Gargoyle 7cover etching (The Odyssey) by B. Lysoypublication date 9/4/1977
Huddersfield, England, slouched despondently into evening.
The streets silted with determined drizzle. Outside the ‘Builders Club’
a limp roil of discordant, inefficient "Born Under a Bad Sign" escaped
from the half-open door along with a sliver of light. It was nullified
by the rain and washed protectingly down the overflowing gutter. Steve
Sneyd, promoter of the ‘Inner Circle’ attempts was at the pay-desk. He
was explaining to a casual drift of disinterested audience about the non-appearance
of the guest poet–Michael Horovitz. His lips could be seen to be moving
through the haze of volume-stunned cigarette smoke. Between him and me
about sixty people sat or lay about oblivious to the determined trio on
I remembered that Steve had pointed out some time ago that
one of the characteristics of Pisceans was that the left-hand side of their
faces never exactly matched their right. As he re-recited his story of
draughty platform waiting and poet-less trains I vaguely attempted to discover
signs of physiognomical misalignment in his animated but distance-dumbed
face. Without success.
Losing interest I watched the posters fluctuating on the
wall instead. Last months appearance of the Yetties was circled in red
crayon for some obscure reason. Further along the wall between the Kropotkin
poster and the bar was an announcement for a forthcoming gig by Prism.
A group who had disbanded last week. A sign over the bar disassociated
the management from responsibility for anything. Another warned against
the exchange of illegal chemicals.
Meanwhile the three-piece on stage not so much closed their
set as dissolved into apathy and disintegrated. Something reminded me of "Dedicated
to you, but you weren’t listening".
Steve was at the door explaining. An unprepossessing figure
in an anorak, hat and thick glasses appeared to have slid past without
paying. He had a plastic carrier bag in one hand, the other hand thrust
deep into his pocket.
A local poet arranged a stool in front of one of the microphones.
He held a ‘Boots’ ring-plan folder of neatly typed sheets. Discovering
that the mike was non-functioning he dismounted the stool and moved it
across the floor to a second mikestand. This act got smattered applause.
His poems met with less spectacular success. I felt for him. Remembering
my own stance at other, similar microphones, My own meandering Dadaesque
metaphysical obscurities like misguided missives into a void.
The girl with ratty hair that hung to her nicely outlined
T-shirt tits who was pulling at the phallic beer-pumps was marginally gaining
more attention than the poet.
My own attention returned to Steve at the door. The unimpressive
figure with the plastic carrier bag had removed his hat and said "Hi,
Steve? I’m Mike."
Michael Horovitz was born in 1935 in Frankfort, the youngest
of ten children in a family descended from German, Hungarian and Bohemian
Rabbis. Two years later they shifted to Hampstead, to sit out the war in
the Thames valley, Surrey. After various London County Council schools
Mike read English at Oxford, painted, wrote, failed to learn the saxophone,
and read William Blake. "Blake’s whole life" he discovered "was
given to the creation of songs, poems and pictures to crystallize his awareness
of the infinite and the eternal." At the 1963 Beaulieu Jazz Festival
he met Pete Brown. Later Pete was to lyric hits for Cream (like "White
Room" and "Sunshine of Your Love"), form Battered Ornaments
with guitarist Chris Spedding, record the brilliant A Meal You Can Shake
Hands With in the Dark, form Piblokto! and eventually transcend gigs
with vintage organist-hero Graham Bond to lead his own poetry-rock group.
Pete Brown and Mike Horovitz gravitated through the C.N.D.
to the Cafe Des Artistes on the Fulham Road. The place was a nucleus for
poets and musicians, and was eventually closed down due to drug notoriety.
At this time Mike and Pete collaborated on an epic chase-chorus poem "Blues
for the Hitch-Hiking Dead". The 33rd or last chorus of which appeared
in the slim Jazz Poets anthology edited by Anselm Hollo (Vista Books).
Mike and Pete went on to produce the glossy spaced-out New Departures magazines
and did live jazz-poetry readings. Miles Gibson described Horovitz’s performance
as ‘like a man who pours a jug of water over his feet in slow motion. His
work is the open, breathing kinetic poem that has to be played by ear.’
Horovitz exhibited paintings and collages in Ben Uri, Better
Books, and provincial art galleries. He edited Children of Albion,
an anthology of ‘Poetry of the underground in Britian’, probably the most
important poetry publication of the decade. Predictably it was reviewed
in London Magazine by Jonathan Raban (December 1969) as ‘shabby,
diary-like poems about getting high and going to bed and waking up with
a headache that could be swapped around between a dozen or so contributors’.
Dennis Gould of Rolling Stone, however, thought differently. He wrote ‘if
you want to know how poetry came into the streets–the pub and the café–the
world of young people where imagery of songs and poems overlaps, read the
Afterwards by Michael Horovitz.’
‘His poems’ according to Adrian Mitchell ‘are written to
be read aloud, chanted, sung, even danced–just as the first poets on earth
composed their poems to be communicated directly to an audience. His poems
celebrate life–and I write that knowing it is a very high assessment.
