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Dave Cunliffe obituary

·2 min read

My friend Dave Cunliffe, who has died aged 80, was one of a group of poets and publishers who helped to spark the 1960s British counterculture and a wave of experimental verse through their small press activity.

Born in Blackburn, Lancashire, to Alex, an insurance salesman, and Hanna (nee Woods), a nurse, Dave went to Blakey Moor secondary modern school in the town.

In 1957 he moved to London, where he got to know the poets Lee Harwood, Michael Horovitz, Jeff Nuttall and Adrian Mitchell. They encouraged him to write, while the artist and critic Arthur Moyse, whom he met when selling copies of Freedom newspaper at Hyde Park Corner in London, became what Dave called his “anarchist guru”, influencing his future political direction.

Returning to Blackburn, Dave set up Poetmeat magazine, which ran for 13 issues between 1963 and 1967. From the fourth issue he was joined as co-editor by the poet Tina Morris, whom he married in 1964, and together they developed Poetmeat into an international journal of avant-garde verse and esoteric articles. In 1965, issue eight of the magazine began the first major attempt to anthologise the experimental poetry of what Dave in his editorial coined the “British poetry revival”, a term still in common use.

In 1963 Dave had also set up a small publishing company called Screeches, named after his first poetry anthology, Screeches for Soundings (1962). Among its projects was the publication, in 1965, of Golden Convolvulus, an anthology of poetry and illustrations about modern attitudes to sex, compiled by Moyse and edited by Dave and Tina. Some of the verse contained language that was considered offensive at the time, and the drawings by Moyse were also fairly explicit for the period.

As a result, Dave was charged under the Obscene Publications Act and the Post Office Act (“for sending a postal packet which enclosed a certain indecent or obscene book”) and stood trial at Blackburn assizes. He was found not guilty of obscenity but guilty under the Post Office Act, with a £500 fine.

Both vegans, Dave and Tina also produced animal rights, anti-war and environmentalist pamphlets, flyers and posters. Later, initially with Tina, Dave co-edited Global Tapestry Journal, a less groundbreaking publication than Poetmeat but one that tapped into the growing permissiveness of the early 70s and occasionally caught the zeitgeist by publishing early verse from the Medway Poets.

Across the years Dave received Arts Council grants to support his publishing, but he also worked as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital and otherwise survived by eating the vegetables he grew in the garden of his cottage. His publishing became increasingly intermittent from the 80s onwards, but he continued to edit Global Tapestry Journal, and the last issue, No 34, came out in 2012.

Dave and Tina divorced in 1972. He is survived by his second wife, Rena, and his brother Ray.