This was a very special night, not least because we had Bernard Kops, one of the seminal London poets of the second half of the twentieth century, as a guest reader. This prolific poet, playwright and author remains a compelling voice both on platforms and on the page.
Bernard Kops was born in 1926, He explained how his Jewish parents had come to London from Holland in the 1930’s and only his father’s poverty caused them to escape the terrible fate of the rest of the family in Holland. They all died under Nazi occupation, but his father could not afford the fare back home. Bernard left school at thirteen and educated himself in Whiechapel Library which is the subject of one of his best known poems. He became a member of the circle of avant garde artists and poets in London that included Louis MacNeice, W H Auden, Allan Ginsberg (whom he met in Israel) and David Bomberg among others.
Bernard’s poems are naturally, but not exclusively, full of the awareness of his Jewish heritage and the Holocaust. They are sharp and never sentimental or self-pitying, even when he deals with death and war. “Shalom Bomb”, his first poem of the reading, set the resilient, life-affirming tone of much of his work. It’s a joyful rant demanding his “own private bomb”, full of everything that the nuclear tests that triggered the poem are designed to efface:
“ My live long and die happy bomb. My die peacefully of old age / in my own bed bomb” ...
Chrys was reading from her new collection, “Dancing on a Rock”. Poems about Otzi, the prehistoric man found frozen in the Austrian Alps, formed one strong, imaginative sequence, the experience of a tour of the Yukon another. The final section of the book, “Poems on the March”, is particularly powerful, as she asks, in “Mr Kalashnikov Regrets”, if the inventor of that savage gun would have designed it and made it available to violent men and governments, if he had known then what he knows now. “Remembrance” is a moving meditation on a visit to the Jewish Museum in Berlin; it ends:
for all that I was not
and all that I might have been.”
The final poem of the book, "The Insurrection of Words", is a rousing affirmation of the power of poetry against the "silencers" - whether governments, religious fundamentalist movements, or political manipulators - who bring war, rape, murder and torture into people's lives. Chrys delivered it as a rallying cry, standing up, despite her stick.
John Smallshaw, our third guest, was clearly totally able-bodied and gave an energetic and dramatic performance in the course of which he explained his connection with the historic charity of The House of St Barnabas, whose headquarters is in Greek Street, Soho, London. This historic house is the centre for the charity’s work in rehabilitating the homeless, jobless and often drug-addicted of the city. The building itself is full of interest. John explained that Charles Dickens wrote “A Tale of Two Cities” there. The House of St Barnabas is open to view to anyone attending any of the poetry events that are held there and we’re looking forward to seeing round it on 2nd May, when Dónall is reading as a guest there.
Dónall reminisced about his days as Poet in Residence in a school in Bray, Ireland, and the varied tasks he was given when he was "outsourced".
We were very pleased to see Jos Anderson back, with friends and relatives, and poems to past and present girlfriends. His “Rant Against Capital” (the result of too much Ginsberg, he said) was full of passion and we would like to publish it in The Keystone, if Jos will send us a copy.
Graham Brown (above right), our welcome visitor over from the Isle of Wight, recalled the first time someone showed him their manifesto . Then he had us reeling under a hail of puns in “The Poetry Police”. Bernard Kops was, of course, mentioned. (In a nice way!)
Finally, Kyle McHale, who had waited very patiently as usual, read about his father’s hatred of dandelions (the reason that Kyle plants them in his imaginary garden), a journey through Spring in America, and an elegy for poetry as words are sacrificed to the “modern non-thinkers’ madness.”
Well Kyle, you helped to make sure that Poetry wasn’t dead and buried on this Tuesday night, even if over twenty per cent of the poets were on sticks!
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Janice & Dónall Dempsey
We are poets, writers, spoken word performers, editors and organisers of spoken word events, based in the United Kingdom.