James Simmons was born in Derry in 1933 and studied at Campbell College in Belfast, before taking a degree in English at the University of Leeds. He taught at Friends’ School in Lisburn and in Nigeria before joining the staff of the University of Ulster.
He established the Irish literary journal ‘The Honest Ulsterman’ in 1968, which went on to feature a wide range of the leading figures in Northern Ireland literature. In the seventies he started a satirical revue company ‘The Resistance Cabaret’ which appeared at venues across the province until 1976. He recorded three collections of his own songs and produced a Resistance Cabaret album with the other members. He also set a number of Yeats’ poems to music which he released on a tape cassette.
He was a prolific writer and published a large body of work up until his death in 2001. His poetry reflected the times he lived in.
“I discovered that my people were among the invaders from Scotland and England … very long ago. Then, in the last thirty years or son, one was often made to feel like an outsider. Even lapsed Protestants are not always welcome. MacNeice and Elizabeth Bowen and Joyce Carey were made to feel the same way. Kinsella and Montague and Heaney emphasised in their work the Protestant versus Catholic side of the ‘Troubles’ rather than Conservative versus Liberal/Labour betraying, as I thought, the tradition from Joyce to O’Connor to O’Faolain. Is that true? As someone who was brought up in a liberal Presbyterian environment I never could understand how anyone would be frightened by the hellfire sermon in A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man just as I was shocked to find that Anglicans read their prayers from a book instead of praying spontaneously.”
from IN THE CHAIR: INTERVIEWS WITH POETS FROM THE NORTH OF IRELAND by John Brown, Salmon Press, Paperback ISBN: 1 903392 21 7 (interview conducted August 1999)
Ballad of a Marriage (1966)
Late but in Earnest (London: Bodley Head 1967)
Ten Poems (1969)
In the Wilderness (London: Bodley Head 1969)
No Ties (1970)
Energy to Burn (London: Bodley Head 1971)
The Long Summer Still to Come (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1973)
West Strand Visions (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1974)
Judy Garland and the Cold War (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1976)
Constantly Singing (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1980)
From the Irish (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1985)
Poems, 1956-1986 ([Introduction by Edna Longley] Dublin, The Gallery/UK, Bloodaxe 1986)
Sex, Rectitude and Loneliness (Belfast: Lapwing Publications 1993)
Mainstream (Galway: Salmon Poetry 1995)
The Company of Children (Galway: Salmon Poetry 1999)
Kill The Children (Belfast)
City and Eastern (Belfast: Arts Council of N.I.1971)
Love in the Post (Coleraine: Poor Genius Records 1975)
The Rostrevor Sessions (Rostrevor: Spring Records 1987).
Writings About James Simmons:
Edna Longley, ‘Searching the Darkness: The Poetry of Richard Murphy, Thomas Kinsella, John Montague, and James Simmons’ in Douglas Dunn, ed., Two Decades of Irish Writing (Cheadle: Carcanet 1975), pp.118-53.Terence Brown, ‘Four New Voices, Poets of the Present, in Northern Voices Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.171-213.
Terence Brown, ‘Four New voices, Poets of the Present’, Northern Voices, Poets from Ulster (Carcanet 1975), pp.171-213 (chiefly 186-90).
Terence Brown, ‘Poets and Patrimony, Richard Murphy and James Simmons’, in Gerald Dawe and Edna Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill, The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland (Blackstaff 1985), pp.182-95 (chiefly 190-end),
Edna Longley, introductions to The Selected James Simmons (Belfast: Blackstaff 1978) and Poems 1956-1986 (Gallery Press/Bloodaxe Books 1986).
Martin Mooney, ‘Still Burning, James Simmons in Conversation with Martin Mooney’, Rhineroceros, no.2 [n.d.], pp.101-22.
Thomas MacCarthy, ed., ‘James Simmons and Martin Luther in the Larne district’ [Festschrift for Simmons at 60] (Belfast: Lapwing [?]1993).
A. S. Knowland, ‘The Thoughtful Songs of James Simmons’, in Elmer Andrews, ed., Contemporary Irish Poetry: A Collection of Critical Essays (London: Macmillan 1996), pp.264-85.
Philip Hobsbaum, ‘The Belfast Group: A Recollection’, Éire-Ireland 32, 2&3 (Summer/Autumn 1997), pp.173-82
Peter Pegnall, ‘Poet Who Nurtured the Writers of Ireland North and South’, Guardian (10 July 2001), [q.p.].
Martin Mooney, ‘James Simmons: An Appreciation’, Fortnight, 397 (July/aug. 2001), p.33 [with photo-port.].
Terence Brown, Northern Voices (1975), p.191).
Frank Ormsby calls Simmons ‘a refromer or secular evangelist who is firmly on the side of life and freedom’, his work pitting ‘theory against personal experience and human fallibility, especially in the areas of love, sex, marriage, the family, growing old.’ (Intro., Poets from the North of Ireland, 1979 quoted in Obituary, )
Anthony Cronin greeted the Selected James Simmons as ‘my book of the year ... he is one of the three or four most exciting poets to have emerged from any quarter of Ireland, Scotland, England, or Wales during the last twenty years or so ..., Blackstaff catalogue, 1980.
Patricia Craig, ‘History and its Retrieval in Contemporary Northern Irish Poetry: Paulin, Montague and Others’, in Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, ed., Contemporary Irish Poetry: A Collection of Critical Essays (London: Macmillan 1996), (pp.116-17.)
Katie Donovan, interview with James Simmons and Janice Fitzpatrick: ‘The Hedgeschool of Portmuck: Are creative writing courses a scam or an inspiration? The Poets House in Antrim impresses the initially skeptical [KD]’ (Irish Times 8 August 1995).
Brian Lynch notices Elegies, with works of other poets, Irish Times (24.2.1996), p.8.
The Irish Times, Obituary Notice (30 June 2001).
Martin Mooney, ‘James Simmons 1933-1001: An appreciation’, Fortnight, No. 397 (July/Aug. 2001), p.33.
P J. Kavanagh, writes an appreciation of James Simmons, in “Bywords” (Times Literary Supplement, 1 Feb. 2000).