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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1998

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 1998

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Subject:

Censorship

From:

"Ernest Slyman" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Ernest Slyman

Date:

Sun, 19 Apr 1998 07:22:49 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (365 lines)

Would be interested in finding out what if any inhibiting effects on poetry
the trial and controversy of James Kirkup has had on UK poets.

I refer specifically to the poem, The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name by
James Kirkup, which became a cause celebre in 1977 after Mary Whitehouse
successfully sued Gay News co-founder Denis Lemon for publishing blasphemous
libel.

My understanding is there are legal barriers to censorship that
inhibit/prohibit writing. Is there also a state of prohibition that blots
out future outbursts of literary protests?

This poem of Kirkup's dealt with a homosexual fantasy about Christ, which
was the subject of a blasphemy trial.

(It interests me how so often poetry would appear immune to controversy.
Even though in the past Allan Ginsberg's Howl attracted much controversy.
And now a recent major American poet such as Sharon Olds has written on such
subjects as "The Pope's Penis," menstruation, rape, abortion. Sharon Olds by
the way appears absolutely fearless on her stand to write about such new
subjects. And for this she is one my heroes.)

background on the Kirkup case follows.

>From files on the Kirkup matter from the Alsop Review----

 "The poem is a homosexual fantasy on the crucified body of Christ which I
find to be deeply offensive. It is explicit in saying Jesus had homosexual
relations with other men. It is so foul, I can't understand how any
Christian
can put that kind of material out," said Mr Higton.

    The case illustrates how the Internet can circumvent British laws.

The Daily Telegraph
July 25, 1994, Pg. 21

HEADLINE: Obituary of Denis Lemon

   Denis Lemon, who has died aged 48 of an Aids-related illness, was
convicted of blasphemous libel in 1977 as a result of a private
prosecution brought by Mrs Mary Whitehouse over "an obscene poem and
illustration vilifying Christ in His Life and in His Crucifixion". In June
1976, Lemon, a co-founder and editor of Gay News (the now defunct
newspaper for homosexuals) decided to publish a poem by James Kirkup
entitled The Love that Dares to Speak its Name, in which a Roman centurion
fantasises as he contemplates Christ's crucified body. Lemon, a jaunty
32-year old, thought "the message and intention of the poem was to
celebrate the absolute universality of God's love". But an outraged reader
sent a copy of the poem to Mrs Whitehouse, who brought proceedings against
both Lemon and the newspaper. The Crown then took over the prosecution,
and the trial opened at the Old Bailey in July 1977.

   The defendants were accused of attacking Christ in a manner that
exceeded the limits of controversy and undermined Christianity. The
prosecution believed the poem portrayed Christ as having had homosexual
relations with Paul of Tarsus, the 12 Apostles, Herod's guards and Pontius
Pilate. Lemon was defended by the barrister and playwright John Mortimer,
and expert witnesses were assembled, the novelist Margaret Drabble and the
journalist Bernard Levin among them. Judge Alan King-Hamilton seemed
determined that the case should not be repeat of the Lady Chatterly trial,
which had been dominated by interminable artistic claim and counter-claim;
and would allow Lemon's supporters to appear only as witnesses as to the
general tone and content of Gay News.

  The jury rejected the argument that the poem glorified Christ and found
Lemon and Gay News guilty. The newspaper was fined @1,000. Lemon was fined
@500 and received a nine-month suspended sentence, which was later
quashed. Judge King-Hamilton expressed his hope that the jury's decision
showed that the "pendulum of public opinion was beginning to swing back to
a more healthy climate". Civil liberties groups condemned the verdict, and
European countries were amazed that in Britain blasphemy laws might still
apply in matters of literary taste. The first individual to be convicted
of blasphemous libel for more than 50 years, Lemon found himself reviled
and lauded in equal measure. He was much in demand as a public speaker,
and his opinion was solicited on such matters as the fatwa on Salman
Rushdie.

   Kirkup, who was prevented from defending his poem in court, himself
received a torrent of hate-mail not only from Christians but also from
homosexuals who believed he had deserted Lemon. A civil servant's son,
Denis Lemon was born at Bradford-on-Avon on Aug 11 1945 and educated at
the Simon Langton School, Canterbury. He moved to London, where he worked
first in accountancy and later in a record shop. He was also active in the
Gay Liberation Front, and in 1971 co-founded Gay News, a fortnightly
newspaper initially run as a collective. Lemon later became the
proprietor, and showed considerable entrepreneurial flair. After the trial
circulation rose briefly, but he sold the paper in 1982 and it later
closed. In search of anonymity, Lemon retreated to Exeter, where he was in
charge of catering at the Arts Centre. Debilitated by illness, he became
increasingly reclusive and devoutly Christian.

