William Oxley obituary

Other lives: Prolific poet, writer and editor of poetry magazines

My friend William Oxley, who has died aged 80, was a prolific poet who, in addition to 31 poetry publications, produced numerous books of literary criticism, philosophy, fiction, plays and biography.

William’s poems appeared in numerous newspapers and journals, including the New York Times, the Scotsman, the Spectator and the Observer. His first volume of poems, The Dark Structures, was published in 1967 and his last, Walking Sequence and Other Poems, in 2015. The British Library acquired his poetic archive in 2014.

William was born in Blackley, north Manchester, to Harry Oxley, who worked for a rope and twine merchants, and his wife, Catherine (nee Steele). His education was interrupted by three years in hospital with severe illnesses, and after leaving the Manchester School of Commerce he worked as a messenger boy in Salford, then as an articled clerk at Willett, Son & Garner, where he qualified as a chartered accountant.

He met his future wife, Patricia Holmes, when they were members of the Manchester Shakespeare Players, and they married in 1963. The following year they moved to London, where William began to write poetry while working in the City, first with Deloitte and then Lazard.

In 1972 he founded the magazine Littack (Literature Attack), and over the next decade he also edited the poetry publications New Headland (1969-74), Laissez-Faire (1971-75), Orbis (1972-74), The Village Review (1973-74), Poetry Newsletter (1976-78), The Littack Supplement (1976-80) and Lapis Lazuli (1977-78).

In 1976 he gave up employment as an accountant – although he continued to do freelance audits – and he and Patricia moved with their young daughters and Patricia’s mother to Brixham in south Devon. There William devoted his time to poetry and Patricia, after a spell as a Girl Guide captain, founded the literary journal Acumen in 1985, with William as treasurer and interviews editor. Together they later organised the Torbay poetry festival, from 2001 to 2019, which arose out of William’s year as poet laureate for Torbay in 2000.

In 1990 he had become a member of the general council of the Poetry Society and, with Danny Abse and others, opposed the commercialisation of the society. One of his favourite poems, The White Table, was written while he and Patricia were cat-sitting at Abse’s house. The first five lines run:

You are asleep my hope-and-all
in the guest room above the night wind
while I, at the white table,
ponder nervous sounds of yet another night,
a wakeful speck of metropolitan thought.

William is survived by Patricia, their two daughters, Elizabeth and Kate, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

David Perman

The GuardianTramp

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