John Horder was a poet, writer, performer and critic – and a man whose passionate personality touched many.
John, 80, lived in West Hampstead and died three weeks ago. Born in November 1936, his father was a journalist and involved in PR. His early life was spent in Worthing, Sussex, before the family moved to Surrey.
At age 12 he suffered the loss of his mother, and friends and family recall how it affected him for the rest of his life. An able scholar, John went to St Paul’s School and then to Selwyn College, Cambridge, to read Theology. On graduating, he found work doing public relations for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office in the early 1960s, a role that brought him to London.
He lived for a time in Primrose Hill and then later settled in Hampstead. John had a passion for poetry from an early age – perhaps fuelled by his time at Cambridge University, with its reputation for a lively student literary scene. It led him to write works of his own, and pitch reviews and criticism to publications.
He was commissioned by the Guardian and the Independent, and was a contributor to the New Journal. Among his own works was a celebration of the poet Stevie Smith, who he knew well, while he also interviewed the likes of Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin for national publications.
A confident reader and performer, John wrote for and appeared at venues such as Hampstead Pentameters. His reinvention of the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, with himself in the lead role, was greatly enjoyed. John’s home in West Hampstead reflected his all-consuming passion for the written word: some may consider it sparsely furnished – it contained one chair, a table and bare floor boards, but it was stacked to the rafters with book after book after book – a literary treasure trove that reflected what he believed was important. He was well known in and around West Hampstead.
A regular at West End Lane Books, he would also eat on a near-daily basis at the Wet Fish café. He enjoyed walks across Hampstead Heath and through Regent’s Park. In his own words he once said that life was about “learning to love and honour, cherish and respect authentic stories”.
Writer Alan Brownjohn knew John for many years. He said: “He was a wonderful, clear reader and performer of poetry. He could give a new dimension to familiar poems whenever you heard him. He was always terrific company. He would greet you with a loud voice in the street and do so in such a way that people would stop, turn round and look at you as if you must be important enough to be addressed in such a manner. He had great charisma and will be missed by many.” (Islington Tribune)
I’ve never heard of John Horder, and I had a HARD time finding anything on him anywhere. But his poem totally captivated me — or rather worried the hell out of me! I’m not sure which. It blew me away…
The Sick Image of My Father Fades
The sick image of my father fades.
When I was three he used to take me
Tied up in a sack to the cliff’s edge
And threaten to throw me over. The wind
Was ghastly, and his hands shook with terror.
I whimpered like a fretful dog. Fear
Stole over me, and I shrieked and screamed.
My father said, shall I break your legs
Before throwing you over? You should then land
On the sand without the sudden crunch crunch
Of breaking bones. I looked up at him, pleading.
Then he would laugh out loud like a normal man,
And let me clamber back on to his back, so that I forgot
The sheer drop from the cliff’s edge, just for a moment.
Picture Credit: Islington Tribune