Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bob Beagrie - Poet, tutor, Literature Development Worker

Bob Beagrie is another example of a poet / writer who came through the work of Outlet in various ways and went on to make an outstanding contribution to the local writing scene himself.

Bob Beagrie needs no introduction to those on the present Creative Writing scene in the Tees Valley or even the North East or even nationally / internationally to an extent. However, it's not so well known how Bob started out and it maybe a surprise to some to realise that once Bob was relatively isolated as a local writer like so many others.

Bob was a friend of Middlesbrough poet P.A. Morbid, probably one of the most innovative poets that contributed work to Outlet and although Morbid's work a bit out of the box for some of the editors, I felt Morbid's work, while a bit disturbing in places, was amazingly inventive and exciting. There was something of a Jim Morrison about him, something punk and rock n roll with something all of its own.

I was tutoring  a WEA Creative Writing class at Berwick Hills Library and Morbid had 'threatened' to turn up. I'd never met Morbid at that stage and didn't know what to expect - I was thinking of leather jackets, chains and punk hairstyle. Quite different to the average WEA Writing student. Later when I met Morbid, his visual image was quite different to that imagined but still a fine poet although his style of writing has changed again.

Morbid never turned up to my class but on the bus there I noticed a young man with a long 50's style coat and John Lennon glasses. That will be Morbid, I thought! I was looking out for anyone who looked different going in the same direction. Sure enough he got off at the same stop and made for the library. I stopped off to talk to the librarian about various practical things and went into the room. It was probably one of the few of my classes that didn't recruit the required number. The term before we had had a full class but there were only a few and this young man was one of them.

"You're probably thinking I'm Morbid" he said (or something like that!). He was a good mate of Morbid and had heard of the class through his contact with Outlet. He introduced himself as David Beagrie - later to be known as Bob Beagrie and as the class didn't have the minimum number of students to run I directed him to one I was tutoring in Guisborough which he attended.

As they had bothered to turn up I did a session with the group and did a one to one with Bob. Bob was different to the other students in not only looks but in attitude. He took notes, asked a lot of questions and seemed to have a thirst for knowledge. He came from a working class estate and little of no qualifications at 21 but I was highly impressed with what he'd achieved already as a writer and he clearly wanted to build on it and that's why he was there. Well, as Elvis would say  - he'd come to the right place! Bob had written sci-fi / horror novel which was being read by a publisher and had got on the Enterprise scheme as a writer and so was clearly determined to be a professional writer. I had to consider how I could help him, given he was way ahead of the many other students who came to classes.

Bob said " Where can I go from the class?" Given his enthusiasm and initiative so far, I thought the degree course in Art and Creative Writing at the University of Crewe Alsager would be the right progression route for Bob. I wouldn't have suggested to many of the other students at such an early stage but Bob seemed up for a challenge and it seemed to me he had what it would take. Crewe Alsager was one of the few Universities (along with East Anglia Uni) that did Creative Writing either as a BA or MA. (and given that Bob was instrumental in achieving and teaches on the MA in Creative Writing at Teesside University today - you can see the significance here). Bob agreed that was the way forward for him after we looked at the prospectus. It was another year before he'd get in so I suggested Bob come to the Guisborough class and get involved with Outlet and Write Around committees meanwhile and from that I'd be able to give him a reference to help him get in at Crewe Alsager.

Parallel Universe - drawing by John McGowan

Over the year (1989) Bob followed the plan and became an editor of Outlet, contributing poetry, writing a column and became publicity secretary for the Write Around committee. His first press release for Write Around hit the papers and Bob made other valuable contributions to Write Around in it's first year. I involved Bob in a performance poetry night I was organising for Write Around in Saltburn - The Parallel Universe. I wanted to have spoken word jingles or rap pieces  mixed with music and effects through the PA in between the poets who read. It would be on the theme of The Parallel Universe so I thought Bob would be the right man with his interest in sci-fi writing etc. Bob came over to Saltburn with a number of pieces and we recorded them on a portastudio with me adding some synth effects etc.This was Bob's first involvement in a mixed media performance as far as I know. I knew from a group of poets we had on at the Dovecot in the early 80's who were on the Creative Writing courses at Crewe that performance was part of the work, so this seemed good experience. Bob's writing for the Parallel universe was spot on.

After that Bob disappeared for three years to do his degree, returning with a 2.1. By the time Bob in the early 90's returned Write Around was fully fledged, Andy Croft's Leeds University Creative Writing programme had built on what I had achieved with WEA and with much wider resources /funding so that there were now more tutors and classes and they were free to attend. Cleveland now had an official Literature Development worker - were as I'd been it's unofficial one for 10 years as Andy Croft once put it.

I pointed Bob to Leeds Uni with a view to him doing some creative writing courses for Leeds - he took over one I'd done for three terms at Thornaby while I tried one in a new area. Bob also did an MA in Literature at Teesside Poly. From there Bob didn't look back as a writer, tutor or Literature Development official. He worked with a range of organisations in the area like Community Arts Middlesbrough and in 1997 did some workshops for a new festival I organised - Merlin's Cauldron. In 1998 he became the literature worker for Buzzwords - created by Andy Croft and Mark Robinson (the former Cleveland Arts Literature development worker) and oversaw a development programme involving schools, community and much more. Some material from those days will be on here although my archives for that period are not extensive as it wasn't one I was directly involved with - beyond doing a few workshops for them.

"ORIGINS OF IRON" By Willoughby and Beagrie
Buzzwords was a great success and when funding finished, Bob continued as Cleveland Arts Literature Development worker and did work for Creative Partnerships before landing a job at Teesside University where he created Kenaz magazine and ran performance nights and workshops and Ek u ban, an imprint he runs with Andy Willoughby. More recently, apart from building a refutation as a write and performer nationally and in Finland, Bob was instrumental in creating the MA in Creative Writing at Teesside University with Andy Willoughby and others.

Bob with Andy Willoughby have effectively built on the early work that was started by Outlet and Write Around and

Bob Beagrie and Shaune Lennox Poems and music

some of the earlier projects like Ann Wainwright's Poetic Licence Collective and the Castalians. Some things have been lost along the way and new things have developed but the momentum has been carried forward and new Teesside Writers are not in the same situation as they were before the 1980's when there were only a handful of writers groups and little more.

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