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    Martin Killips's last comments on poems and poets

    • POEM: The Stone by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (12/18/2007 11:21:00 PM)

      You cannot imagine how moved I was to rediscover this poem today,37 years after first reading it. It was first given to me in 1970 by my English master, Hugh Hunter, to read as part of my entry in the school's annual Declamation competition we held at Oakham in those days. The hot favourite for the year was a boarder (Hayward I think his name was) from Peterborough House with his rendition of Albert And The Lion. The boy came from Yorkshire and could do an authentic Yorkshire accent and had indeed, won the competition the year before.

      I was a day boy and at Oakham in those days that meant second-class citizen. To make matters worse, the competition was held in the evening - so the audience was almost exclusively boarders. When my turn came to read my poem I felt the eyes of the boys (no girls at Oakham in those days!) burning into me...I could sense them saying 'How dare you try to beat our man Hayward? ! '

      Fortunately for me, the judges were from the Nottingham Playhouse...professional actors with no loyalties or prejudice for boarders or dayboys. When they announced the winner and called my name out there was almost silence - apart from my English master, Hugh Hunter, who was ecstatic with joy. He told me later that as soon as I had finished reading the last line he knew I had won it.

      The copy I read was from a book in Hugh Hunter's own library. Many years later - when I was around 35 yrs old I tried to trace the poem with no luck, so I contacted the school. I was told that Hugh had left and gone to Oundle. I wrote to Hugh and heard nothing for a month and then received a letter from Oundle’s Head Master telling me that Hugh had died recently, and when they had cleared his desk they had found my letter. I thought my search for The Stone had died with him and so I am shocked to the point of tears to uncover it again in the files of

      Thank you for bringing me back to a poem – which has lost none of its power over the intervening years. And in a poignant way, it has brought me back to Hugh Hunter, one of the few masters during my time at Oakham who believed in me. I make my living these days by writing and illustrating poetry – and in no small way this is due to Hugh passing on his enthusiasm for literature.