I have spent most of my life aware of the International Poetry Incarnation, which took place in the Royal Albert Hall in 1965, very nearly 50 years ago. My father, Michael Horovitz, helped organise it, so of course I was going to be exposed of it. Growing up, I knew some of the poets. They were often about, in our house or at events, being genial and strange and merely a part of my metaphysical furniture.
For a long time, the 1965 Incarnation was a big poetry gig in the sky that people talked about and that I accepted as just another impressive thing that fathers do. As I have grown older, however, and become more interested in poetry in my own right, it has been hitting ever more forcefully home to me what a turning point this Incarnation, this 1965 happening, was.
Poetry in Britain was somewhat in the doldrums in the 1950s, as far as it being a public art went. It tended to sit in small rooms in universities and libraries and speak to and of itself. With my father’s generation – people like Adrian Mitchell, Christopher Logue, Pete Brown – poetry picked itself up and went running around the country talking to people who didn’t expect poetry to come leaping out of hedgerows at them. It went charging up to the Edinburgh Festival and touring through towns and cities with musicians and actors and playwrights in tow. Poetry began to listen, and to sing out in different rhythms. It offered up a party where only drier forms of symposia had appeared available before.
And the first great expression of this party spirit? The International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall, when Beat generation Americans, European experimentalist poets and the new British lyric poets who were reclaiming the lyre and other instruments as part of the expression of their art met up and brought in over 7000 people to hear what they had to say.
The underground came overground and people leaving the show at the end of the night, turned on and tuned in, didn’t drop out. Instead they went to other venues, such as the Roundhouse, and planned their own events. “If the poets can get 7000 people to turn up with only a week’s notice,” I always imagine the musicians and artists thinking, “then just think what we can do!”
Poetry, in the intervening 50 years, has refused to stick itself back in the box rooms of academia (though there is a strong and important thread of poetic thought that is unfailingly and necessarily academic). It has become plural and exciting and culturally diverse and it is everywhere, underground, overground, sometimes even wombling free. Over the decades, any number of great voices have come to light in the wake of the work done by the organisers of the original Incarnation, voices that might never have been heard without its influence, this poetry Incarnation/gig that tore up the rulebook and allowed anyone and everyone to create their own rules of wordplay.
The International Poetry ReIncarnation on May 30th is, at its heart, an internationalist, multiethnic and verbally diverse party, hosted by Daniel Cockrill of Bang Said the Gun*. Representing America, there are two exciting poets from Third Man Books, an off-shoot of Jack White’s Third Man Records: Janaka Stucky and Chet Weise, who will be joined by musician Duke Garwood. There’s punk poet extraordinaire John Cooper Clarke, still shooting out syllables with as much élan as ever, alongside the delightful deadpan of John Hegley. Pete Brown, Cream lyricist and original 1965 performer will be there, as will Libby Houston. The irrepressible Salena Godden is performing too, along with Patience Agbabi, Kei Miller, Steven Berkoff, Francesca Beard, Cecelia Knapp, Eleanor Bron and Malika Booker. Elvis McGonagall will be sharpening his satirical barbs up for the show. Gwyneth Herbert, Vanessa Vie and Sasha Mitchell will be singing. My father will be performing on his own and with the William Blake Klezmatrix band featuring Annie Whitehead and Peter Lemer.
I can’t wait for next week. It is an honour to be performing at this celebratory event, not only because it is good to discover that sometimes fathers do things that are more exciting and important than even a child’s imagination expects or allows, but also because of the sheer brilliance and diversity of the bill. The ReIncarnation is a tribute to the original groundbreaking show of 50 years ago, yes, but it is also aiming to be the poetry party of this decade; a giddy array of performers who will move you, amuse you and who want your help to raise the roof of the Roundhouse.
Come one, come all! Do your bit for liberty, equality and poetry.
Get your tickets for the evening’s star-laden performance here: The International Poetry ReIncarnation
*Probably the best regular poetry in performance night in London, if not in Britain