In a recent review of And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur (The Black Light Engine Room 2010) Kathleen Jones notes “English poetry is blessed with fantastic poets whose work never makes the headlines. Bob Beagrie is one of them. His work has been translated into ten languages, yet his name is still less well known in the UK than it should be.” Despite this he is regarded as one of Teesside’s underground literary legends which he puts down to the continued practice of partial invisibility.
Born in Middlesbrough to Anne a sales assistant who liked reading and raving about books and Ray a bricklayer, Bob spent most of his teenage weekends mixing darbo, digging foundations and catching and stacking bricks. He says school was a lesson in learning to become invisible which worked on the whole in keeping him out of trouble or at least not getting caught but also led to him missing out on early opportunities such as studying literature although he liked reading fantasy and adventure novels and often wrote stories.
After leaving school he drifted, spending a year in art college, a year training to be a hair dresser, worked on building sites and on conveyor belts in factories interspersed with periods of unemployment. This was the mid 80s and Northern industrial towns were suffering heavily under Thatcherism. This all sounds bleak, and some of it was, but there were lots of laughs, alcohol, drugs and counter cultural conversations; and Bob was still reading and writing, expanding his understanding and his imagination. It was then he met and fell in love with Louise who looked at him as if he was actually there. He began attending a creative writing workshop at the local library which introduced him to an active network of other writers and he got involved in helping to organise the 'Writearound Festival' and help edit Outlet magazine and the Writearound The Year magazine as well as attend Teesside Writers Workshop and poetry readings. Encouraged to develop his writing further Bob applied to study a Creative Arts degree at Crewe & Alsager College and despite having few formal qualifications was offered a place. Lou and Bob married and moved to Crewe for three years. From chipping old mortar off used bricks in August 1989 to studying the principles of Wagnerian Opera, Brechtian Epic Theatre, American poetry, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida and working with student actors, musicians, dancers, visual artists to create integrated arts performance pieces the course was a revelation and an opportunity to transform who he thought he was and who he could be.
On returning to Middlesbrough, he rejoined the writing community, volunteering as part of the editorial team for Mudfog Press and as the events officer for Paranoia Press; organised multimedia based poetry shows and exhibitions involving image and text; and began to teach part-time for Leeds University Adult Education Centre, while studying an MA in Modern Literature & Politics at Teesside University and working in schools as a visiting writer. This breadth of involvement in the local community showed him there were many talented people of all ages who suffered from the same sense of invisibility he’d known.
Shortly after his first pamphlet 'Gothic Horror’ was published Louise and Bob’s daughter, Robyn, was born. Bob realised he needed a more secure source of income and managed to secure the post of Literature Officer at Cleveland Arts where he ran a wide programme of innovative projects across the five borough councils, working with local writers, visiting authors, playwrights and poets, library services, youth services, schools and colleges, boxing clubs, grass roots community organisations, groups of young role players, to build opportunities for emerging wordsmiths and strengthen Teesside’s literary scene, including organising Teesside’s first ever Poetry Slam. Along with Dougie Pincott he organised and hosted the legendary Verb Garden a monthly cabaret style live literature and music night. One of the local writers he met was Andy Willoughby who had recently returned to Teesside, and inspired by The Verb Garden set up The Hydrogen Jukebox Poetry Cabaret in Darlington with Jo Colley. Andy had recently been to Turku in Finland and met a group of poets with a similar attitude. ‘Just because we’re invisible on a national level doesn’t mean we can’t make magic happen. They’re doing the same over there.” He said and from that and with Arts Council funding there began a fifteen year poetry exchange of visits by Teesside poets to Finland and Finn poets to Teesside with performance events, The Flesh of the Bear bi-lingual anthology, a series of collaboratively written bi-lingual chapbooks under a press called Ek Zuban which Andy and Bob established.
After five years of managing the literature programme at Cleveland Arts (which became Tees Valley Arts), having won the Biscuit Poetry Prize which led to the publication of his first full collection Huggin & Munnin Bob felt the need to return to working more directly with participants through hands on project delivery and writing residencies.
Under the banner of Ek Zuban Press (which means One Voice in Urdu) Andy Willoughby and Bob ran interschool poetry slam projects which led to exchanges with young poets between Dutch students and those from Teesside and visits to The Hague, they ran mentoring schemes and public writing workshops, and published the cutting edge arts and writing magazine KENAZ which showcased Teesside’s creative talent. Other poetry exchanges have included The Intercity Flow Project and Anthology involving poets from Teesside, London, The Hague, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Avignon. They ran regular live poetry events such as Writing Visions, KENAZ LIVE and The Electric Kool Aid Cabaret of the Spoken Word.
In 2004 Andy and Bob gained a joint writing residency at Teesside University and through contact with academic staff in the English department helped design the MA in Creative Writing which they then piloted and which has since been expanded to include undergraduate modules in creative writing across a range of genre and approaches.
Bob continues to teach part time at Teesside University while delivering writing projects for various organisations as a freelance writer. He is a founder member of Project Lono – a loose collective of poets and musicians who experiment with spoken word accompanied by dramatic soundscapes in recording and performance, some of which have toured nationally and internationally, and has worked in theatre as a writer, actor and director. Bob has published six chapbooks and ten full collections to date (some written in collaboration with other writers), and his poetry is often featured in national and international journals, webzines and magazines. He believes creative writing, by placing the personal experience at the centre of the learning process puts the self under the alchemical pressure needed for positive transformation.