Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Logue, (John) Christopherfree

(1926–2011)
  • Jeremy Noel-Tod

Logue, (John) Christopher (1926–2011), poet, was born on 23 November 1926 at his maternal grandparents' house, 7 St Andrews Road, Southsea, Portsmouth, the only child of John Dominick (Jack) Logue (1871–1951), a Post Office wages clerk, and his second wife, Florence Mabel (Molly), née Chapman (1888–1981). At the time of his birth registration the family lived at 160 Willifield Way, Golders Green, London. Jack Logue, a widower from an Irish immigrant family, had a daughter, Hilda, from his first marriage.

Logue was educated at St Swithun's Catholic Primary School and St John's College in Southsea, and Prior Park College in Bath. He rejected the Christianity of his schooling, later calling himself a 'Catholic atheist' (Kendall, Interview with Christopher Logue), and showed an early tendency to rebel against authority. At the age of fourteen he was arrested for shoplifting pornographic magazines. In 1940 the family moved to Bournemouth and Logue attended Portsmouth grammar school (which had been evacuated to Bournemouth during the war). On leaving at the age of seventeen, he enlisted as a private in the Black Watch regiment and served in Palestine. There he was arrested for stealing pay-books and spent sixteen months in an army prison, where he began to read modern poetry seriously 'For inspiration … Eliot. For instruction, Pound. Yeats for pleasure' (Logue, Prince Charming, 88). Discharged in 1948, he returned to England. The loss of sight in his left eye, after an accident during military training, allowed him a small disability pension.

While in the army Logue had aspired to study at Oxford. After a dispiriting spell of odd jobs in London, however, and the death of his father in 1951—which prompted one of his most impressive early poems, the elegiac 'For My Father'—he decided to move to Paris and become a writer. Unconventional by temperament, he took readily to expatriate literary life. He made friends with the Scottish novelist Alexander Trocchi and helped to edit the magazine Merlin. In the mid-1950s, with the Olympia Press, he published a pornographic novel, Lust, and two (more commercially successful) books of bawdy limericks and ballads under the nom de plume Count Palmiro Vicarion. In Paris he corresponded with Ezra Pound and helped to publish Samuel Beckett through the Olympia Press Collection Merlin imprint, which also brought out his own first book, Wand and Quadrant (1953). He had been encouraged into print by the poet W. S. Graham, and subsequently had poems accepted by the Times Literary Supplement.

On returning to London in 1956—the city where, he said, he was always happiest—Logue published his second volume, Devil, Maggot, and Son (1956), and continued his freelance career. Friendship with the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan introduced him to the world of the Royal Court Theatre, and he had plays produced there, including the musical The Lily White Boys (1959), directed by another friend, the film-maker Lindsay Anderson. He had a rich, crisply imposing voice which made him a memorable public reader, and he claimed to have been the first modern poet to give readings as a form of professional entertainment (although this was disputed by Edith Sitwell). In 1959, commissioned by Donald Carne-Ross at the BBC, he recorded his English versions of Pablo Neruda's love poems, which were broadcast on the Third Programme with jazz music by the Tony Kinsey Quintet, and subsequently released as an LP, Red Bird, by EMI.

Logue now believed that poetry 'should play an active part in society' (The shortest long poem ever written, 125) and found fame in the 1960s as a poet associated with protest. He wrote satirical songs for Peter Cook's nightclub, The Establishment, and marched to Aldermaston against nuclear weapons. In 1962 he was briefly imprisoned as a member of Bertrand Russell's anti-war 'Committee of 100' who refused a court order to keep the peace. In 1965 he took part in the International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall, alongside Allen Ginsberg and Adrian Mitchell, and in 1969 read to a crowd of over 100,000 rock music fans at the Isle of Wight festival. He was also well known as the author of 'poster poems', sold through bookshops, which framed short, provocative texts—such as the ironically nonsensical 'I Shall Vote Labour'—with loud, colourful designs by Pop artists such as Derek Boshier and Colin Self.

