Today we skip across the Pond to include a poet quite unknown over here but who has established herself in England by virtue of a wild, willful, and defiantly sexual life, all of which she recorded faithfully and without flinching in a lifetime of poetry. Under the pen name Val Kirkham she published The Collected Works in 2008 which encompasses 11 short chapbooks self-published from the time she was a struggling young single mother to her reflective maturity as a full time writer in Lancashire.
I encountered her through her real, not so secret identity, Geraldine Murfin-Shaw, a far distant kinswoman, through the tireless genealogical efforts of Ed Murfin, whose stated mission is to get all of the far flung Murfins across the globe in contact.
Geraldine proved to be a true delight, a blithe and indomitable spirit. Growing up in Yorkshire she became an embodiment of swinging England in the ‘60’s, reveling in sexual freedom and entirely frank about it—a lifelong trait. She will not mince words about sex, its joys and peccadilloes spelled out frankly in real world language. Not for her the genteel masks of literary devices to hint at glorious hedonism. In ever repressed America—no matter how swamped in cheap pornography we are—her frankness will startle even sophisticated readers. She would have it no other way.
Trailing lovers and four husbands, she raised two children alone and returned to college in her 30s. Becoming an accomplished chef, she took jobs as far flung as at a zoo, an island resort, a medieval castle, and even an American college. That led to the publications of cook books in which tales intertwined with the recipes.
In her middle years she took up an interest in witchcraft, traditional Celtic/Druid religion and what we sometimes dismiss as the occult. That infused a new richness into her work, as did a bent toward history and scholarship, including tackling translations from Latin sources.
In the ‘80’s she established herself as a performance poet appearing mostly in the Northwest of England and also featured on the BBC. Her readings were lively, shocking, controversial, and evidently quite entertaining wining her a devoted following. The editor of Lancashire Life called her “the predatory sexual voice cruising in the fast lane of poetry.”
These days she lives singly with her beloved dog, tends her garden, watches out for her nearby aged mother and continues to write. More cook books and new material are in the pipeline. Her more recent books are published under her current name Geraldine Murfin-Shaw. Part 1 of her autobiography has been published and part 2 being written now.
Americans can find copies of The Collected Works and other books under both names can be found on Amazon.com and other sources. I recommend it.
For a sample of what she does and is up to visit her web page, The life, loves and literature of Geraldine Murfin-Shaw.
There was a lot to choose from, and I was sorely tempted to give you a full-on blast of her wanton sexuality, but I was utterly charmed by this piece. We’ll save the bawdy stuff for a return engagement.