The Independent
July 23, 1994, Page 45

HEADLINE: Obituary: Denis Lemon

BYLINE: Peter Burton

    Denis Edward Lemon, newspaper editor and restaurateur: born
Bradford-on-Avon
11 August 1945; Editor, Gay News 1972-82; died Exmouth 21 July 1994.

    After his trial in 1977 at the Old Bailey on a charge of blasphemous
libel,
Denis Lemon became something of an international celebrity: he was the first
man
to be convicted in Britain on such a charge in more than 50 years.

    The trial for ever changed Lemon's life and he was pursued by
journalists
almost up until his death for comments on everything from the fatwa on
Salman
Rushdie to the retirement of Mrs Mary Whitehouse from the Presidency of the
National Viewers' and Listeners' Association. And the stresses and strains
of
the months between June 1976 - when he published James Kirkup's poem ''The
Love
that Dares to Speak its Name'' in issue 96 of Gay News - and his trial at
the
Old Bailey in July 1977, took a terrific toll on his health and was the main
contributing factor to his selling the newspaper in February 1982.

    Born in Bradford-on-Avon in 1945, Denis Lemon grew up in Herne Bay and
Whitstable and was educated at the Simon Langton School in Canterbury.
Moving to
London, he worked in accountancy and later in a record shop in south
London -
music was an obsession, everything from rock 'n' roll to grand opera by way
of
Ethel Merman and Dusty Springfield. The evolving Gay Liberation Front pulled
him
in the direction of sexual politics and the idea of Gay News was originally
mooted in 1971. The first issue of the fortnightly - run by a short-lived
collective - appeared in June 1972.

    Lemon became Editor in August 1972, remaining in that position until he
sold
the paper almost 10 years later. The newspaper did not long survive his
departure.

    Although he had written for Gay News and more recently contributed to
Gay
Times (notably his only written account of the blasphemy trial), Lemon was
not a
journalist and his vital contribution to gay publishing was as a far-
sighted
entrepreneur who was hard-nosed enough to get a gay newspaper up and running
and
keep it going in the face of hostility. He published Kirkup's poem in 1976
because he thought ''the message and intention of the poem was to celebrate
the
absolute universality of God's love'', although he admitted it was
''probably
not a great work of literature''.

    Not everyone viewed the poem in the same light as Lemon and an outraged
reader dispatched a copy to Mary Whitehouse who instigated a prosecution for
blasphemous libel. Judge Alan King- Hamilton disallowed expert testimony on

the literary, sociological or theological qualities of the poem - Margaret
Drabble and Bernard Levin were allowed to appear as character witnesses on
Lemon's part. John Mortimer appeared for the defence, but Gay News Ltd and
Denis
Lemon were found guilty - Lemon being fined pounds 500 and sentenced to nine
months' imprisonment, suspended for 18 months and subsequently quashed by
the
Court of Appeal.

    With Gay News behind him, Lemon became a restaurateur - notably at the
Arts
Centre in Exeter after he had moved to that city in an attempt to regain the
anonymity he had lost. Increasing ill-health - he had suffered from
Aids-related
illness for several years - caused him to become increasingly reclusive but
with
a hold on life the tenacity of which left his friends amazed. He was a great
original. He is survived by his partner of many years, Nick Purshouse, and
several much- loved cats.

The Independent
July 23, 1994, Saturday, Page 45

HEADLINE: Obituary: Denis Lemon

BYLINE: James Kirkup

    Denis Edward Lemon, newspaper editor and restaurateur: born
Bradford-on-Avon
11 August 1945; Editor, Gay News 1972-82; died Exmouth 21 July 1994.

    I NEVER met Denis Lemon, writes James Kirkup. But in the early Seventies
I
found his editing of Gay News original, brave and professional. I first got
in
touch with him when I was living in New York, where the liberated and
liberating
sexual climate released in me a long sequence of homosensual poems. The only
place likely to accept them in Britain was Gay News, so I started sending
them
there. Among them was the poem that caused such an unnecessary uproar, ''The
Love that Dares to Speak its Name'', and which I disowned long ago. It was
part
of the sequence I called, in homage to Picasso, ''My Blue Period''.

    This involved me in some correspondence with Lemon, whose letters were
funny, affectionate and perceptive. One of the last poems he accepted was
''Gay
Nursery Rhyme'' - based on ''Gay go up and gay go down / To ring the bells
of
London Town''. But when the storm broke over our heads, I begged Lemon not
to
print it, and he sent a sympathetic letter of agreement.

