Tributes paid to innovative poet and protest verse editor Reuben Woolley

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Fellow poets have delivered many tributes on social media to the innovative poet and online editor Reuben Woolley, who has died after a long illness at the age of 67.

Reuben Woolley, who was originally from Chesterfield, grew up in Coventry, and moved to Spain in the 1970s. He published a number of poetry collections – the latest, This Hall of Several Tortures, by Knives Forks and Spoons Press earlier this year  - and edited the influential online magazine I am not a silent poet, “a magazine for poetry and artwork protesting against abuse in any of its forms”, and the innovative poetry magazine The Curly Mind.

Among many tributes on Facebook, Marie Lightman said: “Reuben was very passionate about the plight of the Calais refugees, going on … to publish a whole pamphlet on the subject. I owe him so much, his deeds and passion will always be remembered, a true champion of human rights.” Cathy Thomas-Bryant said Reuben Woolley was “not a silent poet, and helped the silent to find their voices”. Another poet, Anjali Suzanne Angel, said that he “published so many of us and accepted our poetry with an open heart rather than with discriminating snobbery … (he) honoured each poet as credible and valid … a true poet, publisher and gentleman.”

Poet Andy N, who runs the podcast Spoken Label, said: “I first met Reuben Woolley in the middle of 2016 … I sent him one of my poems which dealt with the terrible case of Stefan Kiszko and I met him a few months later when he toured England during his summer break from Spain. I interviewed him around this time for Spoken Label, and it was clear then … here we had a real master of poetry but most importantly an approachable and supportive man / poet / teacher to all.”

Reuben Woolley went to Woodlands comprehensive school in Coventry, and later studied drama at Bretton Hall college of education in West Yorkshire, and an MSc at Aston University. In an interview with Paul Brookes of The Wombwell Rainbow he said: “I first started writing poetry in 1968 when I was in the fifth year or lower sixth at school. I was very much influenced by an anthology of 20th century poetry we had read for ‘O-levels. I found poems about recent events in a language I could understand and relate to, such as Louis MacNiece’s ‘Prayer before Birth’, Spender’s ‘Port Bou’ and Yeats’ ‘Easter 1916’ …. In the sixth form we had a brilliant teacher who took us through Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal and he suggested reading TS Eliot … I took up residence in the school and Coventry libraries and discovered Dylan Thomas.

“Someone at school showed the art teacher my work and he became a confidante. He took me to the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery in Coventry and introduced me to the director, a Northern Irish poet called John Hewitt. Although he was soon to retire he took great interest in my work and became my mentor. I continued writing when I went to Bretton Hall college of education (University of Leeds) and also when I came to Spain in 1976. Indeed, by 1985, I was developing a similar voice to now and some of my last poems went on to form part of my first collection (the king is dead, published by Oneiros Books in 2014). I stopped writing in 1985 and did nothing till 2012 when I was encouraged by a student of mine.”

He established the online magazine I am not a silent poet in November 2014. In another interview, with Confluence magazine he explained: “I had been seeing such increasing evidence of abuse on the social media and on TV that I felt it was time to do something. I am not a silent poet looks for poems about abuse in any of its forms: colour, gender, disability, the dismantlement of the care services, the privatisation of health services, the rape culture, FGM, etc. I wanted to provide a space which could react immediately to work that would be submitted, to set up a kind of newspaper for poetry of protest against abuse, instead of online journals which published work weeks or even months after it had been submitted. I wanted the work to still be relevant when it was published … (but) it should be a good poem and not simply a rant.”

Reuben Woolley’s poems appeared regularly on sites such as Ink Sweat and Tears run by poet Helen Ivory, who said she thought of his poems as “winter trees etched into a bright sky. Thank you for the poems Reuben and for your being in our poetry world.” The poet Ben Banyard shared four poems by Reuben Woolley that Banyard originally published on his Clear Poetry website in 2016 and said:  “Here are some of Reuben’s own poems … to remind us of what a great writer he was.”

He taught English in Spain, and he and his wife Consuelo ran a small English academy in the city centre of Zaragoza. He retired earlier this year.

In October he went into hospital for a liver transplant. He died in hospital on Sunday 1 December after a second transplant, and a series of complications during and following surgery.

On Tuesday 2 December his daughter Laura said on Facebook: “My dad was laid to rest this afternoon. Although he was not a religious man, we decided to do a brief ceremony at the Iglesia de los Milagros in Ágreda … in the same place where he and my mother got married 40 years ago.

“Remembering all our road trips around the UK listening to the Rolling Stones album Let it Bleed , I thought that playing for him You Can't Always Get What You Want one last time would be a good way to remember him. Personally, I think he would have got a huge kick out of knowing that he caused a Rolling Stones song to be played in this quaint Spanish cemetery.”

He is survived by Consuelo, Laura and his son David. 

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