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” ...
He included in his reading tonight two new unpublished poems, one or both perhaps inspired by his and his wife Erica’s recent involvement in a bad car accident . We’re very proud to report that we shall be the first to publish them, in our new anthology, “The Keystone”. Bernard also read from his own 7 collections, including “This Room in the Sunlight” (David Paul 2010)
Though he’s eighty-eight years old, Bernard Kops was not one of the three Poets on Sticks of my title. It was the lovely Chrys Salt MBE, our second guest, who was temporarily supporting herself on a cane, after a nasty fall at home. The lovely Dónall, our MC, who has hurt his foot, was also enjoying wielding a walking stick. At times he looked rather like Byron (only bearded), as if he would quite enjoy a duel with someone. But dashing Geoff Pimlott had a very heavy stick, an heirloom, with a wonderful silver horse’s head handle. Dónall’s weapon, new from Boots, was so inferior that I was glad no duel went ahead.
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.
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 had eleven open mic readers, including two new poets, Ray and Marcus. Eddie Chauncy drew the short straw of being first to read before the features, and as usual had new thoughts for us, this time on cats’ eyes and their, and our, need to feel safe before we can close our eyes.
Ray Pool had not read in public before, so he got Alan Bennett’s voice in to help him. It worked! A great performance in that dry storyteller’s tones!
Greg Freeman (left) had a new collection to read from. “Trainspotters” (Indigo Dreams Publishing) is partly about trains but mainly about destinations and memories of journeys. Tonight he read to us of an encounter with a lady in “The 21.53” , a wistful vignette.
Marcus, the other new reader (right) took us back to the tedium of the long car journeys our parents inflict on us when we’re children, told a horrifying story of self-immolation, and read, most beautifully, “The Sunlight on the Garden” by Louis MacNeice.
Geoff Pimlott read two new poems, a mysterious account about a possibly haunted house, and “You who constantly disturb me”, about conflict in Palestine.
Elaine Stabler (left) performed her beautiful poem about and with signing, a dance of words and gesture that was recently recorded by TedX when they visited Surrey University. She also had a thoughtful poem about how, since technology is our medium nowadays, we can become “a piece of a fleeting forever” through our social media posts and online photographs, eternally circling in space.
Andy V Frost’s secret was “elephant” and he recalled a hill on St Helier in an autobiographical story.
Andy B J Low (below left) was hesitant as always but read to us of the Sun and Moon, who, he assured us, are lovers.
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!