books monthly august 2017

This month Jerry Dowlen looks at "new love poetry"

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The New Love Poetry and London’s unforgettable 1967 ‘Summer of Love’

 

I think it’s absolutely right that the Museum of London has a display section that is dedicated to the Swinging Sixties. It is indisputable that London was perceived to be the UK epicentre of that legendary era that included, fifty years ago, the glorious 1967 ‘Summer of Love’. Roger Miller the American folk singer crooned that England ‘swings like a pendulum do.’ Carnaby Street in London’s west end reigned as fashion centre of the world. Psychedelic music and poetry was heard at venues such as the Middle Earth club in Covent Garden and the UFO club in Tottenham Court Road.

One of the songs on the Pink Floyd’s first album Piper at the Gates of Dawn included the line: ‘The words have different meanings’. Exactly so: psychedelia was not only mind-bending it was vocabulary-bending too. Words like ‘acid’ and ‘trip’ gained new interpretations. The ‘underground’ press, in magazines such as Oz, the International Times and Gandalf’s Garden, told of a torrent of exciting and extraordinary London ‘happenings’. For example, there were ‘great vibes, man’ at the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream, a pop music ‘exploding galaxy’ at Alexandra Palace. The Beatles experimented with the hallucinatory drug LSD, dressed themselves in kaftans and beads, and cut their new album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, featuring ‘far out’ tracks such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

if you visit the Museum of London in the 1960s-built Barbican complex, you’ll see that an essence of the Swinging Sixties is colourfully and faithfully replicated in a display that recalls Biba the trendy Kensington shopping emporium; a long-playing album by Cream with psychedelic-style cover; and, to my personal very great delight, the 1967-published book Love, Love, Love: The New Love Poetry.

 

Flower Power – ‘A significant departure’ – The Liverpool Poets

 

Published by Corgi, The New Love Poetry showcased the work of thirty-one young and mostly unknown British poets. To be a legitimate part of the ‘scene’ in the  Swinging Sixties it wasn’t mandatory that poetry had to embrace the new culture of ‘flower power’ – but nevertheless on the very first page of The New Love Poetry we found the poet Henry Graham writing of racemes of bright yellow flowers.

In his second poem Rain we found: She kissed me and ran naked into the rain. That was an image of striking and startling boldness to find in a published poetry collection in 1967. Pete Roche, editor of the collection, wrote proudly that the average age of the poets was only 25 and that in content and style their work represented a significant departure from the kind of poetry that had been published as English literature hitherto. He asserted that the new young poets likely felt a closer affinity to pop music lyric composers than to the established leading poets of the 1950s and early 1960s.

‘Flower power’ persisted in the book. In his poem Country Song the Liverpool poet Adrian Henri wrote of flowers at the bottom of my garden, and ferries at the bottom of my street. Then came a surreal image: I sit here in sunlight … Trying to taperecord the sound of windflowers and celandines.

The New Love Poetry featured all three of the acclaimed Liverpool Poets: Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Within a year, their work had migrated from edgy and exciting to the higher realm of mainstream and respectable, thanks to Penguin publishing a selection of their work in The Mersey Sound (1968). The radio disc-jockey John Peel had championed them relentlessly in his nocturnal broadcasts on pirate radio in the summer of 1967, playing extracts from their LP The Incredible New Liverpool Scene. Some of the poetry was surreal: for example, Adrian Henri wrote: ‘Tonight at noon, America will declare Peace on Russia.’

 

Performance Poetry – Spike Milligan - Adrian Mitchell – Pete Brown

 

In his foreword to The New Love Poetry the editor Pete Roche acknowledged and praised in 1967 the growing popularity of performance poetry. He evidenced that recent public readings had attracted large audiences, especially of young people, up and down the country. He noted that the Liverpool Poets had been trailblazers of this new craze in Britain, but he mooted that credit belonged also to Pete Brown and Mike Horovitz in London, Alan Jackson in Edinburgh and Tom Pickard in Newcastle. The excellent work of those four poets was duly included in The New Love Poetry.

Of course, a live reading of poetry was not a new phenomenon. In the 1950s beatnik era, Spike Milligan had become a popular poetry performer, accompanied by his own musical efforts on the trombone or a troupe of jazz musicians. So too Adrian Mitchell who at age 34 was the second oldest contributor (after Henry Graham) to The New Love Poetry collection in 1967. Adrian Mitchell was a talisman for left-wing ‘protest poetry’ (Ban the Bomb; America out of Vietnam; Peace is Milk). Pete Brown was there too: as a so-called ‘performance poet’ he had gigged with musicians like Jack Bruce (later of Cream) in the early 1960s.

 

The legacy of The New Love Poetry

 

One certain legacy of The New Love Poetry is its presence today at the Museum of London! I am glad that it is not forgotten. Pete Roche acknowledged and advocated in 1967 an ‘increasing demand for living poetry; poetry that talks to people in a direct and comprehensible way.’ He urged readers of The New Love Poetry to forgive any faults in technique found in some of the poems, for here was distinctive poetry containing a vigour and ‘a feeling for the realities of life that have been absent from English poetry for too long.’

Pete Brown spoke dismissively of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and similar academic poetry. He explained that ordinary people couldn’t begin to understand it; by contrast, “I want to bring my poems to as many people as possible.” If we want to be reminded of the intoxicating excitement of Swinging Sixties London (think mini-skirts! Jean Shrimpton! Kings Road in Chelsea!) what better than Pete Brown’s vivid Colour Poems from the still vibrant pages of The New Love Poetry:

            As red

as those leaves

in death / is your hair

alive

Pink –

well,

lips

 

And a green dress once/

very short / almost caused

a highstreet jam

in broad daylight

between friends

 

Jerry Dowlen

July 2017

Previous articles by Jerry Dowlen in the Books Monthly Archives include:

 

  Stan Barstow

   The author E.M. Forster (1879 – 1970) in books and films.

  The novelist R.F. Delderfield and his heroes who roam from home.

  How The Wild West Was Written

Emmeline Pankhurst and Florence Foster Jenkins

John Updike

Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train

H G Wells

In praise of the British Seaside!Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in 1963: Christine Keeler & Nell Dunn

Politicians, Pop Stars and Preachers - John Mortimer's Characters of 1986

Shakespeare's 400th Centenary

Gregory's Girl: Remembering the Hit Film

The Impact and Legacy of Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

A Tribute to Margaret Forster

Remembering Saeed Jaffrey

Old Wine in New Bottles - "new" books by Margery Allingham, Raymond Chandler & Agatha Christie

Remembering Ruth Rendell

Philip Larkin: His Maiden Voyage on The North Ship (1945)

The Catcher in the Rye and Billy Liar

Michael Holroyd

Erle Stanley Gardner

John Masefield

Bailouts

Antony Sher: The History Man

Edmund Crispin, Crime Fiction Author

Computer Chess: The Imitation Game

P G Wodehouse

John Betjeman and Candida Lycett Green

Daniel Abse

Sherlock Holmes: The Seven Per Cent Solution

Wilfred Owen

Wolf Mankowitz

Bob Hoskins

Muriel Spark & Jane Gardam

The Story of Edith Nesbit

Anthony Gilbert and Michael Gilbert

Rebels With A Cause

Inspector Winter: Gwendoline Butler's First Detective

The Carlton, The Commodore, and the Embassy - Orpington's Three Cinemas

The Bergerac Police Adventure Series

It's All In The Mind - Margery Allingham and Graham Greene

Berlin: Cold War Spy Thrillers

The Life and Centenary of Barbara Pym

D H Lawrence: The Sniggering Legacy of Lady Chatterley's Lover...


 

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