Michael Horovitz at the Inner Circle

Andrew Darlington

Huddersfield, England, slouched despondently into evening. The streets silted with determined drizzle. Outside the 'Builders Club' a limp roil of discordant, inefficient "Born Under a Bad Sign" escaped from the half-open door along with a sliver of light. It was nullified by the rain and washed protectingly down the overflowing gutter. Steve Sneyd, promoter of the 'Inner Circle' attempts was at the pay-desk. He was explaining to a casual drift of disinterested audience about the non-appearance of the guest poet--Michael Horovitz. His lips could be seen to be moving through the haze of volume-stunned cigarette smoke. Between him and me about sixty people sat or lay about oblivious to the determined trio on the stage.

I remembered that Steve had pointed out some time ago that one of the characteristics of Pisceans was that the left-hand side of their faces never exactly matched their right. As he re-recited his story of draughty platform waiting and poet-less trains I vaguely attempted to discover signs of physiognomical misalignment in his animated but distance-dumbed face. Without success.

Losing interest I watched the posters fluctuating on the wall instead. Last months appearance of the Yetties was circled in red crayon for some obscure reason. Further along the wall between the Kropotkin poster and the bar was an announcement for a forthcoming gig by Prism. A group who had disbanded last week. A sign over the bar disassociated the management from responsibility for anything. Another warned against the exchange of illegal chemicals.

Meanwhile the three-piece on stage not so much closed their set as dissolved into apathy and disintegrated. Something reminded me of "Dedicated to you, but you weren't listening".

Steve was at the door explaining. An unprepossessing figure in an anorak, hat and thick glasses appeared to have slid past without paying. He had a plastic carrier bag in one hand, the other hand thrust deep into his pocket.

A local poet arranged a stool in front of one of the microphones. He held a 'Boots' ring-plan folder of neatly typed sheets. Discovering that the mike was non-functioning he dismounted the stool and moved it across the floor to a second mikestand. This act got smattered applause. His poems met with less spectacular success. I felt for him. Remembering my own stance at other, similar microphones, My own meandering Dadaesque metaphysical obscurities like misguided missives into a void.

The girl with ratty hair that hung to her nicely outlined T-shirt tits who was pulling at the phallic beer-pumps was marginally gaining more attention than the poet.

My own attention returned to Steve at the door. The unimpressive figure with the plastic carrier bag had removed his hat and said "Hi, Steve? I'm Mike."

Michael Horovitz was born in 1935 in Frankfort, the youngest of ten children in a family descended from German, Hungarian and Bohemian Rabbis. Two years later they shifted to Hampstead, to sit out the war in the Thames valley, Surrey. After various London County Council schools Mike read English at Oxford, painted, wrote, failed to learn the saxophone, and read William Blake. "Blake's whole life" he discovered "was given to the creation of songs, poems and pictures to crystallize his awareness of the infinite and the eternal." At the 1963 Beaulieu Jazz Festival he met Pete Brown. Later Pete was to lyric hits for Cream (like "White Room" and "Sunshine of Your Love"), form Battered Ornaments with guitarist Chris Spedding, record the brilliant A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark, form Piblokto! and eventually transcend gigs with vintage organist-hero Graham Bond to lead his own poetry-rock group.

Pete Brown and Mike Horovitz gravitated through the C.N.D. to the Cafe Des Artistes on the Fulham Road. The place was a nucleus for poets and musicians, and was eventually closed down due to drug notoriety. At this time Mike and Pete collaborated on an epic chase-chorus poem "Blues for the Hitch-Hiking Dead". The 33rd or last chorus of which appeared in the slim Jazz Poets anthology edited by Anselm Hollo (Vista Books). Mike and Pete went on to produce the glossy spaced-out New Departures magazines and did live jazz-poetry readings. Miles Gibson described Horovitz's performance as 'like a man who pours a jug of water over his feet in slow motion. His work is the open, breathing kinetic poem that has to be played by ear.'

Horovitz exhibited paintings and collages in Ben Uri, Better Books, and provincial art galleries. He edited Children of Albion, an anthology of 'Poetry of the underground in Britian', probably the most important poetry publication of the decade. Predictably it was reviewed in London Magazine by Jonathan Raban (December 1969) as 'shabby, diary-like poems about getting high and going to bed and waking up with a headache that could be swapped around between a dozen or so contributors'. Dennis Gould of Rolling Stone, however, thought differently. He wrote 'if you want to know how poetry came into the streets--the pub and the café--the world of young people where imagery of songs and poems overlaps, read the Afterwards by Michael Horovitz.'

'His poems' according to Adrian Mitchell 'are written to be read aloud, chanted, sung, even danced--just as the first poets on earth composed their poems to be communicated directly to an audience. His poems celebrate life--and I write that knowing it is a very high assessment. Sometimes he fails because he takes large risks in his poems. Risk-taking is a rare quality in poetry today few poets can match him for sheer joy.'

