Born: May 5th, 1935
Died: November 19th, 2023
Eddie Linden, who has died aged 88, was a leading figure on the British poetry scene for more than 40 years: editor of the distinguished poetry magazine, Aquarius, between 1969 and 2002; member of the general council of the Poetry Society of Great Britain; co-founder of Catholic CND and the Simon Community for the Homeless in London; and friend and publisher of an astonishing array of distinguished poets, who stretched back to the Bohemian days of Soho and Fitzrovia in the 1950s and forward into 21st century. In his life and his interests he represented a bridge between English, Scottish and Irish poetic traditions and in this he was a true literary representative of the islands of Britain and Ireland.
Eddie was born John Edward Glackin in Motherwell, outside Glasgow, in May 1935. His mother, Mary Glackin, from Coalisland in Co Tyrone, had fled to the city after becoming pregnant by a man whose identity until very recently was unknown. Eddie, the product of what was considered in that era a shameful union, was fostered out to a family relative. He was initially happy until his beloved foster mother, whom he believed to be his mother, died in childbirth; his foster father married again, this time to a woman who wanted nothing of someone else’s child.
With this new marriage, a lifelong odyssey of rejection, longing and seeking to belong began. After a spell in a Sisters of Charity orphanage (his birth mother having refused to take him a second time), Linden left school at 14, barely able to write, though he would become a voracious reader.
The Communist Party was his first substitute for a family life, but the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 disillusioned him. A series of menial jobs followed: miner (rejected as not strong enough), steelworker, British rail porter. He shuttled restlessly between Bellshill, Corby, where he had an uncle, and the seamier districts of London. It was while in Corby that Fr Anthony Ross, a teacher at the Dominican Laxton Hall, took him under his wing, helping Linden to imagine how his socialist principles and Catholic social teaching might be reconciled. Ross also spotted that Linden was homosexual, perhaps even before the young man realised it himself.
Soon Linden had relocated to London where he began to make friends in new, quite different spheres: he helped co-found the Simon Community for the Homeless in East London, as well as Catholic CND, where he got to know Monsignor Bruce Kent. These were heady times: the Aldermaston marches, the advent of the 1960s counterculture, and, for Linden, as he frequented gay pubs and bars, the acquaintance of artists and writers, meeting the poet John Heath-Stubbs and the Glaswegian artist-couple, Robert Colquhoun and Robert McBryde. But it was through contacts in the Catholic Labour movement that Linden received his big break: a place at Plater College, Oxford, founded in 1921 as the Catholic Workers’ College and designed to offer an education to those who had not followed a conventional path to qualification. It should have been perfect for Linden but, typically, he rebelled, so much so (he always had bipolar tendencies) that he ended up briefly in Oxford’s psychiatric hospital, the Warneford.
Nevertheless, his experiences in Oxford were not all negative for there he met the young poet, Sebastian Barker, his future biographer (Who is Eddie Linden, 1979). Barker was himself the son of an unmarried couple, the half-Irish poet George Barker, bad boy Catholic and friend of Dylan Thomas and Patrick Kavanagh, and Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart, author of the cult novella, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945). Linden was immediately swept up, adopted by a subculture that knew no distinctions of class, birth, race, education or religious affiliation. Smart, in particular, showed him a kindness and acceptance that he had rarely received from women.
Soon Linden was attending poetry readings, and it was not long before he had the idea of publishing poems himself. In 1969 the playwright, Harold Pinter, lent him some start-up money and the magazine Aquarius was born. Over the next 30 years Linden was to publish a glittering and eclectic assortment of poets, from differing generations and poetic schools, poets at the outset of their careers, poets unjustly neglected, poets already renowned. Being of Scottish-Irish descent, he was always anxious to represent poets from these traditions.
The inventory is superlative; the roster is so long that the Irish writers alone speak for the rich offerings that Linden gave in his magazine: Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Ireland Professor of Poetry Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur John Montague, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon, Derek Mahon, Medbh McGuckian, Tom Paulin, Leland Bardwell, Paul Durcan and many others. It is a tribute to Linden’s literary acumen that so many of these writers themselves went on to found literary outlets.
Linden drew on his powerful links with Scotland too, in another stunning array, ranging from members of the Scottish Renaissance of the 1950s through George Mackay Brown, WS Graham and Norman MacCaig to all four Scots makars, Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay and Kathleen Jamie. The list from England and Wales is no less impressive, and there were special issues devoted to Australian, Canadian and women’s writing too. In addition to his work on Aquarius, Linden was for many years an active member of the general council of the Poetry Society of Great Britain.
With his death, a whole era in postwar British poetry has come to a close. A familiar figure entering a room carrying his copies of Aquarius and buttonholing all those present on the subject of socialist politics, the Catholic church, homosexuality and poetry will be missed by all who knew him.
Eddie Linden died at Beachcroft Care Home, Maida Vale, London, on November 19th, 2023. He is survived by his cousins, Geraldine and Julie Gallacher.