Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pop Poetry in Performance

Also in Literature Matters, Roger McGough talks about pop poetry of the 1960's which kick started the whole live literature scene across Britain which went hand in hand with the musical revolution spearheaded (of course) by The Beatles.

McGough who says he came from a working-class, Irish-Catholic background talks about how he initially went into teaching "to get a proper job" but continued to write poetry.
Years later when I became a teacher in Liverpool the children were given the same old books that I’d been taught with at school. At the time, I was also writing my own poems – about Liverpool, my grandmother, funny things - so I started to feed the children my own poems instead, not knowing whether they were any good. But the kids loved them. I thought to myself, “Maybe I am a poet. Maybe this is the audience.” My work as a teacher went on for four years, and ever since I’ve been on the run.

During this period I had met a few other people in Liverpool who were also writing poetry, like Brian Patten and Adrian Henri. The city’s poetry scene grew from there. The Beatles had already caused a burgeoning of popular music in Liverpool, and so the city had become not quite the centre of the universe, but certainly a focus of great media interest. The media caught onto our public poetry readings too, and our first poetry book was published 40 years ago this month [July 2007], called The Mersey Sound. It caught the public’s imagination. Prior to that, I think the public believed that poetry belonged to the elite in Oxford, Cambridge or London.
McGough also formed a band called The Scaffold with Mike McCartney (Pauls' brother) and John Gorman, with Brian Epstein as their manager. They set out to perform poetry, as well as sketches based on comedy and political satire. They ended up pop stars themselves with a couple of hit records!

Of the poetry performances themselves, he says:
We treated our poetry readings like a piece of theatre, and I suppose we made use of our experience of performing with The Scaffold, too – getting used to standing on stage, speaking into a microphone, working out exactly what we were going to say beforehand and timing our pieces to make sure they didn’t go on for too long. We’d also vary the performance content so that we included light-hearted things with more serious stuff, as well as using music. Our public performances were greatly influenced by those that had taken place in San Francisco by Beat poets such as Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso. Poetry had never been associated with music or theatre before, but our generation was concerned with taking it out of the library and bringing it to the people.
So thanks to McGough and his friends, performance poetry was born in the UK, and it's still a force to be reckoned with.


Chet said...

"We'll drink a drink a drink
To Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink
The saviour of the human race
For she invented medicinal compound
Most efficacious in every case."

Lily the Pink
The Scaffold

bibliobibuli said...

chet - anyone who can sing the lyrics to "lily the pink" is REALLY showing their age *LOL*

(I called my hamster lily after this song)