DON Walls, York poet, playwright, folk club performer and tutor, has died at the age of 88.

Only last year his last work, A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever – a quote from John Keats – was published by Stairwell Books with a cover painting by Don.

Book editor Rose Drew said: "Don and I spoke about his final collection several times. It's a love letter to the world; a collage of small sections of old work, tied with new, and as we discussed, are the musings of a declining genius.

"These pages are what Don was thinking, thoughts flitting through him, as he lay, readying to leave this life: the people and places deeply important to him, his son Peter; his dear love Mary; his father; the Clifton Ings, birds; others nameless (“all the generous souls who passed this way”); the beauty of nature; the constant 'roar of war' and yet, throughout, woven between, are memories of what he has loved."

Born in Baker Street, in the Burton Stone Lane area of York in 1929, Don began his education at Shipton Street Junior School, playing left-half in the school football team, before studying at Nunthorpe Grammar School for boys. In his early teens, Don became church organist of a congregational church, but the vicar objected to his preference for experimental jazz and blues expositions, and after Don requested a salary increase, his sacking ensued.

After university days at Sheffield and London studying English, History and French, Don joined the Royal Air Force in 1953 at West Kirby on the Wirral, where he was assigned the task of teaching recruits the history of the RAF and mathematics, neither subject his specialism.

York Press:

"Don was a poet to the end," says The Beggars Of York director Joshua Goodman

More fruitful was teaching Turkish teenagers English Language and world literature at Robert College in Istanbul, where the art department's facilities gave Don the chance develop his own illustrative skills that would later feature on his book covers. He studied for two years at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in the mid-Sixties and returned to Istanbul, only leaving in the late-1970s when renewal of a residency permit was refused by the Turkish authorities.

York College was his next destination, where he took up a job teaching General Studies and English as a Foreign Language. After the Vietnamese Boat People arrived in Britain, Don taught them at a centre in Kirkbymoorside, and later he set up the dyslexia unit at York College, teaching 16 to 70 year olds.

Above all, he made his mark on the York poetry and spoken-word scene, reading his work at open-mic nights and becoming the poet in residence at the Black Swan Folk Club's regular evenings.

Deadgood Publications published Don's poetry books In the Shed in 2005; Inside Out, 2006; Down The Lane, 2008; Somewhere, 2009, and Where Are We Now Now, 2010. Stairwell Books followed suit with Somewhere Else in 2014 and the script of his crowd-funded debut play, The Beggars Of York, in 2016.

Among many tributes, York poet, musician and York Literature founder Miles Salter said: "Don was loved by lots of people in the York area. He was a tremendous writer; capable of very funny and very tender poems about the human condition. He was open about mental illness and its impact on him, and his play about homeless people in York was a crowdfunding smash hit. Most of all, though, he was a good man who was gregarious and warm. York is a poorer place without him. It's very sad to see him go."

York Press:

Hannah Davies in Don Walls' verse drama The Beggars Of York at York Theatre Royal in 2016

Writer and editor John Wheatcroft, a long-standing friend, said: "I'd known Don for 30 years. He was running York College's adult literacy department in the late-1980s when I volunteered as a tutor. I always felt that he underestimated his gifts as a poet. Kay (Wheatcroft), York Late Music administrator Steve Crowther and I helped him to edit Somewhere in 2009.

"We had a bit of a running battle over some of his lighter poems, but in the end, we managed to persuade him to include them in a 'Requests' section at the end. For me, some of this lighter work - the triangles stuff - was like the catchy hit singles. What really counted was the album material, his beautiful poems about nature, human nature and love. He was one of the wisest and kindest people I have ever met."

Joshua Goodman, who directed Don's debut verse drama about the city's homeless, The Beggars Of York, in the York Theatre Royal Studio, said: "I visited Don about four weeks ago after his doctors said the end was near. He was very frail, but still razor-sharp and, having lost the strength to write with a pen, seemed to converse in his brilliant verse instead.

"He was a poet to the end. He was also incredibly sanguine about his own death, telling me that he humbly welcomed the inevitable. My sadness for his passing is strongly tempered by sheer delight at having known him at all, and at having had the chance to work with him. It was a true privilege to be his friend."

Don died last Saturday at Mulberry Court Care Home. His funeral will take place at York Crematorium on February 1 at 1.40pm. No flowers, please, but donations can be made to St Leonard’s Hospice, York Mind and Macmillan Cancer Support. Proceeds from A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever will be donated to the hospice too.

His last printed words were: "The love, the compassion/which in the end is all there is/all there is left and I could not have loved you/more or less."

"And he meant all of us," concludes book editor Rose Drew.

Don Walls, A Tribute, by John Gilham, editor of the York publication Dream Catcher


I keep my memory of him...
in the garden shed.
I take it for walks on the Ings
that he loved so well;
I must look for the Lane
where he grew up
And maybe visit Mary,and Emma,
the menagerie of hippos, kangaroos,
Galloping, jumping, around York
and the midnight elephants, their spoor.

Wise and witty, urbane and erudite,
that deep voice
Perfectly modulated,
willing to shock
Evoking the laughter that comes
from recognised truth.

And behind it all,
the words that haunt us:

“the roar of traffic,
the roar of war,
the blast of war,
never stops, never stops,”

He took us from youth
in the poorer streets of York,
From fishing in the Ouse,
to speculations on the fornication of swifts.
The loss of Peter,
remembered in poems
of his childhood,
and Don’s wondering fatherhood.
“and the mind can’t grasp it
can’t grasp it, can’t grasp it…”

And to the hard won victories and
small defeats of age -
His last gift to us of all from the fabulous talent
he kept in his garden shed.