John Wakeman, founder of acclaimed poetry magazine ‘The SHOp’, dies, aged 89

Tributes paid to ‘a poet and a gentleman’

John and Hilary Wakeman at their house in Skeagh, Schull, Co Cork, on the occasion of John’s birthday

John and Hilary Wakeman at their house in Skeagh, Schull, Co Cork, on the occasion of John’s birthday

 

John Wakeman, who founded and co-edited The SHOp: a magazine of poetry, one of Ireland’s most highly-regarded poetry magazines, has died. He was 89. He is survived by his wife and co-editor Hilary, one of the first female rectors of the Church of Ireland, their children Harry, Tully, Matthew, Theo and Rhiannon, and four grandchildren.

The SHOp was launched in 1999 and ran for 15 years. Its admirers included Bernard O’Donoghue, who called it “unquestionably the most beautiful poetry magazine now in existence”, and Seamus Heaney, who described himself as a “confirmed SHOp-lifter”.

It was run from the couple’s home, a tiny stone cottage on the slopes of Mount Gabriel, between Schull and Durrus, Co Cork, where they lived for 21 years before moving back to Norwich in England.  

“I thought it would be exciting to start a poetry magazine out of the wilds of west Cork,” Wakeman told Arminta Wallace in an irish Times interview in 2012. The title was inspired by the line from WB Yeats about “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart”.

The first issue was by invitation only. “ I was amazed by the people who gave me poems for a magazine that didn’t even exist,” Wakeman said. Among those contributors were Paul Muldoon, Medbh McGuckian, John F Deane, Brendan Kennelly, Paddy Bushe, John Montague and Derek Mahon. The magazine was renowned for its handsome illustrations by artists such as Basil Blackshaw and photographers including John Minihan.

Wakeman was himself a poet: A Sea Family: New and Selected Poems was published by Bradshaw Books in 2005). He co-founded and for 12 years co-edited the British poetry magazine The Rialto. He also edited for WW Norton major reference books on contemporary world literature and on world film directors and was a consultant contributor to the Encyclopaedia of Ireland.

President Michael D Higgins said: “It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of John Wakeman, author, poet and founder of The SHOp Magazine of Poetry.

"Over the period between 1999 and 2014, the SHOp was recognised as one of the most beautiful poetry journals of the period. The magazine published the work of internationally recognised poets, including Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Brendan Kennelly and John Montague, and also provided a welcome and much needed space for emerging talents.

"Sabina and I send our deepest sympathies to his wife Hilary, their children Harry, Tully, Matthew, Theo and Rhiannon, and all members of their family.”

Fellow poets have already begun to pay tribute.

Theo Dorgan said: “John Wakeman was a poet and a gentleman, soft-spoken, generous, and kind ... In his own poems, in his work as an editor and in the life itself, John earned, and richly deserved, the affection, respect and admiration of us all.”

William Wall said: “I am deeply saddened to hear that John Wakeman has died. He was a friend, first and foremost, a fine poet and a wonderful co-editor of the poetry magazine The SHOp, that he and his wife Hilary founded. He and Hilary were genial hosts and we spent many happy afternoons in their company at their house on the side of Mount Gabriel. He loved poetry and gossip almost in equal measure, and despite living in such a remote place, seemed to acquire both with equal dexterity.”

Gerard Smyth, Irish Times Poetry Editor, said: “John Wakeman, with his wife Hilary, created a communal home for Irish poetry when they established their much-missed magazine The SHop. The selfless dedication and commitment required for such an endeavour generally results in little reward or recognition. It demands a certain kind of true passion for poetry, the kind that John shared with Hilary.”

Theo Dorgan
John Wakeman was a poet and a gentleman, soft-spoken, generous, and kind.

As an editor he was cheerfully rigorous - THE SHOp would publish perhaps 150 poems a year from about 6,000 submissions - but you could be sure that every one of those submissions was carefully read by John and by his wife and partner in life, Hilary.

That they managed to produce such a rich and eclectic journal for so many years from the side of a hill in West Cork was a source of wonder to us all - but then John was a co-founder of The Rialto, one of England’s finest ever poetry journals, so that we can think of THE SHOp as the continuation of a large-hearted, lifelong service to poetry. In his own poems, in his work as an editor and in the life itself, John earned, and richly deserved, the affection, respect and admiration of us all.
Theo Dorgan’s latest collection is Nine Bright Shiners

William Wall
I am deeply saddened to hear that John Wakeman has died. He was a friend, first and foremost, a fine poet and a wonderful co-editor of the poetry magazine The SHOp, that he and his wife Hilary founded. The community of writers and readers of poetry in Ireland and around the world is no more than a village and at the heart of this village are the ‘little’ magazines in which poets see their own work published and get to read what other poets are writing and where readers find echoes of their own experience rendered in form and words that they would not have used themselves. In that sense John and Hilary were the village SHOpkeepers who knew everyone and provided an indispensable service to everyone who loved poetry.

