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Niall McDevitt (1967-2022): In Eternity’s Sunrise

Niall McDevitt by Max Crow Reeves

Waterloo Press grieves the loss of Niall McDevitt, the mercurial Irish-born poet, musician, Blakean scholar and literary psychogeographical tour guide, whose debut collection b/w we were proud to publish in 2010. Sensual, percussive, formally inventive and fiercely political, Niall’s poetry was steeped in influences from Yeats to the Beats, Rimbaud to Derek Jarman, Abrahamic sacred texts to Tory outrages, London’s back streets and council estates to extensive travels in Europe and Israel-Palestine. From this rich melange emerged an idio-syncretic vision of time and space, an urgent cosmic poetics Niall called ‘Urban Sha-manic’, poems to be read ‘with drum’. Faithful to the visions of his guiding spirit, William Blake, his work excavates the psychosphere of late-capitalist globalisation from the perspective of an artist, social critic, lover and wanderer in London: a city Niall summoned as ‘Lud Dun’ – stronghold of the Celtic solar deity Lud – or Leun’deun, in a Rimbaudian drawl.

Renowned for his guided ‘poetopographical’ tours of the capital, Niall extolled underappreciated London treasures such as the Cocteau murals in Notre Dame de France off Leicester Square, where b/w was launched, and the Kensington road he called ‘The Golden Mile of Modernism’. He also ventured regularly to West Sussex to read and perform at BlakeFest in Felpham, where William and Catherine Blake lived for three years. There, having cut his acting chops in the experimental theatre of Ken Campbell and John Crow, Niall, bodhran in hand, would play his part in invigorating the streets of sleepy Felpham with a rousing reenactment of Blake’s famous tussle with the drunk soldier John Schofield.

Although determinedly at odds with the mainstream – a passionate republican, dismissive of academia and polite poetry societies – Niall was no stranger to fame. Winner of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb ‘Urban Poetry Competition/ 2005, for his poem ‘Off Duty’, he also garnered accolades from illustrious figures including Patti Smith, John Cooper Clarke, Heathcote Williams and Jeremy Reed. Alongside his accomplishments in the fields of radio, theatre, music and film, stand significant literary publications including the poetry collections Porterloo (International Times, 2013) and Firing Slits: Jerusalem Colportage (New River Press, 2016); a manifesto on his poetics in the anthology Urban Shamanism (outsiderpoets, 2016); poems in the three Caparison anti-austerity anthologies – Emergency Verse (2011), The Robin Hood Book (2012) and The Brown Envelope Book (2021); poetry and critical prose in The London Magazine; and reflections on Blake for the BBC website. His magnum opus, LONDON NATION (New River Press), a Four Quartets for the accelerationist age, will be launched shortly at the Irish Culture Centre in Hammersmith, where he was Poet in Residence for many years. Niall’s talent knew no geographical boundaries either: his international appearances included busking through Europe, a New River Press reading at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, and a reading at the Babylon International Festival for Cultures and Arts, in Iraq.

All who knew him will testify that Niall McDevitt was a rare spirit: prodigously gifted, passionate, charming and modest, he was motivated not by personal gain, but a potent blend of awe at the sacred mysteries of life, anger at injustice and corporatization, and a profound sense of the writer’s responsibility to speak holy truths to power. A maverick bard of the city, with his convivial outdoor readings, he brought poetry, music and theatre to the streets of London, just as much as he brought the vitality and pain of those streets into his work. As an activist he successfully campaigned to save the Rimbaud-Verlaine House in London and against overdevelopment near Bunhill Fields, where the Blakes and Daniel Defoe are buried. An internationalist, he translated the imprisoned Burmese poet Saw Wai, and fought for his release, and well understood Britain’s role in creating the conflict in Israel-Palestine. He will be sorely missed by many as a ‘Champion of Bohemia’, who, with his wit, style, warmth and generous time for others, energised a neo-Romantic movement one might call metamodern in its oscillations between cultures, politics and art.

We at Waterloo Press are honoured to have published Niall McDevitt, and blessed to have called him our friend. His is a fathomless loss. We offer our heartfelt sympathy to Niall’s partner, the artist Julie Goldsmith, her son, his family, and all his loved ones.


Off Duty

The stone paths are soft as carpets.
The sky is two purple curtains.
The night is surrounded by towers.
A dunken man with a black-blue wounded face
is clinging to a silver lamp-post
shining as the blade of a giant bread-knife.
At once I am suspicious. 
I suspect him of suffering in public.
He groans as if to confirm the issue.
I memorise his despair. 
It is very scenic and the moon is out:
a lightbulb in a white paper sphere.
This is an evening for leniency and a light hand
and thus
                            as an off-duty
                            or irrational
                            or invisible

I patrol the soft paths and bed-like benches
interfering with no one. 


pink light of the pink lanterns
pink dreamachines of winter

purple-blue illumined bulbs
ink-flight mind of cherubs

spinning white into hypnosis
racemes infused with gnoses

bells symmterical and graphic
ring lyrical and orphic

pink light of the pink lanterns

spring switches off and on
the flickering squills of song

inspiriting bowing vanishing
incense with earth commingling

pink dreamachines of winter

[Author’s note: the dreamachine was invented by Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville, a cylinder with slits cut into it, a light-bulb inside it, spinning on a turntable, an artwork to be viewed with eyes closed.]

Cover of b/w by Niall McDevitt. Image is a collage depicting the stylised black silhouette of a headless and armless torso, in a gold vessel on a night river with gold lights in the background.