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'Warts and all' poet visits town

PUBLISHED: 10:00 21 May 2010 | UPDATED: 09:43 01 August 2010

DARK, gritty, and controversial though it may be, the poetry of London writer Paul Birtill struck a chord with the basic adult literacy class held at Beccles Library.

DARK, gritty, and controversial though it may be, the poetry of London writer Paul Birtill struck a chord with the basic adult literacy class held at Beccles Library.

And after hearing how much they loved his work, the hard-living poet agreed to come and meet them at a packed event on Tuesday evening.

Mr Birtill, a heavy drinker and smoker, is well-known for exploring the rougher side of life in his poems. He came to the attentions of national papers when a play he had written for Radio 4 was dropped for being “too creepy.”

But it was this unflinching, raw style that fascinated the group.

Stuart Crawford, a member of the class, randomly picked his work off the shelf and was impressed by what he read.

“It's my sort of humour,” said Mr Crawford, of Bungay, who then introduced the poetry to his fellow students. “He just takes up things that a lot of other people would shy away from. But he's doing it in a way that just made me chuckle. It's not like the poetry that you were studying at school- it's got an edge to it.”

The basic literacy class is run by the Suffolk Community Education group and is taught by Caroline Norton, who also has a class in Lowestoft. After seeing the effect it had had in Beccles, she introduced his poetry to her Lowestoft group, who also loved it.

The Lowestoft group wrote Mr Birtill a letter expressing their appreciation, which took them three lessons to write, describing his poetry as “subtle, serious but funny” with “warts and all.”

The letter made such an impression on Mr Birtill that he agreed to come and speak in Beccles.

At the event at the library Mr Birtill read from his new book, Collective Poems 1987- 2010, and held a question and answer session where he talked about intimate subjects such as his childhood.

“Everyone seemed to really enjoy it,” said Stephen Amer, the new manager at Beccles Library. “Several people were quite moved. He's quite a fascinating guy in every sense.”

Mr Amer said that the poetry's short length had helped attract the group to Mr Birtill's work, as well as the realistic content that deals with subjects such as cancer, death, and heavy drinking.

“People who had been through a divorce or a violent relationship could relate to that in his work,” said Mr Amer. “It's not just accessible in the way it's set out but also the subject matter. It would be nice to think they would use that as a spur to find something else that might be a bit more challenging.”

Mr Birtill's new book Collective Poems 1987- 2010 is available from Bookthrift.

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