College Daze **
sixty it’s with trepidation that you contemplate any writing involving
memory of events distant in time, ironically in this case, the Sixties.
Long ago I decided to keep diaries only for appointments and the odd
donné. I’ve little means of verification, even of dates,
because, thinking my memory reliable then, I didn’t name or even enter
every appointment. Now I doubt that accurate recall is possible. Trepidation
is increased by finding that whenever Ian and I reminisce we frequently
meet blank looks from each other over specific recollections. And
finally, there is the danger of retaliation from your victim with
superior memory power and or better records, especially those of a
skilled biographer over those of a translator -- occupations neither
of us envisaged then.
I first met Ian in connection with the University Poetry Society.
We were both in the last generation, after deferment, of those who
were obliged to do national service. (It is his face I remember expressing
shock at seeing some freshmen, straight from school, playing tag in
the High.) He’d been trained as a teleprinter operator, I think, hence
his skill as a typist and, presumably, the dogged clinging to his
manual typewriter. Two-fingered cack-handers like me were happy enough
to go for erasureless print-outs, the avoidance of retyping, the inevitable
correcting-fluid and marginal additions. Ian was a year ahead at university.
I did hospital, instead of military, service and since my college
place was delayed two years I’d decided to go up early and work at
the Radcliffe Infirmary.
those pre-college days I gate-crashed some of the Poetry Society meetings
and came across Ian who seemed already to have something of a critical
influence over some of the budding bards, partly because he edited
his own magazine, Tomorrow. Robert Coleman Williams, Ian
McLachlan, Stanley Golightly -- already published in the London
Magazine -- and Clive Jordan were other names I remember. And
another Ian, later Yann, Lovelock, my fellow Radcliffian and gate-crasher,
whom Robert Coleman Williams once invited outside to be thumped over
some vital issue of poetic quality. Anyway, he went Beat of his own
accord. But without his neck I wouldn’t have intruded, then diffident
and shy to the point when it could seem to others like distance or
first college memory of Ian was of the Freshmen’s Fair at which the
Poetry Society used to try to fund itself for the year by drumming
up members like mad who dropped out just as madly -- or, probably,
sanely. Over the public-address system, to attract would-be punters,
he read Anthony Hecht’s ‘The Vow’ with repressed, passionate conviction.
This was hardly noticed. With some fury he announced he would read
it backwards because nobody ever listens. And he did.
were also linked by our connections with Oscar Mellor, painter, photographer,
printer-publisher of the Fantasy Press, and -- mysteriously, without
university connexion -- sort of de facto overseer of the
Poetry Society. Ian lodged at Oscar’s, I think, for a time. I remember
a somewhat shaken Ian telling how he had stepped out on to the landing
the moment that the ceiling of the room had caved in and smashed the
typewriter. Ian’s relations with Oscar -- as with relations between
most poetry-magazine editors and their printers -- became somewhat
strained. A projected Fantasy pamphlet of Ian’s may have faltered
more over Ian’s perfectionism and unwillingness to publish than anything
else. I suspect I was to some extent the unwitting beneficiary since
Oscar sprang the chance of a pamphlet on me, presumably to fill the
gap. But the manly Coleman Williams was Oscar’s favourite poet.
regulations were a bore: gowns, gate-fines, battels -- the number
of meat-pies you had to eat to graduate -- a year’s college residence,
segregation of women, exeats to leave town in term, permissions for
residence in vacs. Disregard for the last nearly got me sent down
but that’s another story. Marriage was discouraged by the reluctance
of the authorities to award grants to married students. Some of us
found their reluctance a handy reason for delay. Anyway, you made
other arrangements as Ian and Gisela did. Pauline, my girl-friend,
lived at Sandford. With money in short supply, since our town rooms
had to be kept on, we both stayed up in the vacs. The girls worked
locally and I worked shifts at the Radcliffe. What Ian did I forget
but I don’t think he took a job, at least never for long. Given the
complications of life, including the three-mile cycle ride to Sandford,
it was surprising how often Ian and I managed to meet.
the time of the Cuban crisis a Trotskyite friend of Ian’s, renting
the room next door to him in 99 Woodstock Road, rushed off in Spanish
War style to defend Cuba. Ian suggested that I take the vacated room.
