R J Hansford

Ronald Joseph Hansford was born in the parish of Fawley, Hampshire, and still lives in the house, built by his grandfather, in which he grew up. More firmly rooted than most people today, Ron might be expected to possess a clear sense of identity; however, due to ambiguities of race, class and generation in his background, the exploration of identity is the driving force behind much of his poetry.

Brought up by his maternal grand-parents in the then isolated New Forest hamlet of Hardley, Ron enjoyed a country childhood, spending much time on the farm next door, where there was little mechanisation, and most of the work was done in the old way. This and the wide generation gap between him and his immediate family were to give Ron an enduring sense of history, and a satisfaction in having hands-on contact with natural materials.

Ron’s interest in language was stimulated by the alternative country names for flora and fauna, and by the nomenclature of tools, not only on the farm, but at the building site. Ron’s grandfather worked all his life in the building trade. He was a master craftsman, and from him was inherited not only a healthy respect for manual work and workers, but a deep interest in hand tools and craft processes.

Leaving home in his early twenties to qualify as a librarian in Birmingham enabled Ron to step back and view the building trade from a fresh perspective. However, he was to return to work in the family building business for a further ten years. From these experiences grew a body of poems which examine the craft tradition within the family, the ethic of workshop and building-site. A number of these were published in 1995, in a limited edition collection by Tears in the Fence, entitled Beatitudes of the Buttered Brick.

In contrast to this homely upbringing was the counterweight of a cosmopolitan background. Having an English mother, who has spent most of her adult life in France, an Italian-American father, a French step-father who rose to become a General in the French army, and half-brothers and sisters in both France and America, many poems deal with the theme of duality of race. There is a constant balancing of one set of racial characteristics against another.

In the late 1970’s, Ron made a career switch to librarianship, working for twenty-eight years in the local public library – another contrast explored in poetry, comparing his own clerical job unfavourably with the manual work done by his grandfather. Perhaps there is a feeling that poetry itself is a ‘cissy’ activity peculiar to the middle classes; this could be the motivation for the humorous put-down poems, where he debunks his own poetic pretensions.

Ron feels that the development of his poetry owes much to the workshops led by Kevin Crossley-Holland, and Matthew Francis, based originally at Winchester College of Art, and similar groups led by Paul Carey-Kent in Southampton, and Keith Bennett in Lymington.