Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: Marie Battle Singer

Memorial and no memorial

There’s a fair bit already on this site about waspish blond poet James Burns Singer, mostly via the “Transparent Prisoner” tabs above. Here’s a bit more.

From the late ‘fifties Burns Singer was based in Cambridge, where he married pioneering black psychologist, child psychotherapist and Fellow of Clare Hall, Marie Battle. In his intro to Singer’s 1970 Collected, W A S Keir notes that after the poet’s too early death in 1964 aged 36, his ashes were scattered at sea, but that “on 24th July 1966, a memorial stone was dedicated to his memory in Little St Mary’s Churchyard, Cambridge.” Anne Cluysenaar also mentions it in her intro to the 1977 Selected.

So where and what exactly is this memorial? On my first visit it avoided me, and I wondered if it had actually existed, or had been removed, though to be fair I was struggling to stay conscious in the teeth of a howling winter’s gale in March, which shortened my time shivering and poking about in the churchyard. When I asked afterwards, none of the kind people at St Mary’s (thank you, Christine Tipple) had any knowledge of it, but on my latest visit it finally revealed itself. In case anyone else wants to take a look, the memorial is on the left among the ranks of small stones set into the ground at the street end, which at first I’d assumed marked only burials of ashes. It’s worn and mottled, but it still reads:

TO THE MEMORY OF
JAMES BURNS SINGER
POET AND MARINE BIOLOGIST
1928 – 1964
AND HIS WIFE
MARIE BATTLE SINGER
PSYCHOANALYST
1910 – 1985

That’s a fine inscription. I’m not sure whether this is the original 1966 stone with an added bit, or a 1985 replacement, though I imagine the first. Who re-dedicated it to Marie Battle Singer, I wouldn’t know. My pics (click to enlarge) show the memorial and its location, and I’ll throw in an awkward selfie-with-stone for good measure. (Tricky angle.)

 

I should dedicate this post, not that it’s anywhere near worthy of him, to another Cambridge poet, my friend Bill Bennett, who died, very sadly, three weeks ago.  Though he had edited the earliest editions of Perfect Bound, the influential ‘seventies “Cambridge school” poetry magazine, he was himself published surprisingly rarely. Nevertheless, he saw as a poet, wrote as a poet, and lived as a poet – and as much more too. An entirely remarkable man. No stone for him, just woodland, as it should be.

Small update

Many thanks to Christine Tipple of Little St Mary’s, who emails to let me know of a 1990 leaflet stating that Singers’s ashes are buried in the garden of the church (which appears not to be the case), and that a bird bath in the garden, now sadly broken off its stand, was given by his wife as a memorial to him. I’d rather like to think that is the case, given that in late 2012 the late Bill Bennett (remembered above) emailed me this from Cambridge in response to my Singer posts:

“As graves go, I may even see if I can track down the Jimmy Singer memorial birdbath … For a time I was thinking I must have met his widow (never that many black women psychiatrists around Cambridge and I certainly met one ) but I really can’t recall an accent … so perhaps it’s one of those false memories …”

My emphasis, as they say. This is remarkably odd. I never mentioned birdbaths to Bill, and at the time I assumed he was just being flippantly inventive. Surely he can’t have known? One of those psychic things, perhaps. Or a false memory that turns out to be accurate? (Or perhaps, on further reflection, he just googled it?) Bit late to ask him now, though hopefully I’ll get an opportunity in the afterlife …

Also, a friend in the congregation tells Christine that she remembers Marie Battle Singer, and that her mother went to her funeral. There she met Marie’s sister from the States, who probably added her name to the stone.

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