15 June 2012


Paul Anderson, review of P O E M 2012, Queen Elizabeth Hall

There were 7,000 people at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall on 11 June 1965, the high point of the 1960s alternative poetry scene in Britain, which featured – among others -- Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Alexander Trocchi. Adrian Mitchell and Christopher Logue. Around one-tenth of that number turned out last night for P O E M 2012 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for a line-up rather less star-laden, but the show demonstrated – in the end - that the spirit of 1965 still has some life in it.

What connects the two events is the poet and impresario Michael Horovitz, now in his late seventies: his contacts book was responsible for both. Horovitz, whose anthology Children of Albion, published in 1969, inspired a generation of writers and performers, fell over at the start of last night’s gig, and the first half of it was downbeat and flat, the highlight the Scottish performance poet Elvis McGonagall’s blisteringly funny demolition of David Cameron. The Liverpool veteran Brain Patten was good too, but he delivered four elegies in a row for lost comrades, which didn’t cheer anyone up. Otherwise, there was too much under-rehearsed low-energy whimsy that might just work in a pub but failed in a big auditorium.

After the interval, it got a lot better. Francesca Beard, John Hegley, Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Gwyneth Herbert delivered the goods with pzazz, and Steven Berkoff brought the house down with an extraordinary (if over-long) rant on the Queen’s jubilee. Horovitz hadn’t gathered everyone worth seeing on the performance poetry circuit by any reckoning – I’ve seen a lot better at Apples and Snakes and, particularly, Farrago – but his mojo and his contacts book are still just about working.

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