Word made flesh 1965 / Flesh made word 2015

Tag: Peter Whitehead

ReIncarnation Biographies #22: Peter Whitehead

image001The twenty second person in our series of introductions to performers taking part in International Poetry ReIncarnation at the Roundhouse in Camden on 30th May 2015 is the novelist and filmmaker Peter Whitehead.

Peter Whitehead was born to a working-class family in Liverpool, gaining a private-school scholarship and a degree from Cambridge university. He later studied at the Slade, moving quickly into film-making. In 1965 he was at Ginsberg’s Better Books reading, where the Royal Albert Hall reading was planned, and, quickly borrowing a camera, he nominated himself official cameraman for the event. The resulting film, Wholly Communion, gives a fascinating glimpse of this remarkable meeting of British, European and American beat poets, and documents the very beginnings of the British counterculture movement.

1967’s Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, named for a line in Ginsberg’s ‘Who Be Kind To’, encapsulates the essence of a swinging London populated by now-legendary film stars, models, artists and and musicians. Whitehead also documented the popular music scene, making some of the first televised pop promos for artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Nico, The Dubliners and The Rolling Stones, documenting the young Stones’ 1965 Irish tour in Charlie is my Darling.

In the early 1970s, Whitehead abandoned film-making, and, travelling north Africa and the Middle East, developed an interest in falconry. In 1981 he began working for the Royal family of Saudi Arabia, building and running a private breeding centre. With the start of the first Gulf War in 1989, Whitehead left the Middle East and returned to the UK, where he began a third career as a writer. Novels include Nora and… (1990), The Risen (1994), and Pulp Election, published in 1996 under the pseudonym Carmen St Keeldare. His 1999 novel Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London is, in part, a fictionalised account of his experience as a film-maker in the 1960s.

Peter will be speaking about the impact of the first International Poetry Incarnation after the afternoon screening of his film Wholly Communion. To book tickets, click here.

50 Years On: ReIncarnating Wholly Communion

Wholly Communion title cardTo celebrate 50 years since the First International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall on June 11th 1965 (not to mention the seeds that have grown to flowers in its wake)  the Roundhouse will be screening Peter Whitehead’s film Wholly Communion, “the quintessential document of the event that marked the arrival of the counterculture in England” according to the BFI, as part of the International Poetry ReIncarnation this Saturday, May 30th, at 2.30pm.

image001According to Stuart Heaney on the BFI’s website: “Wholly Communion is perhaps the most distinctive British example of a documentary movement that attempted to capture reality while interrogating it: ‘direct cinema’. Whitehead’s camera draws attention to itself and the filmmaker’s presence by filming Gregory Corso’s reading from between two other poets talking during the performance. This technique emphasises the filmmaker’s subjectivity while also identifying the camera (and therefore the viewer) with the perspective of the audience present at the event.”

Michael Horovitz

Michael Horovitz

The ReIncarnation screening will also be followed by a panel discussion between director Peter Whitehead, and three of the 1965 Albert Hall happening’s co-conspiritors, the poets Michael Horovitz and Pete Brown, and biographer Barry Miles.

The day kick offs at 12.30pm with a panel discussion of Revolutionary Poetics, featuring legendary counterculture poet and lyricist Pete Brown, passionate and proper poet-activist Pete the Temp, and rising star of spoken word Cecilia Knapp. They’ll be discussing whether words can ever really change the world.

To book tickets for the Wholly Communion screening and the panel events, click here.

Liberty, Equality, Poetry

mhandginsbergAdam Horovitz reflects on the impact of the International Poetry Incarnation in 1965 and looks forward to the celebratory party for it.

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.

Annie Whitehead

Annie Whitehead

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. Continue reading