His poem ‘The Recruits’ was a reaction to the crisis.
being surprised to see a vase of flowers in Ian’s room and was told
that Gisela had put it there to brighten the place up. This showed
a gentler aspect to Ian which I should have noticed by then but had
not. It rather shook me because Pauline would not have risked trying
such a thing in my room. It would have been a concession to ‘poeticism’
and the vase would anyway probably have ended up being accidentally
spilt. Ian’s vase showed a naïve would-be sophisticate that it was
possible to be a modern poet and like a flower or two.
Road brings memories of Jon Silkin who died as I was preparing this
piece. He used to come up to sell Stand by main force about
the university and stacks of the magazine gathered on the landing
outside our rooms. Mrs Rose, our landlady -- who would not accommodate
girl-students because they were untidy -- was always complaining of
these piles and being reassured that Jon was coming to remove them.
One morning I heard this complaint being uttered on the landing and
opened my door in time to see Ian fling his wide to reveal Jon. Five-foot
one, he fitted Ian’s sofa comfortably and had slept through the racket
until this moment. Needless to say the piles of magazines hardly diminished.
Ian informed me that to save time it had been decided to boil the
eggs in the electric kettle and make the coffee or tea from the same
water -- which perhaps showed an unusually practical side to his nature
and is one of the few known examples of Ian ever cooking. As for his
practicality in other directions, I’m still always surprised by ‘The
trellis that needs fixing, that I’ll fix.’
impractical side was revealed one morning when I encountered him on
the landing with half a small loaf of stale bread in his hand which
he had put out on his window-sill facing the back from which the five
other gardens mentioned in ‘The Recruits’, could be seen. ‘The buggers
haven’t eaten a bit.’ It didn’t seem to have occurred to him to crumble
it for the birds.
99 can’t have been an easy place for Ian in his final year. The house
was full of mainly second-year students making hay. There was, unusually,
a lesbian Trinitarian theology student smuggled in by the near-alcoholic
David Hamill in the cell-like basement room. Alex Cockburn was on
the first floor -- visited by Jane of the generally acclaimed legs;
opposite, Steven Itscovitz, researcher into lasers and David’s drinking
partner. On the ground floor was Clive Jordan, also in Ian’s year,
who wrote reviews for Tomorrow and Agenda. On occasion
when all the women showed up the house must have rocked. And there
was the usual student night-time typing of last-minute essays. --
And speaking of nights, Ian regretted that you couldn’t smoke while
sleeping. Apparently he’s now nearly mastered that art. To crown it
all, Ian had a bout of flu during finals.
though, my room, the largest and emptiest, was often the common-room.
I got a better lock in the end, having set fire to the carpet with
the electric fire in the struggle to eject a would-be habitué. The
fire reminds me that once Ian set the back of his trouser legs smouldering
by standing too close to his own fire.
first editorial address of The Review was here at 99 and
the piles of The Review remained beside Stand long
after Ian moved out late in 1962 to Beechcroft Road. Having submitted
a poem to Alan Ross at The London Magazine I received a rather
bemused rejection letter from him mentioning that there was another
poet at the same address and did I know him? He seemed to doubt there
could be two of us in one place.
memory was of arriving one afternoon to be encountered by Ian’s benign
bewilderment and puzzled amusement at a stray dog they appeared to
have acquired by the dog’s choice. Yeats, it’s recorded, moved Pound
up in his crazy zodiacal system, having discovered him feeding the
stray cats of Rome. Jon Silkin, of the peaceable kingdom, somewhat
surprisingly found the dog less easy to take. On our leaving, Jon
from the street gave the beatitudinous, raised flat-palm farewell,
endemic in the Sixties, and Gisela, grinning on the step behind Ian,
without his being aware, gave a solemn parody in reply.
