July 10, 2006

Western Daily Press Article

This article is reproduced courtesy of the Western Daily Press

How do you mark your 50th birthday? If you're Gareth Calway, you aim higher than you've ever done before as a poet, with a book that brings together all your best work, and then some. It's an exciting prospect, and Exile In His Own Country is due out in a few weeks' time, produced by the cutting-edge poetry publishers blue chrome.

It's his seventh book, and his admirers say it sums up all the qualities the late poet laureate Ted Hughes once praised in his work - strength, wholesomeness and the best kind of simplicity.

The publishers see Calway as an erudite writer, and one steeped in the lore of Eastern mysticism, myth, history, the East Anglia countryside - and Bristol City Football Club. And what? Yes, that's right, because in among all his other attributes, this head of English at a Norfolk high school is the official poet laureate at Ashton Gate.

His family is steeped in Bristol City fandom, even though Gareth himself was brought up in Frome and spent his teenage years in the South Wales valleys, escaping back this side of the river whenever he could.

One of the joys of living in Frome was seeing his winter idol John Atyeo in summer mode for the town's cricket team, though he was clearly not at the ground on the day Big John rose majestically and headed a rearing bouncer away for four byes.

Knowing Gareth Calway's taste for words and Atyeo, that single act would have been worth seven volumes of poetry in itself.There is certainly City aplenty in the forthcoming book, however, along with vivid memories of inedible Frome infant-school dinners in the early Sixties and the poet's first memory - of being attacked by a toucan at Bristol Zoo in 1958, at the age of two. Odd how one's first memories are so often frightening ones.

All that's a few weeks away, however. A new book of Gareth's is already out, and Bristol City from start to finish, is Sheer Paltry, published by the club at £5 and with all profits going to Ashton Gate. With its clever play on the Bristol "L" in the title, it's 40 years of football stories and verse, developed from the Calway CD Bristol City Ruined My Life - And Made My Day of a couple of years ago.

Though Calway is a mere stripling, born in 1956, the book is full of baby boomer lore, and rich in nostalgia for the Sixties and Seventies.

It's also an interesting insight into a man whose story is not unusual but speaks of an uncommon life, for all that: the alienation from working-class roots imposed by grammar school and university, an atavistic identification with one part of the world while becoming ever more deeply entrenched in another.

Gareth Calway is known to hundreds, if not thousands, in his adopted East Anglia as "a bald head of English", the man behind poetry anthologies and competitions for teenagers and sometime regional organiser for the Schools Poetry Association.

Yet he will still sit for five hours in his car to watch 90 minutes of who knows what at Ashton Gate, screaming and shouting with the rest of the lads - one of them, yet in some ways, forever one step removed.

So why be there? He writes: "If it weren't for the tightening in the stomach every match day. . . the shiver of the perfectly pitched pass, the tantalising tactical one-twos. . . the frantic flash of foot through frenzied ball. . . the red knights tilting at perfection. . . then I probably wouldn't bother. . ."

Sheer Paltry, price £5, is on sale in the Bristol City club shop or via the website: http://www.garethcalway.co.uk/purchasepage

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