Born in 1942, John Welch lives in Hackney. For many years until his retirement in 2002 he worked in East London schools teaching English to children recently arrived in the UK. His Collected Poems appeared from Shearsman Books in 2008. Other collections had previously appeared from Anvil and Reality Street. He has run a poetry publishing imprint, The Many Press, edited an anthology of South Asian Literature, Stories from South Asia, and worked with poets from South Asia and Iraq on the English versions of their poems. He has written extensively on the subject of poetry and psychoanalysis. His most recent collection of poems is Its Halting Measure, which appeared from Shearsman in 2012.
John Welch's writing is often based on the details of life and cityscape in the North East quadrant of London. It combines vivid detail with psychological investigation and honesty, expressed in language both direct and haunting. The poems convey a real world, a shared world, but one that is also riddling, seen with eyes that fixate on its rich detail, but in a way that conveys both its familiarity and its strangeness, and the vital but indefinable processes that mediate between the two. This precise blend of the visual and the psychological, conveyed with clear and delightful language, is forceful and honest, quite gently attracting the reader in and presenting by the end of the poem a complex and energising pattern of language, sound, sight & feeling.
Art and vision are important within his writing — John Welch has collaborated with artists, indeed is married to the painter Amanda Welch. His poems often involve processes of seeing and understanding through vision, with all the mixed and confusing imagery of London as it is. There is also an interesting fascination with a language which is, like the city, being continually seen afresh — his professional and artistic involvement with new communities in London has sharpened a sense of the English language's strangeness, in a lived and understated way. It is outstandingly contemporary poetry — pleasingly unfashionable and unaffected unlike much that tries for this.
Here are two interesting summations from reviewers: "Yet the characteristic Welch poem is out walking through the north London streets, measuring the presence of the conscious self in its passing settings, and making more of this modest and unmistakeable music:
"And I will walk slowly Making the most of it Absenting myself in the song
"This book is full of integrity — again and again, the seriousness of address; writing as if poetry were a matter of life and death. Quiet lyrics following one another like cold waves onto an autumn shore. No flash effects, no random scramblings, no posturing, nothing sly or trivial. Writing as if your life depended on it." (Peter Hughes reviewing the Collected Poems on Intercapillary Space website.)
"Attention is the poet's true task, as many writers have reminded us. John Welch reinflects the notion, asking us, 'Is there a reward for all this watching?' The reward is, of course, the attention itself; a 'seeing emptiness.'" (Andy Brown reviewing the Collected Poems in Stride Magazine.)
Peter Philpott, February 28, 2013