Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kenny Foxton - From an MP to a Cucumber Sandwich

Kenny Foxton was a Cleveland poet who, although he suffered from a mental illness, managed to make people laugh through his poetry and his bizarre performances. Despite all of the traumas he and his wife went through, he was always there with a bit of wisdom and a twinkle in his eye.

Kenny picked up a copy of Outlet in his local library in Middlesbrough and came around to see me, early 1987. Kenny brought a bunch of his poems for Outlet and was upfront about his illness. I could see Kenny was in need of kindred (poetic) spirits and encouragement and I invited him to join a forthcoming WEA Creative Writing class I was tutoring in Middlesbrough. 

In the class (at the Settlement -Middlesbrough) Kenny was amazing. Never a problem with Kenny in any way whatsoever. We knew, from what he told us that he suffered a great deal with his illness and so did his wife, but Kenny was always the gentleman, always funny, friendly, encouraging and inspired. While writers, who didn't suffer in the same way as Kenny, poured out their grief about the stresses of life, Kenny made every one laugh with his hilarious odes.

He always claimed his poem Mouldy Old Haddock ( found at the foot of this post) wasn't a metaphor for the way people sometimes treat those with mental illness, it could have been but was funny for itself.

Download Kenny's book of poems "From an MP to a Cucumber Sandwich" in pdf form here

Kenny Foxton Eve Gazette Sat April 22 1989
Kenny lived in Easterside in Middlesbrough and was the poet laureate of St Lukes - the nearby mental hospital, regaling the 'young ladies' - nurses and in-patients with his odes (some of them weren't that young but Kenny was ever the gentleman).

Kenny made no secret that he was working class Tory at the height of Thatcher's regime and while we otherwise railed against the Poll Tax, everyone agreed full credit should go to Richard Holt - Tory MP for Langbaugh (Kenny's constituency) for supporting Kenny in a way that gave him something to be proud of and helped to sustain him at a time when Kenny was struggling with not only his own demons but those of his wife - a fellow sufferer. That Kenny was able to give so much laughter and love to others while his own life was quite tragic was quite amazing.

In 1987 Kenny proudly appeared in the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette after publishing his book, dedicated Richard Holt MP, called From an MP to a Cucumber Sandwich.

The headline read -

Kenny Gazette article cont...
"Poems by a Hospital Patient Go to the Top."
"A book of poems written by a Middlesbrough mental patient is to be presented to Health Secretary Kenneth Clarke"

Kenny, a former bookbinder, had funded his book himself and dedicated it to Richard Holt,  who had helped him and his wife (who had been enabled to live independently in the community) various ways. All proceeds went to Cleveland charities - including the Mental Support Group.

Richard Holt handed the book to Kenneth Clarke as an example of what mental patients can achieve. Kenny was popular and had already raised £40 (sale price £1.25) by the time the article was published. 

"I enjoy poetry that much, I didn't want to make any profit from the book." Said 46 year old Kenny, "who decided to publish after inheriting a small amount of money."

"He said he dedicated the book to Richard Holt as he was one of the rare people who had treated him with respect"

"I have been a mental patient for 25 years" said Kenny "and people see you as a second class citizen, but Richard Holt treated me like a human being." "The MP said he was deeply touched and admired the way Kenny was helping others despite his own problems." Kenny told us that Margaret Thatcher herself had his poems.

A Fairy in the Wood - Kenny Foxton on BBC Radio Cleveland 1989
Kenny Foxton in Outlet 1987
After the WEA class Kenny went on to join Margaret Weir's Phoenix Poetry Group, taking part in some of the spoken word performances but his big moment came during the second Write Around festival, by which time he'd developed an hilarious stage act called The Shy Viking Poet. There was nothing shy about Kenny who wore a viking helmet and had a risqué act to accompany his poetry. (see photo). Kenny also appeared on Radio Cleveland with the Phoenix Poets with a poem called Rastus the Gnome! Kenny was also published in Outlet and the Evening Gazette's Noticeboard page and the Write Around Anthologies. Sadly Kenny passed away in the 1990's, owing, we believe to his illness but his poems always had a wisdom or solace about them and still raise a smile. Here are a few and the book will be on here as a Pdf fi

A Mouldy Old Haddock by Ken Foxton

Here are a few of his poems -

A Mouldy Old Haddock graphic
Kenny Foxton in Outlet 10 1990

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