Logue wrote several screenplays, including Savage Messiah (1972), directed by Ken Russell, and his involvement with theatre, television, and film led to an occasional career as an actor. He was cast by Russell as Cardinal Richelieu in The Devils (1971) and appeared as the Player King in Richard Eyre's Royal Court production of Hamlet in 1980. Other sources of income included the long-running columns of cuttings that he edited for the satirical magazine Private Eye, 'True Stories' and 'Pseuds Corner'.

In 1981 Logue published the book that would define the latter half of his career and bring him critical acclaim at home and in North America: War Music, subtitled 'An Account of Books 16 to 19 of Homer's Iliad'. Logue's Homer, as it became known, began life as another Third Programme commission for Carne-Ross, who provided literal cribs from which Logue departed freely. He never learned Greek, but aimed at an original English poem informed by the imagistic techniques learned from Eliot and Pound, and his own experiments with cinematic montage such as The Arrival of the Poet in the City (1963)—a 'treatment for a film' in free verse—and New Numbers (1969). He received a Bollingen Foundation grant to continue his translation and often performed a stage adaptation with the actor Alan Howard.

On 3 September 1985 Logue married the writer and historian Rosemary Hill (b. 1957), daughter of Edward Reginald Hill, British Rail executive. She introduced him to Craig Raine, the poet and editor at Faber and Faber, who encouraged him to go on with Homer. Four further volumes followed: Kings (1991), The Husbands (1995), All Day Permanent Red (2003), and Cold Calls (2005), which won the Whitbread prize for poetry. He drafted meticulously, plotting and piecing together his original, violent vision of Homer's heroic narrative from files of notes. A projected final book—with the tragi-comic working title Big Men Falling a Long Way—remained unfinished at his death.

A candid memoir, Prince Charming (1999), recalled two occasions in the 1950s when Logue came close to suicide, and in the 1970s he suffered long periods of depression. Humour was important to all his work, however, an attitude he ascribed to the cheerful example of his father. Libertarian by temperament and left-wing in politics, energetic, gregarious, quick-witted, and sharp-tongued, Logue had an instinct for contrarianism and a gift for friendship with fellow artists. He often revised and reprinted poems in different forms. Selected Poems (1996), the last gathering of his non-Homeric work, was followed by the seven-CD spoken-word collection Audiologue (2001). He was awarded a civil list pension in 2002 and appointed CBE in 2007. He lived latterly in Camberwell Grove, London, and died at King's College Hospital, Denmark Hill, of cardiac failure and emphysema on 2 December 2011. He was survived by his wife, Rosemary.

Sources

  • C. Logue, ‘The art of poetry LXVI’, Paris Review, 127 (summer 1993), 238–64
  • G. Ramsden, Christopher Logue: a bibliography, 1952–1997 (1998)
  • C. Logue, Prince Charming (1999)
  • A. J. White, Do not pretend: an introduction to Christopher Logue (2002)
  • ‘The shortest long poem ever written: an interview with Christopher Logue’, Areté, 13 (winter 2003), 117–36
  • The Independent (5 Dec 2011)
  • New York Times (11 Dec 2011)
  • The Economist (17 Dec 2011)
  • WW (2011)
  • private information (2015)
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Likenesses

  • photographs, 1958–62, Mary Evans Picture Library, London
  • photographs, 1958–2006, Getty Images, London
  • M. Gerson, bromide print, 1959, NPG, London
  • R. Mayne, bromide print, 1959, NPG, London
  • photographs, 1959–2006, Rex Features, London
  • photographs, 1967–2008, Camera Press, London
  • J.E.M Lucie-Smith, bromide print, 1970, NPG, London
  • photographs, 2005–6, PA Photos, London
  • photographs, 2006–11, Photoshot, London
  • D. Boshier, oil painting (with Alexander Pope), Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz, Poland
  • O. Jones, photograph, Bridgeman Art Library, London
  • obituary photographs

Wealth at Death

under £45,000: probate, 9 Feb 2012, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

(1849–)