A Beautiful Happening: The Dave Cunliffe Archive

Photograph of author, poet and activist Tina Morris (the pen name of Tina Cryer).

The Dave Cunliffe archive contains material from his BB Books small press and it’s important to note that from 1963 until 1969 it was co-edited by author, poet and activist Tina Morris (the pen name of Tina Cryer). This is significant because women were generally under-represented even within the largely progressive ‘British Poetry Revival’ and consequently there are very few archives showing the female contribution to this movement. I strongly recommend Geraldine Monk’s Cusp: Recollections of Poetry in Transition (Shearsman, 2012) which, alongside illuminating essays about the experimental poetry scene, also gives some perspective on this gender in-balance.

Press cutting from Lancashire Evening Telegraph, c.1969.  The University of Manchester Library

Morris moved to Manchester in her late-teens where she worked with and befriended the poet and artist Adrian Henri, volunteering in the CND offices at weekends and, from 1962, contributing verse and prose to a variety of publications including Freedom, Tribune and Peace News.

Noticing that Cunliffe produced Poetmeat from nearby Blackburn, she began submitting her work and, after a brief courtship “over a few bottles of cheap red wine” they quickly married. It’s no coincidence that both the magazine and the broader press output change markedly from this point, Poetmeat developing away from its Beat origins into a much more substantial publication (both in terms of volume and scope).

A good example of her influence is Victims of Our Fear (edited solely by Morris); a collection of poetry dealing with the issue of racism, including verse from a then imprisoned Nelson Mandela.

Cover of Victims of our Fear (1964). The University of Manchester Library

A Vegan and environmentalist before she met Cunliffe, Morris encouraged the use of BB Books to produce political flyers and posters alongside PN News, initially a literary information sheet sent to subscribers, later used to connect activists, groups and communes around the country. They made a good team because whereas Morris is naturally introverted, Cunliffe is a gregarious provocateur and prankster who organised naked town centre bike rides, wallpapered bus shelters by night and planted cannabis seeds in Corporation Park. They formed the Global Tapestry animal rights group, picketing butchers and abattoirs, smashing-up Bowland shooting lodges and giving out meat-free lifestyle information to an unsuspecting Lancashire public then largely subsisting on a diet of hot pot and pie, chips and gravy. Although Cunliffe often stole the show, making a grab for the microphone at any opportunity, it was Morris who organised regular readings in Blackburn pubs, attracting a good deal of publicity and introducing a whole new audience to poetry. They eventually split in 1969, Tina later using her verse to take her ecological message into schools, organising various environmental campaigns and she is now the author of several books for teenage children.

I will be talking with Tina Morris and the author Mike Waite about how poetics influenced Lancashire’s counterculture at the Burnley Literary Festival on Saturday 29th September. It’s free entry by ticket and the question and answer session takes place at the Central Library from 11.00am.


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