Sometimes he fails because he takes large risks in his poems. Risk-taking
is a rare quality in poetry today few poets can match him for sheer joy.’
‘Horovitzs finest hour to date’ wrote Jeff Nuttall (in Bomb
Culture) ‘has been his chaotic Festival of the New Moon at the Albert
Hall in 1966’. Mike married Frances, herself an extremely active broadcasting
and publishing poet. He visited the USA for readings, including one at
the St. Adrians Co Bar hard on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village,
Ginsberg described him as ‘Cockney, Albionic, New Jerusalem, jazz generation,
sensitive bard’. He contributed to the Love Love Love (Corgi Books)
anthology. His Wolverhampton Wanderer (illustrated by Peter Blake,
Adrian Henri, etc.–through Latimer Press), was followed by Love Poems (New
Departures Press). For "Resurgence 70" he wrote ‘many poets
today regard effecting changes as a large part of their work’.
‘Horovitzs concern’ wrote Nuttall ‘is reflected in his goon-influenced poetry,
particularly the long "Declaration" published in 1963. He wants
to see the arts reinstated as public festival, gay, simple, stripped of obscurity
and, above all, stripped of sour perverse overtones. Continuously he works
towards this end’.
Michael Horovitz happened in two segments. He surges at the
microphone swaying slightly. He looked into the lights as if searching
for the audience. Then produced a paperback from his plastic carrier bag.
The words came as if fired from a soda syphon in long, slurred, intricate,
effervescent jets, About ‘why paint your mouth that pillar-box red if you
don’t want his letters popped in’. I had read the poem a half-dozen times
to myself previously and enjoyed it. Yet when he mouthed the poem it grew
its own life-force into something totally divorced from mere black marks
on paper. The audience shifted its attention from beer to stage. At length
he again delved into the crumpled plastic bag to produce, with an almost
theatrical flourish, something vaguely conical, constructed with obvious
dedication, bound in brown adhesive and cellotaped into something approaching
symmetry. The next few poems he proceeded to punctuate in appropriate places
with ripe farts on this roughly hewn but effective instrument. Both punctuation
and words balanced precariously–hanging together admirably. The audience
watched part bemused, part intrigued. But they watched. A feat that half
an hour before I would have dismissed as impossible.
Then he finished. Moving liquidly towards the bar while a
girl with a guitar did Joni Mitchell impressions on the discarded stage.
Bernard Shaw, who advised those wishing to impress the important
to insult them, would have had much difficulty in attempting to insult
Michael Horovitz. I approached as the poet slithered himself upon one of
the stools before the bar. I commented that in my opinion, his reading
of Wolverhampton Wanderer on a recent late-night review programme,
complete with filmed action replay back-drop, had failed in its nevertheless
admirable objective. That of uniting the diverse interests of Football
Fan and Poetophile–and that, in fact, it had reached neither audience.
He arranged his plastic carrier bag by the foot of the stool, then produced
a handful of sandwiches. Offering me one he explained that he had not yet
had a chance to eat. He asked whether I had read the full poem sequence.
I answered, truthfully, that I had. He then pointed out that ‘Isn’t Darlington
the name of a town–there is a town called Horovitz in Germany’. He asked
me about my job and whether it was hard, His interest was genuine. My own
subsequent questions never actually happened.
Then he was on stage again. He had won once, yet I felt dubious
about his chances of repeating the feat. Two local musicians who had been
hastily assembled and briefed carted guitar and electric piano into position.
A disjointed Horovitzian monologue covered the plugging in and tuning up.
About how he accepted that sexual preference was determined by a biologically
random gene-count, but how he had not yet contracted the statistically
inevitable gay genes in his own physical or cerebral makeup.
A Horovitz: suitably imbibed and refreshed swayed with the
microphone in defiance of the laws of both logic and gravity. I could never
quite determine whether he was stoned, or naturally high. The guitar trickled
limply, the electric piano poked experimentally into the cigarette smoke,
and the words flowed. Slowly. Liquid. Repetitive sometimes. Effective always.
Improvised. Powerful. Images created and destroyed while the ions merged
and reformed moving into polymers of sound.
‘Jazzetry’ Lindsay Anderson had christened the first faltering
mismatched attempts at a jazz/poetry fusion, and, almost ten years later,
it was bursting in streams of soft explosion across the ‘Inner Circle’
honed, developed, perfected, flowing easily and naturally as never before.
The words were mere instruments, flexible, pliable, folded, stretched,
shredded, bent into shape, sculptures and strung out across the room refurbished
and renewed. If the dictionary definition happened to get in the way then
it was ignored and rapidly discarded. The word ‘cascade’ appeared, and
the pianist riffed down the keyboard in response, smiling in obvious satisfaction.
They segued well. Then the Horovitzophone was squealing and farting down
the stupefied microphone like some kind of insane John Coltrane. On and
on. Cyclic, inevitable, but never predictable.
By the time they were putting the shutters across the bar
and Horovitz was verbally seducing the girl with the ratty hair while she
polished her beer pumps, and Steve was counting out the evenings admission
fee, it all seemed distant, and impossible in retrospect.
Yet, on reflection, there are far worse ways of killing a