Sunday, 21 December 2008

Adrian Mitchell

I was really saddened to hear today that Adrian Mitchell had passed away. You can read a short biog and see him performing, including the poem he will always be remembered for, To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies About Vietnam), on Bloodaxe's news page.

Adrian was one of the poets that inspired me to become serious about writing, and helped shaped the way I was serious about it. When I was a 6th former, the village library acquired a copy of For Beauty Douglas, his collected poems up to 1979, and it probably spent more time in my bedroom than it did in the library. It helped confirm in me that writing, performance, and art more broadly - it is full of reference to other artforms, as well as a love of life in general - could connect to people and try and change things. This was poetry that was funny, angry, political, sexy, loving, anarchic, committed and not content to sit in the corner being admired.

When I started a poetry magazine I sent the first issue to Adrian. He wrote back with advice, encouragement, a drawing of an elephant which was almost part of his signature, and a poem for me to publish. (We also began exchanging quotes from Kenneth Patchen, a joint passion.) When Yorkshire Arts turned me down for a grant because the literature panel weren't convinced of the quality, I sent them a snotty letter saying if it was good enough for Adrian Mitchell it should be good enough for them! I met him a number of times, at readings, and he was a lovely, kind and gentle man. It did always feel to me like meeting a hero. I was also proud to be included in the anthology of British socialist poetry he co-edited with Andy Croft, Red Sky at Night. His work continued to develop and his Blakean socialism and his distress at the mess some humans make of the world ran through some fine books of what we will now have to call 'late poems'. But he remained essentially an optimist. We're all the poorer for his departure.

1 comment:

Josie Fraser said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I only just found out about Adrian Mitchell's death, and although I hadn't thought about him in a while I realised today that I still know many of his poems by heart. I'm very sad he's gone, and the world is indeed a poorer place.