Chris Torrance obituary

·2 min read

My friend Chris Torrance, who has died aged 80, was an important member of the British Poetry Revival of the 1960s and 70s, and an inspiration and mentor to many young and aspiring poets in south Wales and throughout Britain.

Chris was born in Edinburgh, the elder of two sons of John Torrance, a chartered accountant, and Kathleen (nee McConville), a nurse. His father was Scottish, and his mother a Northern Irish Catholic; although Chris himself ceased to practise at an early age, he attributed his firmly held belief in the transformative nature of poetry to this Catholic background.

Raised in Carshalton, Surrey, he left John Fisher school, Purley, aged 16 to work as a lawyer’s clerk in central London. He had found in the Carshalton area a group of young people with an interest in the counter-culture, American Beat writers, and jazz. With others he started a short-lived poetry magazine called Origins/Diversions and he met, and was strongly influenced by, the young British poet Lee Harwood.

In 1968 Chris married Val Collett and they moved from London to Bristol, then, in 1970, to Glyn Mercher Isaf in the upper Neath valley, Powys, where Chris lived without a car, TV, telephone or computer, for the next 51 years until his death. His remote and somewhat primitive cottage became a place of pilgrimage for many poets, artists and musicians.

In the early 70s, he embarked on his life’s work, The Magic Door, the first three books of which were published by Albion Village Press. Eventually there were seven books. The work explores the place in which he had made his home, drawing on Welsh history, natural history, geology, meteorology, astronomy and alchemy. This work up to 1996 was collected in one volume by Test Centre in 2017, and stands as a beacon of late 20th century non-mainstream poetry.

After he and Val separated in 1976, Chris remained a solitary dweller in his cottage, though with many visitors. From 1977 for nearly 20 years he taught creative writing for Cardiff University’s extramural department – which involved long bus journeys from and back to his home.

This work led to a poetry group and magazine called Cabaret 246, with which Chris performed around Wales. In the 80s he formed a powerful creative partnership with the musician Chris Vine, called Heat Poets. They performed and recorded, and released three albums, including RORI: A Book of the Boundaries, in 2011.

Chris cultivated vegetables and flowers in his bountiful cottage garden, gathered wood for his fire, and listened to Test cricket, jazz and hip-hop on the radio.

He is survived by two cousins, Conor and Roger.

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