Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Mersey Sound - Penguin Modern Poets 10


Yes, the classic collection from 1967, one of the best selling poetry anthologies of all time.  It was and may still be hugely influential, but it is also (naturally) dated and often shallow behind the surface shine.

The late Adrian Henri has dated the most - no doubt because he was the oldest poet represented and also the most tied to contemporaneity.  His Alf Jarry/Pere Ubu references would have been the ultimate in avant garde in the early sixties - they are less so now.  That said, I found Henri's sad love poetry very touching, notably 'Without You' and 'Where'er You Walk'.

Roger McGough was the one I liked best at the time and like least forty years on.  The poems here really are the epitome of shallow.  I know he swapped some for the revised edition and he has certainly acquired depth in his later work. The poems here are heavily redolent of John Lennon in his Spaniard in the Works, sub Spike Milligan phase.

Patten's the one, though.  Only 21 when this collection was first published but even then transparently the most significant poet of the three.  Every single entry here has to be read slowly and carefully to find meaning and fully take onboard the emotion.  I remember seeing Patten and McGough in a show with members of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in 1973 or maybe 1974.  McGough was always a natural performer whereas Patten opted for the nasal whine favoured by modern bards.  This really is the difference.  Henri and McGough's poetry is meant to be read out with actions and voices and comedy where appropriate.  Patten can of course be read out loud but it's really meant for the printed page.

Adrian Henri died some time ago, McGough is a national treasure, but what happened to Brian Patten?  He's still under 70 but I haven't heard anything of him for years.  According to Wikipedia he's still active.  I must look more carefully for more recent collections.

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