Harry Chambers

Harry Chambers
Harry Chambers
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DESCRIBED by his friend Seamus Heaney as being one of the great “hearers and hearteners” of British and Irish poetry, Harry Chambers, who has died aged 75, went to the Percy Jackson Grammar School, Woodlands, Doncaster, and later taught there.

He set up the publishing house Peterloo Poets in Cornwall, eventually retiring to York where he spent the remainder of his life.

His mother a schoolteacher and his father a colliery accountant, Mr Chambers was born in Heanor, Derbyshire, and spent his early years in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire.

The family moved to Doncaster, and after leaving school and completing his National Service, he read English at Liverpool University.

There, in 1959, he founded the literary – later exclusively poetry – journal Phoenix, which ran until 1975, gaining a national and international reputation.

In 1962 he returned to his old school as a teacher and for the next two years specialised in drama and poetry. He then became a lecturer in English at Stranmillis College of Education in Belfast.

There he made life-long literary friendships, including that of Heaney.

From Belfast he got a job as a senior lecturer in English at Didsbury College of Education where he spent the next 10 years and met Lynn, who would become his second wife.

In that period he founded courses in children’s literature, 20th poetry, newspaper and journalism studies, satire, detective fiction, and creative writing. He organised the creative writing element of the Didsbury Project for Gifted Children, was a committee member and poetry organiser for the Manchester Institute of Contemporary Arts, and was co-editor of the Young People’s Poetry Anthology.

He also became an Open University tutor in 20th Century poetry, and later, an Open University tutor in drama.

In 1976, when he was 40, he took early retirement from teaching and moved with his wife and their daughter Hannah to Cornwall.

Their Peterloo publishing venture was at first based near Liskeard, and then in Calstock.

Eventually, the Chambers were able to move the work of the press from their front dining-room and study to a magnificently converted chapel overlooking the Tamar, bought by the Peterloo trustees in 1996.

With money from the Arts Council, lottery-funding charities and donations it was developed and opened three years later as the press’s publishing premises and performance venue.

Although its finances were frequently precarious, Peterloo was well established as an indispensable poetry imprint.

Alongside the press, Mr Chambers ran the Peterloo Poets’ Annual International Poetry Competition, and annual poetry for schools events and workshops, and organised and ran the Peterloo Poets’ International Poetry Festival from the Old Chapel.

Over the course of 37 years, Peterloo Poets published 240 volumes of poetry and the work of 131 poets.

Mr Chambers retired to York in 2009 where he organised and introduced poetry events, and gave talks and poetry readings, and conducted seminars on poetry and publishing, about which he also wrote articles and gave interviews.

Other interests he pursued with characteristic energy and enthusiasm included jazz, crime fiction, and hunting out good restaurants.

In 2010 he was made an MBE for his services to poetry.

His wife died in 2000, and Mr Chambers is survived by their daughter Hannah, two grandsons and his sister Elizabeth.