Archive for the ‘poet’ Tag

VE Day 75 – The Walk

flags VE day 75th 2020 london

Beginning of my VE day walk – a lone hint of celebration on our street – East Finchley, London N2

st pancras and islington cemetery commonwealth war graves

Coronavirus has stopped normal access to the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

the commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery

The commonwealth war graves in St Pancras & Islington cemetery earlier in the lockdown (before they closed the cemeteries)

naked lady henlys corner statue war memorial

I’m sitting just beneath Emile Guillaume’s La Délivrance known locally as The Naked Lady – it’s a WW1 memorial but it is opposite the flat where my great-uncle Bruno lived, a concentration camp survivor & refugee from Leipzig Germany, so its WW2 victory for me

children holocaust memorial henlys corner

Flowers for children VE Day 75, Henly’s Corner

clock tower war memorial golders green

The clock tower memorial to WW1 & WW2 at Golders Green with its distinctive blue

keith douglas poetry golders hill

WW2 poetry Keith Douglas in flower garden at Golders Hill – wisteria no hysteria, stiff upper lip

Comment: unicornsalmost

‪This Sunday, on @bbcradio3 : Unicorns, Almost – a play about the life and poetry of Keith Douglas https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000j2bn‬

hampstead war memorial

Hampstead war memorial to both world wars – a few hundred yards from where I was born, overlooking all of London

location Allied brad pitt hampstead

Film location of ‘Allied’ movie with Brad Pitt & Marion Cotillard set during WW2

Film location of 'Allied'

Film location of ‘Allied’

I met a family sitting out on their front steps down the road from here, told them what I was doing and they pointed me to…

nicholas winton s house willow road hampstead

Nicholas Winton saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazis when based in this house in Hampstead

liam gallagher RAF roundel

Liam Gallagher‘s RAF roundel window at his old place in Hampstead

lee miller roland penrose house downshire hill hampstead

Photographer Lee Miller‘s house Hampstead – she photographed WW2 for Vogue magazine including the liberation of Dachau & Hitler’s bathtub in Munich

hampstead heath pond

My dad remembered vividly a doodlebug V1 exploding in the corner of this pond near his childhood home – I never walk by without thinking of him Hampstead Heath, VE day 75

george orwell house hampstead parliament hill

George Orwell‘s house – his wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy worked at the Ministry of Information during WW2 (in the censorship department) in Senate House, University of London & he famously used it as the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 – Orwell was in the Home Guard & broadcast for the BBC

ve day walk montage

That’s the VE day 75 walk done – 9 hours, 24,600 steps, good fun

VE Day 75

ve day trafalgar square 8 may 1945

8th May 1945, Trafalgar Square

The current situation of lockdown under threat of a deadly viral enemy is as close to war as my generation has ever come which makes it a most resonant time to celebrate this landmark VE Day, the 75th.

My most memorable VE day to date was one spent in Bangor, Co. Down, N. Ireland when my wife was working on the BBC’s live coverage of the event which involved the lighting of a string of lanterns right round the British coast. To help her manage the day, with a very demanding, experienced and alcoholic director, I looked after one of the main contributors, a charming old fella from Belfast who had survived the Belfast Blitz of 1941. I spent the day hanging out with him, chatting and making sure he felt looked after. He was interviewed in the evening by John Cole.

Today’s VE day I marked with a themed walk, made up last minute, partly on the fly. I came up with the idea while sitting in the garden in the early morning sunshine. By 9am I was on the road. 9 hours and 24,600 steps later I returned home.

VE day walk 8 may 2020

I’ll publish the details of the walk tomorrow – it ranged from photographer Lee Miller’s house to Liam Gallagher’s RAF roundel window, from the location of a Brad Pitt war movie to a tribute to the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the holocaust.

Half way I stopped to read some of Keith Douglas‘ poetry, a WW2 poet stationed largely in North Africa. He died shortly after D-Day at the age of just 24. The line

but time, time is all I lacked

from the last poem in the volume (a selection by Ted Hughes) seemed to sum up his artistic life. There’s a radio play about him on Radio 3 on Sunday (10th May) at 7.30pm called ‘Unicorns, Almost‘ by Owen Sheers.

I began the day by sharing an unpublished poem by Edmund Blunden entitled ‘V Day’. it’s in the manuscript collection of the Imperial War Museum. It concludes with the line:

 We have come through.

which seems very apposite and inspiring for these strange days.

V day page 1 poem edmund blunden

V day page 2 poem edmund blunden

Edmund-Blunden

Edmund Blunden – a WW1 poet who was still writing in 1945

Keith Douglas poet WW2

Keith Douglas

Yeats Mates

irish harp on euro coin

So I’m sitting at breakfast as usual, late Saturday morning, a West Coast Irish sense of urgency (think mañana but less pressing), listening to Robert Elms on Radio London. After a bit of a dull gardening item an Irish poetry enthusiast with a Dublin accent pops up to talk about his guided walk to mark today’s [Saturday 13th] 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats. He says “it’s probably too late for your listeners” – red rag to a British bulldog, I was going to get to Wolburn Buildings for the start of the walk regardless of the sub-90 minute lead-time. Niall McDevitt was the name of the poetical Irish gent punting his walk on the wireless and it was the said poet who wandered up Woburn Walk, location of WB’s bachelor pad, at the appointed hour of one, in red trousers, perfect to lead a walk through a busy Saturday afternoon London, the biz in hi-viz.

