‘Miner poet’ or ‘seer and singer’? Joseph Skipsey’s performance of the identities of miner and poet by Joy Brindle
Northumberland poet Joseph Skipsey (1832- 1903) published 11 volumes of poetry between 1858 and 1895. For the majority of this time he was also working as a coal miner, and his poetry can be seen as part of a North-East working-class tradition looking back to earlier local ballads, and forward to the work of Tom Pickard and the Morden Tower poets of the 1960s and beyond. This article explores the dual identities of Joseph Skipsey through his first published pamphlet, Lyrics, and through visual representations of the poet, in particular the photographic portrait ‘Skipsey in his Working Clothes’. It argues that Skipsey’s choice to ‘try on’ a multiplicity of visual personas through the emerging art of photography provides a parallel to the development of both his lyric voice, and his identity as a poet in the world outside his poems.