Wednesday 13 October 2021

The democratisation of poetry

The Mersey Sound
Last year I reviewed John Cooper Clarke's Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt. I supposed that working class poets from the North West would mine the gritty reality of their industrial environment for their work rather than the romantic foppery of daffodils. How wrong I was. In The Mersey Sound, a collection first published in 1967, Adrian Henri has a poem called The New, Fast Automatic Daffodils(1).

Adrien Henri is joined by Roger McGough and Brian Patten, all three from Liverpool and credited with helping democratise the arts in 1960s Britain. I first came across this in the early 80s. Before that, I thought there were only two sorts of poem: the long ones such as I'd studied at school (Burns, Tennyson, Crabbe), or the humorous ones (Marriott Edgar). With the Liverpool Poets I discovered poetry could also be about things that were important to young, working class people. It can be both funny and sad, candid, explicit, and recognizable.

Looking through the contents of the book, the same one I bought all those years ago, I noticed I'd underlined titles of my favourite poems. They were the popular ones, the ones that don't take too much effort to read, and through the years I've returned to these favourites and never given the others a second glance. This time I took time to read more deeply and discovered new poems. I was also struck by individual writers' themes. Most of Adrian Henri's poems are about love, relationships, and sex, whereas Roger McGough often talks about war and the nuclear threat that was so urgent post WW2. Brian Patten's work is more varied and in the 80s I found none of his that really appealed. With the advantage of an older mind and a fresh perspective, the old book now includes five newly highlighted titles. Perhaps in another few years there'll be more.

I'm not going to quote passages from all my favourite poems, just a couple of lines from Adrian Henri's Tonight at Noon.
Tonight at noon
The first daffodils of autumn will appear
When the leaves fall upwards to the trees
It seems that daffodils loom large in poetry regardless of the writer's background.

And here's Adrien Henri reading his poem:

(1) Cut-up of Wordsworth's poem plus Dutch motor-car leaflet.

My list of favourites from 1983 and 2020.

Adrian Henri's Talking After Christmas Blues
Without You
Tonight at Noon
Love is...
The New 'Our Times'
Galactic Lovepoem
The New, Fast, Automatic Daffodils

Aren't We All
Let Me Die a Youngman's Death
Comeclose and Sleepnow
Sad Aunt Madge
My Busseductress
There's Something Sad
At Lunchtime

Little Johnny's Confession
Party Piece
Where Are You Now, Batman?
Song for Last Year's Wife
Come into the City Maud

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