The SHOp was not little in its scope, its commitment, its intellectual and aesthetic space. Its first issue was Autumn/Winter 1999 and in the fifteen years and forty seven issues of its lifespan it probably published everyone who writes poetry in Ireland as well as many poets from around the world. The SHOpkeepers were severe critics. Any poet at any stage of her or his career could expect to have a poem rejected. But they were also warm enthusiasts for poetry in general – and for illustrators.

It is rather surprising, it seems to me, that an international publishing venture should begin close to the tree-line of a mountainside in a remote part of Ireland where, at the time, technology was a problem and where broadband was a distant dream. However, the postal system in Ireland is excellent and human and, more importantly, there is no centre where poetry is concerned and therefore no edge so nothing is ever remote.

The success of the magazine was in large part due to the SHOpkeepers themselves. Hilary was one of the first female rectors of the Church of Ireland, and had a deep interest in theology and church reform, and John, as well as being a poet himself, had edited the definitive Norton Encyclopaedia of World Film, and these interests and accomplishments were signposts to a larger apprehension of the world, a breadth of vision and understanding and a difference. They were not career poetry magazine editors (if such an unlikely creature exists), but cognoscenti in the true sense of people who knew things out of the ordinary.

He and Hilary were genial hosts and we spent many happy afternoons in their company at their house on the side of Mount Gabriel. He loved poetry and gossip almost in equal measure, and despite living in such a remote place, seemed to acquire both with equal dexterity. John was somewhere between Agnostic and Atheist and if there is an afterlife, he will be surprised to find himself there, but his first action will be to track down the celestial printing press and put out the word for poets.
William Wall is a poet and author, winner of the 2017 Drue Heinz Literature Prize for The Islands

Gerard Smyth
John Wakeman, with his wife Hilary, created a communal home for Irish poetry when they established their much-missed magazine The SHOp. Its creation was a welcome and significant occasion in the history of Irish poetry publishing; it quickly earned and took a place at the high table of literary journals. The selfless dedication and commitment required for such an endeavour generally results in little reward or recognition. It demands a certain kind of true passion for poetry, the kind that John shared with Hilary.

There is a plethora of Irish poets – and I include myself – who owe him much gratitude for his kindly and usually prompt responses to their work and the accommodating platform the SHOp provided for it. Of course his perspective on poetry was much wider than the local scene and each issue was generous in its diversity: a cross-section of established names, newcomers and poets with an international reputation.

The task of the editor demands a certain amount of forbearance – poems seldom trickle in but come like the snowfall of recent days, forming their own slushpile on the editor’s desk. John was a generous and attentive reader. His responses that began with the words “we would like to take….” always signalled a bright day.

Not only the content but the visual presentation of The SHOp, its design and typography, points to the high aesthetic values of its progenitors. That it attracted a list of distinguished artists to contribute illustrations and cover art is a measure of the regard for John and his integrity as a poetry editor.

While The SHOp will stand as an enduring legacy, it should not overshadow his own poetry. As editor he showed no bias toward any particular style. The magazine’s wide range and inclusivity was one of its hallmarks, but John’s own poems displayed an assured sense of style. The work he gathered together in his collection, A Sea Family, demonstrate his own clear-sighted poetics. This beautifully balanced sequence of poems showed us – his readers – the play of his imagination, an idiosyncratic sensibility and attention to the lived life.

On the few occasions that we met – usually it was in the midst of the hurly burly of a launch of The SHOp – what struck me was his gentlemanly and modest demeanour, always conveying a sense that what mattered most was getting back to Skeagh to get on with his editor’s duties, or perhaps to think of his own next poem.
Gerard Smyth is Irish Times Poetry Editor. His most recent collection from Dedalus Press is A Song of Elsewhere

Thomas McCarthy
John was a true gentleman, a poet and scholar and brilliant editor. With The SHOp he and Hilary created something absolutely unique in its consistent design and generous, inclusive and very welcoming atmosphere. John loved the company of poets, and he never seemed to be harassed by such company -- he never ran away from his authors as many an editor must feel like doing. Yes, gracious, gentlemanly, passionate about poems and their design and placement on the page, he will be sadly missed by poets not only in Co. Cork, but in the whole of Ireland and the UK.
Thomas McCarthy's latest collection is The Last Geraldine Officer

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