give me your painting hand:

W. S. Graham & cornwall


The poet W. S. Graham (1918-1986), though born in Greenock, Scotland, spent most of his adult life, with his companion Nessie Dunsmuir, in Cornwall. Since his death his reputation as one of the most distinctive and essential voices of twentieth-century literature has steadily increased.

David Whittaker’s essay chronicles Sydney Graham’s mature years in Mevagissey, Gurnard’s Head, Zennor and Madron. Throughout his work Graham’s poems provide a persistent sense of place – especially the ever-present sea in all its shifting moods. He also frequently referred back to his native Scotland with a certain sense of self-exile’s guilt.

It was Graham’s luck to be a part of the dynamic post-war St Ives community of visual artists. His friends included Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton, Bryan Wynter (for whom he wrote outstanding elegies), Ben Nicholson, Sven Berlin, Tony O’Malley, Terry Frost, Nancy Wynne-Jones and Alan Lowndes, plus many more. Graham’s uncompromising dedication to his own writerly art would not have been possible without the abundant generosity and loyalty of this good-fellowship and this book traces his vital relationships with these artists. Most of the painters he associated with were challenging the habits of pictorial representation and their ideas and methods of working further shaped Graham’s development as a poet.

Give Me Your Painting Hand is illustrated throughout and includes material not previously published, along with four of Graham’s notable poems for painters.

Paperback – 64 pages – including 35 illustrations

£10 plus postage £1.50 – single copy, for overseas contact us.

trade terms available.

Payment by sterling cheque made out to David Whittaker

or via paypal.

Book launch was in st ives in november 2015.


click on some decent reviews below:

The book has been nominated for a holyer an gof award:

the book was also featured in the times literary supplement

on february 5, but i can’t do a link to that (drat!).

The judges’ summing up of ‘give me your painting hand’:

This is a very well produced and attractively presented publication. It gives a short but vivid account of the life of the poet WS Graham who befriended most of the members of the St Ives colony of artists during the nineteen fifties, sixties and seventies.

The photographs are an interesting mixture of portraits and snap-shots. All are of very high quality in terms of composition and shed real light on the various personalities described. Good use has been made of original letters and doodles by the subject to provide variety and to give additional insight into Graham’s personality.

Whittaker effectively draws on correspondence, interviews, photographs and the poet’s own words to flesh out the bare bones of Graham’s life. The four featured poems, each written on the death of a major artist, Wallis, Lanyon, Hilton and Wynter are very moving and show the depth of his respect and friendship for these four men. This a vivid portrait of a committed local artist, his talent, his struggles and his faults.

2018 is Graham’s centenary year. I am giving a talk with readings from his work at one of his local pubs, the gurnard’s head hotel, on saturday february 24, 4pm – 5.30pm

Then a larger illustrated talk at the penzance literary festival beginning of july, to be repeated at the st ives september festival, finally an illustrated talk around his 100th birthday in november in madron (where he died in 1986).

Also at the st ives festival i will have a launch for my new book: ‘st ives allure: engagements with art & place in west cornwall’ (it’s all go this year!)


                                  A little Masterpiece

                                                      brian wall

                                                              sculptor & former professor

                                                              of art – university of california

a wonderfully fresh & sympathetic account of graham’s life among artists, and an invaluable source when setting the scene for the new poems

                                                              dr jeremy noel-tod

                                                              head of literature

                                                              university of east anglia 

The latest book, St Ives allure, features a good deal of graham, & his chums, throughout.