The Poetry of W.S. Graham

The Poetry of W.S. Graham

The Poetry of W.S. Graham

The Poetry of W.S. Graham

Excerpt

William Sydney Graham was born at 11 a.m. on 19 November 1918, at 1 Hope Street, Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, son of Alexander Graham (journeyman engineer) and Margaret Graham (née MacDermid). He attended Greenock High School, where he took the Higher Day School Certificate, before leaving in the third year. His home was a top-floor tenement in a hard-pressed community over- looking the docks and shipyards of the Firth of Clyde. Graham was very keen to continue his studies but 'owing to a collapse in the economic position of his family he could not be sent to University'. At fourteen he was apprenticed as a draughtsman to a Glasgow engineering firm, and for two years he attended part-time classes in structural engineering at Stow College, Glasgow. Then, while still serving as an apprentice, and much to the dismay of his family, he took up evening classes at Glasgow University to study art appreciation and literature. After a five-year apprenticeship he became, like his father, a journeyman engineer. His address at this time was 13 Brisbane Street, Greenock. He was a member of the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen (AESD) trade union.

In October 1938 he was awarded a bursary to Newbattle Abbey College, a residential Adult Education College, which had been set up only two years before Graham's time there. The college is a unique institution in Scotland, offering working people the opportunity to return to full-time education, with a special course of study tailored to their needs. Graham joined a group of forty-six students who, like himself, had been working for some time. Many of them had come up through the Trades Union movement, and their studies were either in the Social Sciences or the Humanities. The teaching was conducted as much as possible in the manner of a university, with lectures and discussion groups. Visiting lecturers came from the University of Edinburgh and the standard of teaching appears to have been very good indeed. The Warden was a fervent believer in individual tuition in what he called the 'Oxford' tradition. At the same time he was aware of the difficulty of adapting to long unrelieved bouts of study and instituted a half-hour break for activities such as Scottish dancing, ball-games and running. All the students were expected to do . . .

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