'Horovitzs finest hour to date' wrote Jeff Nuttall (in Bomb Culture) 'has been his chaotic Festival of the New Moon at the Albert Hall in 1966'. Mike married Frances, herself an extremely active broadcasting and publishing poet. He visited the USA for readings, including one at the St. Adrians Co Bar hard on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, Ginsberg described him as 'Cockney, Albionic, New Jerusalem, jazz generation, sensitive bard'. He contributed to the Love Love Love (Corgi Books) anthology. His Wolverhampton Wanderer (illustrated by Peter Blake, Adrian Henri, etc.--through Latimer Press), was followed by Love Poems (New Departures Press). For "Resurgence 70" he wrote 'many poets today regard effecting changes as a large part of their work'.


'Horovitzs concern' wrote Nuttall 'is reflected in his goon-influenced poetry, particularly the long "Declaration" published in 1963. He wants to see the arts reinstated as public festival, gay, simple, stripped of obscurity and, above all, stripped of sour perverse overtones. Continuously he works towards this end'.

Michael Horovitz happened in two segments. He surges at the microphone swaying slightly. He looked into the lights as if searching for the audience. Then produced a paperback from his plastic carrier bag. The words came as if fired from a soda syphon in long, slurred, intricate, effervescent jets, About 'why paint your mouth that pillar-box red if you don't want his letters popped in'. I had read the poem a half-dozen times to myself previously and enjoyed it. Yet when he mouthed the poem it grew its own life-force into something totally divorced from mere black marks on paper. The audience shifted its attention from beer to stage. At length he again delved into the crumpled plastic bag to produce, with an almost theatrical flourish, something vaguely conical, constructed with obvious dedication, bound in brown adhesive and cellotaped into something approaching symmetry. The next few poems he proceeded to punctuate in appropriate places with ripe farts on this roughly hewn but effective instrument. Both punctuation and words balanced precariously--hanging together admirably. The audience watched part bemused, part intrigued. But they watched. A feat that half an hour before I would have dismissed as impossible.

Then he finished. Moving liquidly towards the bar while a girl with a guitar did Joni Mitchell impressions on the discarded stage.

Bernard Shaw, who advised those wishing to impress the important to insult them, would have had much difficulty in attempting to insult Michael Horovitz. I approached as the poet slithered himself upon one of the stools before the bar. I commented that in my opinion, his reading of Wolverhampton Wanderer on a recent late-night review programme, complete with filmed action replay back-drop, had failed in its nevertheless admirable objective. That of uniting the diverse interests of Football Fan and Poetophile--and that, in fact, it had reached neither audience. He arranged his plastic carrier bag by the foot of the stool, then produced a handful of sandwiches. Offering me one he explained that he had not yet had a chance to eat. He asked whether I had read the full poem sequence. I answered, truthfully, that I had. He then pointed out that 'Isn't Darlington the name of a town--there is a town called Horovitz in Germany'. He asked me about my job and whether it was hard, His interest was genuine. My own subsequent questions never actually happened.

Then he was on stage again. He had won once, yet I felt dubious about his chances of repeating the feat. Two local musicians who had been hastily assembled and briefed carted guitar and electric piano into position. A disjointed Horovitzian monologue covered the plugging in and tuning up. About how he accepted that sexual preference was determined by a biologically random gene-count, but how he had not yet contracted the statistically inevitable gay genes in his own physical or cerebral makeup.

A Horovitz: suitably imbibed and refreshed swayed with the microphone in defiance of the laws of both logic and gravity. I could never quite determine whether he was stoned, or naturally high. The guitar trickled limply, the electric piano poked experimentally into the cigarette smoke, and the words flowed. Slowly. Liquid. Repetitive sometimes. Effective always. Improvised. Powerful. Images created and destroyed while the ions merged and reformed moving into polymers of sound.

'Jazzetry' Lindsay Anderson had christened the first faltering mismatched attempts at a jazz/poetry fusion, and, almost ten years later, it was bursting in streams of soft explosion across the 'Inner Circle' honed, developed, perfected, flowing easily and naturally as never before. The words were mere instruments, flexible, pliable, folded, stretched, shredded, bent into shape, sculptures and strung out across the room refurbished and renewed. If the dictionary definition happened to get in the way then it was ignored and rapidly discarded. The word 'cascade' appeared, and the pianist riffed down the keyboard in response, smiling in obvious satisfaction. They segued well. Then the Horovitzophone was squealing and farting down the stupefied microphone like some kind of insane John Coltrane. On and on. Cyclic, inevitable, but never predictable.

By the time they were putting the shutters across the bar and Horovitz was verbally seducing the girl with the ratty hair while she polished her beer pumps, and Steve was counting out the evenings admission fee, it all seemed distant, and impossible in retrospect.

Yet, on reflection, there are far worse ways of killing a Monday night.

 

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