Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is a delightful guy. I’ve never met him but his early morning emails come whirling into our place lightning up our evenings. When I first wrote to Tom telling him about my proposed exhibition his reply flew across the oceans………

I am more than delighted for you to use my poem in your proposed exhibition, booklet and on the blog.  Just keep me up-to-date and I will help/contribute in any way.  Look after yourself and good morning from a wet and blustery Blaydon near the Angel of the North of the north-east of England.

A few days later I emailed Tom to say the proposal had now turned into a happening and his poem had already been selected by an artist so please could I have a photo and info about all his literary doings.  His swift reply: here is some bumf on me, please ignore/delete as you see fit and if you want anything else give me a shout or an email if that’s easier.

Tom Kelly

Jarrow-born Tom Kelly now lives further up the Tyne in Blaydon in the north-east of England. He has written 15 plays and musicals many of which have been staged at the Customs House, South Shields, a venue he regards as home.

After a variety of jobs, a publishing contract as a lyricist and a late degree he worked for twenty-five years as a drama lecturer. He now writes full-time and works on creative projects.

His most recent Customs House play Talking Tom, a collection of his monologues, was produced at the Customs House before a regional tour.  He wrote The Blaydon Bricklayer, on the life and times of Joseph Cowen, for the Workers Educational Association and a new play Hungry Hearts & Heads was commissioned by the WEA and toured the region.

He has six collections of poetry, his most recent being his New and Selected poems, ‘The Time Office’ published by Red Squirrel Press and launched in February 2012. He has recently written, narrated and co-directed a number of documentary films with Gary Wilkinson including Little Ireland, Jarrow Voices, and most recently, War on South Tyneside, Tyne Dock Borders and Vanished. He is presently working on a new poetry collection, documentary film, musical and play.

He is a husband to Linda, Dad to Bethan, Fiona and Adam and has recently become a grandfather to Sophia.

Go here to see Tom reading poems from his most recent collection THE TIME OFFICE.

Below I’ve included a recent review of Tom’s collection, The Time Office New & Selected Poems taken from Poetry Book Society Bulletin Spring 2012, Issue 232.
Having reviewed several of Tom Kelly’s collections in previous Bulletins, it is no surprise that this New and Selected Poems continues the themes of place, loss and longing.
Kelly’s work is rooted in his native north-east, especially Jarrow where he was brought up. His short, spare pieces speak in a direct, unfussy voice and Kelly continues to excel when is fusing emotion and location, a wonderful alchemy that touches on a range of experiences common to us all. Despite the feeling of disenfranchisement and loss which permeates these poems-“Nowt” stamped on foreheads/leaded hands and hearts”, Kelly resists the well-trodden political response of lesser poets which detracts from the tenderness present in these poems. From harrowing tales of PoW camps retold through a father’s letter to his children, to aphoristic pieces written in the broad Geordie dialect, Kelly is a versatile writer. Taken together these poems are a raw, direct assault on the senses.


The Time Office, Mercantile Dry Dock, October 1965

In the dock a boat straddles, a big man wearing a too small suit;
my corduroy trousers, capillary tubes, run to Chelsea boots,
glowing with impossible dreams as the Tyne ruffles,
nudges nervously dock gates, a pulsing lung,
yet I can barely breathe with ignorance.

The Tank Cleaners’ cigarette smoke crawls from clawed fingers,
they throw cruel jokes, cigarette butts and disappear into toxic;
wrapped in oil, painting everything,
-it is all about money, the quicker they work,
the sooner they leave phlegm, rags and buckets of oil.
I calculate their wages, dry figures under an ochre light.

The half-two tide sees shipwrights, labourers, riggers,
embracing a boat, leaving after a re-fit,
heading out the Tyne without a backward glance to  Amsterdam,
Limassol, badges rusted to the sterns like a bad bruise after a rough night.
Workers’ bikes creak in hold-your-breath early mornings,
night gives in inch-by-inch to light:
I still see them heading home,
whispering their lives into a black ledger.

Tom Kelly

Men of the Tyne was a creative writing project that Tom was involved with which looked at men who worked on the Tyne from the 1950’s to 1980’s. The show developed from this project has recently being touring arts centres in the north-east of England with Tom as its narrator.

Go here to see a song from the show and film, GHOSTS ON THE TYNE. It’s a very moving piece, especially the words of the last man when he says, “I’d go back tomorrow if they wanted me but I’m a bit too old for that now.” If you’d like to read more about Tom  have a look here . I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from Tom before the exhibition finishes. Watch this page!

I knew Tom would be back! Check out the finale of the Men of the Tyne show…..

Here we are, the MEN OF THE TYNE, ending our night at the Phoenix Theatre Blyth with our signature tune, MEN OF THE TYNE.   I wrote the lyrics and stories and the guitarist, Ian Ravenscroft, the music. That’s me in the Sydney Greenstreet  jacket.
All the best Tom

1 Response to Tom Kelly

  1. Pingback: Feature Interview with Jarrow-born poet Tom Kelly (photograph by Donna-Lisa Healy) | Hive Radio

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