my final year we met when we could but, amid the varied pressures,
I was anxious not to plough my finals since a good degree would be,
I thought, the likeliest route towards time to write. Roy Fuller has
a couplet in ‘Chinoiserie’: ‘I’ve tried to take care that being a
poet /Didn’t get in the way of my making a living.’ But Ian’s and
my worries were the other way round. He, too, was having a hectic
time establishing his freelance career, writing, lecturing and making
sorties into literary London -- with a camp-bed of mine that fitted
in a duffel bag.
occasionally met in a pub before Ian was due to give an extra-mural
or WEA lecture. It was amusing to see an uncharacteristic reluctance
on his part towards the scotch because he wanted to avoid having to
go for a piss in mid flow or vice versa.A post-1965 memory of an intake
problem is of a meeting in the Pillars of Hercules when Ian was exercised
over whether it would be okay to take a bottle of wine to dinner at
a teetotal friend’s.
thinking about this piece I managed to ferret out some of our uncollected
early verse; depressing measures largely, not helpful reminders of
our discussions, though I was amused to find a sonnet of Ian’s and
one of Michael Fried’s. But then things became clearer. We hadn’t
discussed these poems with each other, but rather the general situation
for poetry, and drafts of verse in process that would appear in our
first books. -- I still notice some of the joins in both books.
Oxford around the opening of the Sixties it was too easy to publish
poems. There were so many outlets: Isis; Cherwell;
Oxford Opinion; Gemini -- rather fugitive; The
Oxford Mail, even; The Fantasy Press; Michael Horovitz’s circus,
New Departures, pushing performance; William Cookson’s Agenda;
and, yes, Ian’s Tomorrow which he now considers his ‘pre-literate’
phase. And in case of emergency I had brought a dilapidated printing
press up with me.
swanned around the town for so long I found it easy to place material
and published too readily. Of course I can’t stand the stuff now.
Ian of course couldn’t stand it then. What changes? -- Certainly not
I was busy publishing my own rubbish he was busy publishing other
people’s. I forbear to mention names like Horovitz, Wollen, Sladen,
McGough among them. It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise,
then, to discover I was sharing a prize poem spot with John Fuller
in the last Tomorrow. (If I remember, £1 - 10 each; a dish
of spag. bol. was 12 1/2 pence.) But I was surprised by one of Ian’s
choices of judge, Thomas Blackburn, who had never impressed me. --
Neither of us then knew that this was our ‘pre-literate’ phase. Though
Ian would say to me: but you, you bastard, never like anyone’s [poems].
I set a good example. He was later similarly charged by others, with
I’d acquired an impression, that later many others mistakenly found,
of Ian as a somewhat off-putting figure. He, we, liked to wear black,
then. Black duffel coats were almost de rigueur. But you
don’t see so much of your own blackness. He could appear distant and
unforthcoming when maybe only preoccupied, doubtful or bored. His
criticism seemed to be offered with such assurance that at first one
felt it was based on intellectually sound and rigorously held criteria
rather than the more human, imaginative, sensitive and intuitive intelligence
from which it actually came. It took a few discussions and exchanges
of drafts to discover this. It always seemed as if a badly written
poem hurt him; that showing him one was almost an insult or moral
failing. But I can remember worriedly puzzling over the contents of
issues of Tomorrow trying to find the criteria that linked
the poems -- and feeling inadequate when I couldn’t see a coherence.
discussions of each other’s drafts were always of detail and never
reached overall approval: the odd awkward phrase or rhythm -- suggestion
and counter suggestion for hours. It may have been a case of poets
manoeuvring like porcupines mating but there was a shared conviction
that real poems, the perfect utterances, were few and far between,
that the chances of this or that one being absolutely right were remote.
In his biography of Lowell, Ian has the wonderful phrase ‘the imaginable
moral power of perfect speech’. The poems that go through you like
a blade of ice are not often those of students or of the ignorant
armies clashing in the literary media.
things we said seem fairly commonplace now. If you need a second sheet,
it’ll be no good. Cut that. Cut it down. That rhythm’s wrong. Junk
that rhyme. That’s not real. That’s not genuine. Nobody says that.
