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Cliff Ashby (1919 - 2012)

Cliff Ashby
Books by this author: Lies and Dreams Plain Song
  • About
  • Cliff Ashby published four poetry collections and two novels in his lifetime. His collected poems, Plain Song (1985), contains the best work from his earlier volumes and includes several previously unpublished poems. 

    Born in Norfolk in 1919, Cliff Ashby left school at 14 and moved to Leeds to become a window-dresser. During the Second World War he was registered as a consciencious objector on the condition that he undertake agricultural work, which introduced him to several poets and artists. He spent years as a dairyman before moving into clerical work, living in Yorkshire and London, until he began to gain recognition as a poet through X magazine. His first poetry collection, In the Vulgar Tongue, was published in 1968 and was followed by two novels, The Old Old Story and Howe and Why, both published in 1969. 

    The Dogs of Dewsbury (1976) and Lies and Dreams (1980) confirmed Ashby’s place among the foremost British poets of his generation, despite being relatively little-known. Martin Seymore-Smith in his 1975 Guide to World Literature, described Cliff Ashby as ‘probably the most powerful, spare poet of his generation; recognition of his genius cannot be much longer delayed.’

    PN Review has featured six contributionsof Cliff Ashby’s poetry over a period of 30 years, from Latter Day Psalms in 1976, through to Two Poems in 2006.

    Ashby’s final collection, A Few Late Flowers (2008) was published in his 89th year and was hailed by poet Robert Nye as ‘the bittersweet distillation of a lifetime's experience’. It is a swansong that encompasses his trademark dour humour, vivid cynicism and his concern with creating a tangible sense of our common isolation. His disenchantment with modern existence is deeply compelling and casts a scathing reflection on the world of the intensely respectable petty-bourgeois. 

    Cliff Ashby died on 30th April 2012 aged 92. 

    'Ashby is hardly yet a household name, but he ought to be, at least among those who care for poetry' - The Scotsman, 2008
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