The Ballad of Jamie Allen was a finalist in the American National Book Circle Awards and was transformed into a folk opera by composer John Harle. Alex Niven has written that 'Hawthorn', the ballad which concludes the series, is “surely one of the finest English lyrics of the century thus far”. Pickard is a poet whose long writing life reflects the diversity of modern English poetry, avant-garde and regional, urban and pastoral, experimental and traditional.