Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Adrian Mitchell: To Whom It May Concern

I note with sadness the passing of Adrian Mitchell a day or two ago.

Not familiar? He's probably going to be known by posterity as the author of "To Whom It May Concern" (I think that's what it's called)--the "tell me lies about Vietnam" poem--which he famously, and beautifully, read at Wholly Communion in 1965. (Was it '65? I don't have a firm grasp on my facts this morning.)

He did a lot of other work, of course, but most of it was rather average in my humble reckoning, spoiled by his tendency towards a sentimental populism characteristic of all of the lesser poets of his generation. It was a brilliant generation, to be sure--Raworth, Torrance, Harry Fainlight, Hollo, Horowitz, among the many--but the great ones were largely overlooked and those of limited talent or achievement struck it BIG. McGough biggest of all in the Liverpudlian afterglow of some group called the Beatles, but Mitchell too, especially with the liberal-minded arts media, who followed his every middling move as if he were Bob Dylan, almost.

"Poetry is ignored by most people because most people ignore poetry," he said (or something like that. And proceeded to write lyrics rather than poems, mostly, with obvious rhythms and simple language because, I presume, that is what he thought "people" would respond to, "people" all being pretty much the same and liking the same things in the same way.

That's a patronising view of the world, I think, and when I have time and concentration I might argue it further. I don't think, personally, that any artist should go to his audience; he (or she, yeah yeah) should just write their poem or sing their song and do it with as much force and intelligence and originality as they can. Let the audience decide whether they want to engage with it or not.

And as a leftie I say don't make everybody stupid so all of us are equal. There was always considerable value in the life of the advanced mind with sophisticated tastes. The only problem with it was that too many people were excluded from sharing in it.

Adios, Adrian. I liked you in spite of what this post may seem to suggest; but I wish the Guardian had noted the recent passing of Dave Church, a poet of towering ability, with the same enthuisiasm. Or at all.

1 comment:

Tim Daly said...

I'm sorry you felt the need to sully your 'tribute' to Adrian with a sideswipe at the accessible poetry he and friends spearheaded.
I loved the man. He was, first and foremost, one of us.