KIRKHAM, Michael C. - Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Toronto, passed away on July 29, 2018, at the Christie Gardens retirement residence, where he had lived since 2012 with his wife Ruth Grogan.
Michael was born in 1934, in Stockport, U.K., where he and his parents experienced the war years and the bombing of nearby Manchester. After the war the family moved south to Portsmouth. He was educated at Portsmouth Grammar School where he was regularly “slippered” for mischief. Being clever as well as mischievous, he proceeded later to Christ Church, Oxford.
Granted leave after his first year to do the then-required National Service, he chose to join the Intelligence Corps (as he abhorred and ridiculed officer training) and was put to the boring, if occasionally amusing, task of intercepting coded Russian communications. After two years he returned to Oxford, taking his BA in English and a Diploma in Library Science. He met his first wife Angela when working in a public library in Penge, a small borough on the outskirts of London, and they married in 1963.
A small inheritance enabled them to spend a year in Greece where he worked on his book about the poet Robert Graves, who wrote him later that he had gotten closer to the essence of his poetry than any other critic. Back in England, he studied for an M. Phil. at Birkbeck College, University of London (where, as it happens, his daughter Natasha now holds an academic position). On the strength of that degree as well as his publications (during his years in London he was associated with the New Left Review), he was offered an appointment in the English Department, University of Toronto in 1968. He was first at Scarborough College, and after 1975, at University College. He retired in 1999.
His and Angela’s daughter Natasha was born in 1969. After Angela’s death in 1994, he married Ruth Grogan, a member of the English Department, York University. She shared his interests in modern poetry, his love of music, his sense of humour, and enjoyment of holidays in the UK.
Michael was a strong presence in the English Department. His collegiality, scholarship, and administrative work were highly valued. He expressed himself forcefully (some said “vehemently”), often in the face of prevailing academic trends though keeping informed about them. His main intellectual interests were poetry, especially modern English and American, as well as twentieth century fiction. He published prolifically: the book on Robert Graves was followed by books on English poets Edward Thomas and Charles Tomlinson, as well as many articles and reviews. His writings are based on an exceptionally sensitive close reading and are given scope by philosophical and social awareness. His was a distinguished career that enhanced the reputation of the department and university.
He also wrote poetry, and after his retirement published two volumes, A Dark Clarity (2009) and The Years Between (2012), the latter being markedly personal; in its last four poems Michael confronts the incipient ravages of Lewy Body Dementia, of which he eventually died.
As well as by his wife Ruth, Michael is survived by his daughter Natasha Kirkham, her husband Daniel Richardson, and his three grandchildren, Samuel, Isaac, and Calla, who live in London U.K. He will be much missed by family, friends, colleagues, and former students.
A memorial gathering will be held at Christie Gardens, Oct. 21, 2.30 – 5.30 pm. Michael’s friends, the family’s friends, University colleagues, former students, and all who remember him will be welcomed.