Never did we say: lengthen it. Ian did pay me the backhanded compliment
of saying that I rhymed well -- adding: but why? I’m pleased to note
that he uses more rhyme again, not always where expected. Steps --
in an interesting direction.
talking of second sheets, his method of composition amazed me. Most
poems, I think, he shaped in his head until something viable emerged
for typing out. But if he changed or developed something, out would
come that sheet and in go another. He must have used scores of sheets
on some poems, many with only a line or two on them.
Movement was the current thing but neither of us was much impressed,
except with Larkin; the Beats, too, and performance poets were emerging
much to our unenthusiasm; energetic Ted Hughes was impressively different
from the caution of the Movement but left us with considerable doubts.
Gunn seemed to offer something, though the toughie stance was a bit
wearing and the form sometimes heavy. The Americans, Lowell, Roethke,
Hecht, Snodgrass, Plath, seemed to offer the chance of something more
viable in some way -- ‘feelingful’, a favourite word of Ian’s; and
early imagistic, critical Pound was a good besom for sweeping away
much debris. Roethke’s ‘The Lost Son’ impressed both of us and he
visited the Poetry Society. I remember him saying in the drinking
session afterward: ‘My little finger has more spirituality in it than
the whole of Tom Eliot!’ -- waggling it with his other hand.
also struck a chord with us when in his reading, packed to capacity
and more, he announced a title, saying: ‘ “I Cry, Love! Love!” --
I got that from Blake but I cut it down a bit.’ -- By one ‘love’.
few things that occurred while Ian and I in turn were involved with
running the Society. It was a custom for the committee to entertain
the speaker to dinner before the reading. Sometimes there were more
people at the dinner than the reading. It was embarrassing when committee
members excused themselves after the dinner and we traipsed off to
a meeting with only three or four in the audience. One visiting poet,
asked over dinner what he most disliked on such occasions, remarked
that he was irritated by chairmen who forgot his name during the introductions.
At the meeting, the chairman appeared to forget this poet’s name.
No one knows now whether it was a genuine lapse. Ian can be very absent-minded
but it could have been a fine example of his humour, so often quietly
and wittily used for deflationary purposes.
a critic that interested us both, came to speak at the university
and was invited to the Society. In his lecture to the university,
attended by many of the English dons, he remarked that, as he was
speaking on ‘The Waste Land’, his lecture would be constructed in
a form similar to that of the poem. I for one could not detect too
much similarity. Blackmur was known to like Italian food and at the
dinner in the La Roma where we could thus respectably order our staple-because-cheap
spag. bol., we were amused when he announced spaghetti should be eaten
Anglo- Saxon style and chopped his all up -- into a form similar to
‘The Waste Land’ that this time we understood.
preparing to publish The Storms I was going to dedicate it
to Ian but he pointed out that he couldn’t then review it. The problem
was solved by my hiding his name in an acrostic in the half lines
of a dedicatory poem in Anglo-Saxon metric, allowing him to be suitably
underwhelmed. No one at the time taxed me with this dodge though my
editor, Kevin Crossley-Holland, translator of Beowulf cracked
it, telling no one.
also complained wryly that I had anticipated him to the title which
he had been contemplating for his book.
with memories of a workshop for the Borough of Sutton LEA which I
shared with Ian and Peter Porter on the 6th and 7th July 1972. In
the afternoon discussion of the first day Ian parodied one of the
hand-out chunks, the section of Eliot’s ‘Tradition and the Individual
Talent’ that begins: ‘Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion’, etc.
Ian simply replaced the talismanic repetition of the words ‘emotion’
and ‘personality’ with a series of less and less plausible juxtapositions
which showed without ado the flimsiness and infinite variability of
that form of argument. The final afternoon session next day was for
requests from the students for favourite poems to be read. One asked
for ‘Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking’. Peter and I passed up the
invitation and Ian with impressive equanimity took up the task of
sight-reading aloud the six pages -- a long stint for a so-called