    By this time, I was concluding negotiations on a contract for a teaching
post in Kyoto and I returned to Europe to make preparations for my
departure. I
wrote to Denis Lemon asking him how I could be of help, but received no
reply. I
wrote to his staff at the newspaper, but got no answer. Then I received a
disturbing letter from Marion Boyars, who informed me of something I had not
known: I would not be allowed to defend myself in court.

    The date for my return to Japan was put off again and again as I tried
to
get to the bottom of Gay News's mysterious silence. I wrote several letters
outlining my position to Boyars, who without asking my permission sent them
to
the Observer, which published them. I finally left for Japan. I had done all
I
could to help.

    Francis King, like many others, misunderstood my attitude. In his
inventive
autobiography Yesterday Came Suddenly (1993) there are many inaccuracies
about
me. Even worse, he suggests that I am a coward: ''Since Denis Lemon was a
friend
of mine, since I felt sorry for him, cruelly isolated by Kirkup's refusal to
return to England to defend his own poem'', he agreed to John Mortimer's
request
to give evidence - which he was of course unable to do, as I could have told
him. He continues: ''It was a great relief when the judge ruled that
literary
merit was irrelevant in the case.'' But there was no relief for me, pursued
by
avalanches of hate mail, some of it from so-called ''gays'' and
''Christians''.
In the end, I gave up opening my letters, and drowned a great bundle of them
in the Inland Sea, along with piles of unread press-cuttings.

    When the case was over, I again wrote to Lemon expressing my sympathy
and
again offering him my support, but there was no reply from him, though I got
one
from his assistants, who declared that my letters in the Observer had been
magnificent - I had written to Boyars that ''blasphemy, like beauty, is in
the
eye of the beholder'' - and that they had been a great help and consolation
to
everyone concerned. I now realise that Lemon was advised not to write to me
by
his lawyers.

    I deeply regret the trouble I caused him and his newspaper, and mourn
the
passing of someone I should have liked to know better, but was prevented
from
doing so. He was gifted, witty and courageous.


The Guardian
July 22, 1994, Pg. T19

HEADLINE: Daring To Care For The Cause; Obituary: Denis Lemon

BYLINE: Richard Smith

    Denis Lemon, who has died aged 48, is perhaps best known as the last man
in
Britain to be convicted of blasphemy. But he was, more importantly, one of
the
founding fathers of the British gay press and the editor and proprietor of
Gay
News during the seventies.

    Born in Bradford-on-Avon, he grew up in Herne Bay and Whitstable. He
moved
to London after leaving school and worked in a Brixton record shop - rock
and
roll was an abiding passion - and in accountancy.

    A self-confessed "fading hippy" Denis became involved with the
burgeoning
Gay Liberation Front in the early seventies, and the idea for Gay News was
first
proposed by Andrew Lumsden at a meeting of London GLF. It was significant
that
GLF members agreed to work with the less radical Campaign for Homosexual
Equality. Gay News was envisaged as a publication that would try to appeal
to
all members of the "gay community".

    Co-founded by Lumsden and Lemon, the first issue appeared in June, 1972.
Provocative, political, proud and fun, Gay News soon became a lifeline to
many
lesbians and gay men, giving them both a voice and a public profile. Denis
became Gay News' sole editor and proprietor. A tall, gangling man with a
sense
of humour as black as coal, his skills as an entrepreneur saw sales of the
fortnightly publication rise to 20,000 an issue.

    However, Denis and the paper achieved unplanned public prominence in
June
1976 after he decided to publish James Kirkup's poem The Love That Dares To
Speak Its Name. The poem dealt with a gay man's Christianity and
metaphorically
attributed homosexual acts to Christ. Denis believed it was "thought-
provoking". Mary Whitehouse thought otherwise and brought a criminal
prosecution
for "blasphemous libel" against Gay News.

    After a highly publicised trial at the Old Bailey in 1977, Denis was
found
guilty under this archaic law, fined pounds 500 and given a nine-month
suspended
sentence. Gay News Limited was fined pounds 1,000 and ordered to pay its own
defence costs.

    Gay News benefited considerably from the publicity but the prosecution
sapped both resources and energy. After a bout of ill health, Denis sold the
title in 1982 and Gay News closed soon after. In 1983 Denis worked briefly
with
Paul Oremland on the first networked lesbian and gay series, Channel Four's
One
In Five. He then moved to Exeter with his partner, Nick Purshouse, and
became
a restaurateur.

    Though he had been severely ill with Aids for a number of years, this
former
hero of a great gay cause celebre was regularly tracked down by journalists
to
give his opinion on anything from Salman Rushdie to Mary Whitehouse's
retirement.







Ernest Slyman
HomePage
www.geocities.com/soho/7514
email: [log in to unmask]
"All around the hours run swift
their foolish errands."





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