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Pete Morgan and David Chaloner

Posted by Tony Ward, 9th July 2010

On the morning of 6 July, a shock telephone call came telling me that Pete Morgan had died the night before.

It seemed such a short while ago that he had filled the main concert hall at York University and held the capacity audience spellbound. His old magic had returned - indeed it had probably never gone; it was simply waiting for the right opportunity. Along with the newly-appointed Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy (one of his biggest fans), Ian McMillan and an assemblage of very well-known musicians, he was celebrating his 70th birthday by reading from what turned out to be his last full-length collection, August Light.

Of course, it is always very sad when an old friend finally succumbs to the rigours of illness, but I feel extremely privileged to have published two of Pete's books: I Saw You on my Arm in 1975, then, thirty years later, his last book. Over that time, I was not a frequent visitor - we were intermittent correspondents - but we always managed to take up where we had left off from previous conversations or encounters.

Apart from his poetry that was admired by so many - successive Poet Laureates, academics, artists, performers and a huge public - it is for his performances, most notably on television, all of them painstakingly researched, disciplined and well-executed, that he will also be remembered. The obituaries will certainly be fulsome, as his talent richly deserves.

Pete was a lyric poet, a modern Romantic who never failed to allow a sharp edge to appear, a social comment to intrude, a political thought to creep into the narrative, but he was always able to keep the reader on his side. All this will be recorded, but he was also a vulnerable man. He was very sensitive to criticism which made the job of the editor difficult but, in the end, ultimately rewarding; all would be resolved in calm debate and, if needs be, a pint of ale. Certainly during the earlier days, when his performances became the bench-mark for 'performance', he would always seek reassurance and this, again, would give his work the edge.

Whilst musing over Pete's death, another name came to mind - a very fine and much underrated poet, David Chaloner, who died on 10 May 2010 and who was published by Arc even before Morgan - this time in 1971 when I accepted his pamphlet Year of the Meteors. As with all publishers, even in the giddy days of the early 70s when there seemed to be a public that were voracious readers of poetry, the mound of manuscripts rose from the floor like a threatening Dalek. Having rejected a pile of rather poor offerings, I was subjected to a body blow: Chaloner's precision, metre, rhythm and sheer joy with words knocked me sideways. The utter pleasure of finding such work amongst a sea of mediocrity was indescribable - that is what I recall. I never knew David except through his work; I don't even think I met him, but my admiration for his work never diminished.

» Guardian obituary for David Chaloner

The importance of both of these poets' work cannot be underestimated: Pete with his blissfully up-front and beautifully nurtured lyrics which were English to the core, but revolutionary in their delivery; and David, with his thought-provoking and intellectual enquiry into the language of the abstract versus the simple. Both have a very real place in the English poetic tradition. Without them, and artists like them who explore, challenge and sometimes enrage, nothing can ever move on. Language would remain static, would putrefy, it would become purely a conduit for technicians and aircraft pilots. Without them, we would have lost a vital link that allows us a progressive and exciting path to the future that also gives editors and publishers a stimulating way forward.