William Martin (1925-2010) wrote poetry inspired by the social, cultural and religious life of Northumbria past and present. He built his world from myth, from Anglo-Saxon literature and art, children’s games, ballads and street songs, as well as from the history and struggles of pit communities. His poems show both political anger and a wider concern for a society losing its common ground, its rituals and rites of passage.
Lammas Alanna was his fourth book of poems. Over its nine sections it traces the death of the Goddess and her final return in the harvest of the Marradharma. He finds her in the Mothergate of the coal mines and in the vulva denes and twin hills near his home (Maiden Paps). He draws on various sources to enrich her image and to brighten his vision of common feasting.
‘William Martin is a remembrancer, patiently polishing the common coins of street games, folk songs and customs, and putting them back into circulation… David Jones comes to mind, but not as an immediate ancestor. Martin seems closer to George Mackay Brown, firmly rooted in a specific community and able to give the elements of its common life a sacramental value. But perhaps he is closest of all to the Vasko Popa of Earth Erect, eschewing private poetry to restore the collective symbols, releaf the ikons with gold.’ – Roger Garfitt, London Magazine
Durham Beatitude by William Martin
First screened at the 2022 Durham Miners Gala, this film combines footage of past Gala gatherings with William Martin reading his poem ‘Durham Beatitude’ which mourns the 83 lives lost in the Easington Colliery Disaster of 1951, remembered at the Gala in 1980. It was first published in William Martin’s collection Cracknrigg (Taxvus Press, 1983) and later included in his final collection from Bloodaxe, Lammas Alanna (2000).