Poet. Teacher. Activist. Father. Born Oct. 18, 1928, in Birmingham, England; died Dec. 28, 2016, in Victoria, of natural causes; aged 88.
In 1943, when, at 15, Mike Doyle quit school and left home, he did so without great expectations. He was a shy working-class Irish lad from Cricklewood in London, a city then being pummelled by the Nazis. His mother Mary, from County Tipperary, had died of tuberculosis when he was 7. His father, Charles, a factory worker from County Wexford, had also become ill with TB, the scourge of the Irish poor, and could not care for Mike or his beloved little brother Billy. Mike found work in a factory, making radar machines. One day soon after, while he was on the assembly line, the factory was hit by a German bomb. He survived, but London life remained precarious. Mike found solace in books, as he would until his last day on Earth.
At 18, with few options, Mike joined the British Royal Navy. He was a dreamer, an aspiring poet and a socialist-pacifist at heart – an unlikely military man – but Mike remained with the navy for seven-and-a-half years and travelled the world. He finished his stint in Wellington, New Zealand, where he married and continued his education.
In his spare moments, he wrote poetry. His first book A Splinter of Glass appeared in 1955. He would go on to publish over 20 more books, including three when he was in his 80s. In 1957, a fellowship took him to the United States, where he met and learned from some literary giants. He discussed the Beat Generation with W.H. Auden, shared early drafts of poems with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, and even played table tennis with Henry Miller at his home in Big Sur, Calif.
Mike's first wife, Merlyn, died tragically in 1958 in New Zealand, she too of TB. In 1959, he married Doran Smithells. Three sons, Aaron, Patrick and Kegan, and daughter Meki followed. After a tumultuous year in New Haven, Conn., in the late sixties – there were race riots in the streets, and on the news each night, body counts from Vietnam – he and Doran moved the family to Victoria, where he took up a position at University of Victoria. Mike immediately loved this serene city, with its rhododendrons and "enchanted air."
Mike wrote with great precision but also great tenderness. He had no illusions that he would ever be a canonical author, but he had many admirers, including C. K. Stead, the current poet laureate of New Zealand, who described him as "a writer of immense talent."
Mike was a quirky, often stubborn, but ultimately kind-hearted individual. In one poem, he described the "timelessness of pure happiness." For Mike, especially in his later years, pure, timeless happiness came from his daily life: a Chelsea game on the telly, a thick book, a bottle of St.-Ambroise Ale, a conversation with his dear friend Elizabeth. He left us three days after celebrating one last Christmas with his children and grandchildren, Gen, Charlie, Mina and GG.
Kegan Doyle is Mike's son.