As he started the walk-talk an Indian lady appeared at WB’s balcony – an artist who uses his old love-nest as a studio. She gamely waved a large photo of Yeats to the assembled motley crew. Niall explained that WB moved in as a 30-something virgin, determined to pop the ol’ cherry and in need of a bit of space from his artist father and painter brother Jack over in the family home in Chiswick or thereabouts in West London. His married mistress found the place, in a small, quiet passage opposite Euston and within walking distance of the Brain of London which was the British Museum Reading Room, the internet of its day. The affair only lasted a year but WB stayed there for 24 years (1895-1919) until he eventually married. For the Irish Shakespeare that was a long time in prime years to stay in a foreign metropolis. Perhaps we dare think of him as London-Irish in some small way?

The Euston location was convenient for his Monday evening At Homes where the likes of Ezra Pound and Maud Gonne pulled by for cultural and literary chat. It was also convenient for jumping on the train to Liverpool to catch the ferry round to the West Coast of the Emerald Isle.

From Wolburn Walk we headed across Bloomsbury to the bust of Tagore in Gordon Square to review Yeats’s Indian connections. (The Nobel-prize-winning Indian poet Tagore while in London lived in the Vale of Health just below where I was born).

Then along the greenery into UCL (founded by one of my distant forebears) and the building of Faber & Faber where TS Eliot was based. Niall put forward the proposition that Yeats’s Second Coming was the great poem of the 20th Century and not The Wasteland. I let it pass – he’s obviously wrong.

Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold

At Museum Street opposite that Brain of London we stopped for an interlude at the Occult Book Shop where the proprietor, a 2nd generation bookseller who has just inducted the 3rd generation, gave us a fascinating talk about Magic and the Golden Dawn, an occult order which Yeats joined in a serious way. On the wall were pictures of various key personages including the Hackney Jew who set up the shop and an oil portrait of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, one of the primary influences on Yeats life (alongside a Fenian whose name escapes me, Sean O’Something). Irish Nationalism and Magic – his Big Two Things.

From there into Covent Garden where we strangely enough went right past my hairdresser where I had a 3pm appointment – what’s the chances of the line from Woburn Walk happening to pass that spot? Near the Freemasons’ HQ in Great Queen Street we stopped to talk a bit of Blake. In the old Masonic children’s hospital opposite was the place where Blake did his engraving apprenticeship for 7 years. Niall’s core territory is bounded by Shakespeare (who spent a lot of time in London in Southwark) and Blake (who grew up in London in Marshall Street – opposite my first job at Solus Productions at No. 35) and Rimbaud (who spent a little time in London in Camden Town) and Yeats (who spent a lot of time in London in Euston, Primrose Hill and Chiswick).

I peeled off when we got to the other side of Lincoln’s Inn as hair cutting called. They were heading in the direction of temples where Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawners worshipped. That kind of shit freaks me out a bit any way so probably just as well. Rewind. As we were starting off in Wolburn Buildings Niall mentioned the fact that Yeats was big into the after-life and would appreciate our celebration, indeed might well be with us if his hopes for the after-life proved well founded. At that moment one of the walkers’ mobile rang, he fumbled it and dropped a small case he was carrying, from which spilled a number of harmonicas. As in mouth organs. Or blues harps. So harps, the symbol of Irish poetry, fall out on the streets of London. Nuff said.

blues_harp harmonica mouth organ

yeats walk with niall mcdevitt

Where the harps fell

WB's bachelor pad, Wolburn Buildings

WB’s bachelor pad, Wolburn Buildings

Digging (Day 57)

The main thing is to write

for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust

that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.

You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.

Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

Let others wear the sackcloth and the ashes.

Let go, let fly.

seamus heaney irish poet

Day 57 concluded at the Festival Hall where a full-house tribute to poet Seamus Heaney was celebrated. You’ve never seen so many lauded poets in one place at one time. The lines above from Station Island were on the back of the programme, a pretty good thought with which to start a day’s writing (even more so as it has its roots in Donegal). The evening opened with the Big Man himself recorded reading Digging, one of my favourites for its simplicity and rootsiness. Piper Liam O’Flynn played, who I saw perform with Seamus at the Barbican in 1999. His pupil and friend Paul Muldoon read very well, as did the amazing looking Edna O’Brien who is now 82. Seamus’ protegee Charlotte Higgins was the third of the trio of outstanding readers, saying Blackberry-Picking (also simple and earthy, also from Death of a Naturalist). Poet Michael Longley read another of our family’s favourites, Clearances: III (the bit about peeling spuds with the mammy). Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy read as did Ireland’s Professor of Poetry Paula Meehan. Tom Paulin and Simon Armitage added to the rich mix. The Chieftains with Paddy Moloney, Matt Molloy and Sean Keane played. Channel 4 had a kind of presence in actress Ruth Negga of Misfits fame who performed from one of Seamus’ translations of Greek plays. The photographic portraits of Seamus from various times in his adult life projected behind the stage during the linking sections by Andrew O’Hagan were all wonderful, all by different photographers or friends. It’s quite something to make the kind of impact he made on the world by being a Poet in this modern era.

I came to South Bank in the wake of two meetings. The first was with entrepreneur James Laycock, who worked with Richard Branson early in his career and is now getting Central Working up&running as a place from which to grow businesses. I was asking him for advice on the Business chapter as I still haven’t found a subject I’m happy with – though I know they’re out there. As it happened I may have found the right person through the next meeting which was actually about something totally different, about democracy, politics and activism, with writer/marketeer Chris Ward (mentioned on an earlier Day), my friend Steve Moore (who knew Terri Hooley, one of the characters in the chapter I’m currently writing, back in Belfast in college days) and some people new to me who in their different ways are highly committed to trying to make UK politics (and beyond) work better.

In the morning I found the title for my Music chapter in a Joy Division song (albeit the live version which has slightly different words from the record): Take A Chance And Say You Tried – it’s largely about being true to yourself.

Irish poet Seamus Heaney, winner of the 1995 Nobel Literature Prize

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