Manx poet Simon Maddrell has written a pamphlet about three episodes in the island’s queer history.
Isle of Sin is Simon’s third pamphlet and will be published on March 31. It follows on from his award-winning 2020 debut Throatbone.
Simon, who lives in Brighton and Hove, told Island Life: ‘As Annie Kissack, our Fifth Manx Bard, has said: “Isle of Sin may not be an easy read for many Manx people but a necessary one.”
‘I have heard so many times people saying “we should move on” which always strikes me as a kind of denial. We can’t learn from history that we have forgotten — or even actively erased.’
The first section celebrates the life of actor, singer and dancer Dursley McLinden (1965–1995) who died of AIDS-related illness and was to said to be an inspiration for the character Ritchie Tozer (played by Olly Alexander) in It’s a Sin, the Channel 4 drama by Russell T Davies. The second section pays tribute to the activism of prominent gay rights campaigner Alan Shea, and highlights the homophobia and dubious police practices of the time.
And the final section sees Simon acknowledge the progress the island has made using erasure poems from the recent government and police apologies and a speech by the island’s own Heartstopper, actor Joe Locke.
Asked what messages he hoped the pamphlet puts across, Simon said: ‘I would prefer to think about the poems in terms of eliciting feelings about their subject matter, which are little told stories.
‘I think my job as a poet is to prompt emotions and thought –– not to force opinions. I hope that the poems enable people to decide on the message for themselves.
‘The pamphlet has a lot of factual notes too, so I hope some people will also learn things about our past, and present.’
Simon said he had listened to a number of young queer Manx people and bullying at school is still a problem, while others struggle with parental acceptance too.
‘Twenty per cent of LGB kids and 40% of trans kids attempt suicide in the British Isles, so this pamphlet isn’t just about history,’ he said.
‘Trans young people on the island in particular suffer for prejudice and phobia. In many ways the narrative they face is the same that gays and lesbians faced 30 years ago.’
He said straight and gay men with HIV were twice as likely to take their own lives, five times more likely in the first year after diagnosis.
‘The Manx Government’s misguided secrecy on the subject of HIV has a negative impact on mental health not a positive one and the idea that the figures would “cast the island in a bad light” is steeped in homophobia and the shaming of IV drug users,’ he added.
‘Being HIV positive myself I understand this only too well.’
Isle of Sin is dedicated to Alan Shea and ‘those we lost’ in particular to suicide and AIDS-related illness.
‘If there is one person responsible for the progression of queer rights in the Isle of Man then it is Alan Shea and his bravery and activism should be applauded,’ Simon said.
‘He has inspired me to put my head above the parapet and not care what anyone thinks.
‘There’s something about truth and justice that gives you an armour.’
Fifth Manx Bard Annie Kissack said the pamphlet was a ‘sharp reminder of the nature and cruel cost of homophobia’ while human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell described Isle of Man as ‘more than a homage to activism – it’s Maddrell’s stark reminder about where we came from and where we could return.’
Meanwhile, Simon’s fourth pamphlet, The Whole Island, will be published by Valley Press on July 5.
‘It is very different, and perhaps more classically a poetry book, again with lots of notes, but lots of Manx Gaelic in it too,’ he said.
‘The Whole Island explores my relationship with the Isle of Man in poems about family and folklore, nature and wildlife, history and politics.
‘The Whole Island is unapologetically Manx but doesn’t confine itself to the parochial, but instead explores how this wonderful place can teach me about the human condition and a place in the world.’
Isle of Sin is published by Polari Press and is priced £9.99.
Bridge Bookshop, in Ramsey and Port Erin, will be stocking Isle of Sin. It can be pre-ordered in person and online at www.bridge-bookshop.com/store/p1212/Isle-of-Sin-by-Simon-Maddrell.html
Standing in his garden looking like Liberace in a velvet jacket
Mel Cheetham clings to his pineapples
and palms their stone column
as if his whole masculinity
depended upon them and his desire
to birch homosexuals himself
— unnatural and utterly disgusting —
consider this obsession imbalanced
— just as the spirit level cannot lie —
Spending too much time prookal magh
those rough fellows sheese y raad
that hardened gardener seose y chronk
backing him up with old Manx tongue.
His detached house is covered in cracks
as if something underneath has slipped.
Prookal magh: searching out; Sheese y raad: down the road; Seose y chronk: up the hill.