Henry Graham obituary

Other lives: Painter who later became a poet

Henry Graham, who has died aged 88, was a successful artist in the 1950s until he renounced painting for poetry a decade later. He subsequently had 10 books of his poems published and his work appeared in magazines throughout the world.

Henry was born in Liverpool; his mother was a cleaner and his father ran a billiard hall in the city. Following national service in 1950, working in the British army’s mapping department in Trieste, he attended Liverpool Art School, establishing himself as a key member of the city’s art scene with paintings exhibited in many local galleries. He was also a jazz pianist in his own band, the Henry Graham Quartet, before leaving Liverpool to live and paint in London, where he met and married Liz.

Soon afterwards he gave up painting completely and turned his attention to writing poetry. Although some of his artistic work was bought by the Walker gallery in Liverpool in the late 50s, he never returned to painting after renouncing it. In the 60s he joined the editorial board of the literary magazine Ambit, a position he held for 40 years. In 1969 he was offered a tutorship at Liverpool College of Art, where he taught history of art until his retirement through ill health in 1991.

His first two collections of poems, Soup City Zoo (with Jim Mangnall) and Good Luck to You Kafka, You’ll Need It Boss, were published in 1968 and 1969 respectively. In 1971 his third collection, Passport to Earth, was followed by Poker in Paradise Lost (1977), Europe After Rain (1981), Bomb (1985) and The Very Fragrant Death of Paul Gauguin (1987).

The poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, was an admirer of his work, praising his “mystical style” and arguing that his poems acknowledged “the influence of surrealist artists such as Magritte, Palmer and de Chirico”.

Henry was less frequently published towards the end of the century, with The Eye of the Beholder coming out in 1997, Bar Room Ballads in 1999 and his final collection, Kafka in Liverpool, which I produced as his friend and publisher, in 2002. But from his earliest output to the very end his highly recognisable poetic voice had a distinctive style based on a dry, ironic wit.

His marriage to Liz ended in divorce.

Brian Wake

The GuardianTramp

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