by Phil Kirby
Published 1st November 2009
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Phil Kirby was born in 1958 in Chingford, on the border between London and Epping Forest. He worked in the family business as a carpenter and joiner before
studying English and Education at St.Paul’s & St.Mary’s College, Cheltenham, and becoming a teacher. Subsequently he worked in Essex, Kent, Derbys, Notts and Wilts, briefly left teaching in 1994, and soon after won an East Midlands Arts bursary.
Phil ran Waldean Press between 1994-2000, through which two pamphlets,‘Third Person Gossip’ and ‘Of Silent Houses’ were published.He also taught many adult writing classes through the WEA. Shoestring Press published his third pamphlet ‘A Bowl of Sky’ in 1997. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Tetbury, Glos. and, despite all efforts, is still unable to stop being a teacher.
Phil Kirby writes tenderly and skilfully to construct small but telling glimpses of human experience. Poems with wistful titles like ‘What we have come to’ present fresh views of not-uncommon family situations, successfully avoiding potential clichés. Yet sometimes he ventures into much more unexpected territory – such as a monologue by the wife of a would-be kamikaze pilot. His poems are often poised on thresholds and window-sills or at moments of change and departure; and they look out towards a ‘there’ of new hopes and uncertainties while also musing on the past securities or old regrets that are still ‘here’. Kirby shows warmth and understanding for the human condition and he has a sure touch with his material, using careful understated images to convey private emotion with economy and clarity. Someone facing sudden loneliness observes ‘Beyond a hedge signals change / and I don’t know what they mean …’ A flashback memory of childhood cruelty recalls a “gritty execution appalling in its thrill”. Such writing seems personal yet leaves room for the reader’s own imagination. Kirby has a sharp eye and ear for his surroundings: windfalls are ‘like rounded embers’; and fighter jets ‘shake this metal sheet of sky’.
His observant verbal craft is shown to particularly good advantage in several poems based on Edward Hopper paintings. Indeed many of his poems possess a Hopper-like quality that might be called “specific universality” which offers a precise image while still allowing space for the reader to fill in missing pieces of the story.
Copyright © 2009 Arrowhead Press
Last modified: 19 December 2009