Back in 1966 the finest British and American poets were reading at Morden Tower, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne at a time when they were unheard elsewhere in England.
In this ancient candlelit medieval turret room in the once walled city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England; poets were given a forum to read their poems aloud, and to intimately connect with a deeply appreciative audience of precocious students, soon to be hippies, and poetry-curious delinquents.
Poetry, like music, is to be heard
The Tower readings were started by Connie and Tom Pickard in the summer of 1964 with an enthusiastic Tom soon seeking out local modernist poet Basil Bunting — who studied with Ezra Pound in 1920’s Paris — to join in the readings. Inspired by the counterculture he found at the tower, 65 year old Bunting started writing again and penned his modernist masterpiece Briggflatts, giving its debut reading at the Morden Tower in 1965.
Meanwhile the American Beat poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg and and Black-Mountain poets Robert Creeley and Ed Dorn were lured to read at the tower by Tom Pickard - one of the few places outside of the US that welcomed the reading of Post-modern American Poetry.
Morden Tower was smaller than I expected and less comfortable to sit around in, but I was so excited by the idea of reading with Bunting in the audience that I read for 3 hours.
The poetry revival was well on its way.
The drawings in Ode to Poetry are inspired by the photographs of the late David M James of the North East poetry scene at Morden Tower in Newcastle, the Colpitts in Durham, and other poetry venues in the 1960’s and 1970’s (and used with the permission of his family).
The portraits celebrate many leading poets from the British Poetry Revival as well as the audience who provided a creative exchange which fed and strengthened their work to the enrichment of both parties.
Those portrayed include:
- Tom Pickard, co-founder of the Morden Tower reading series and an important initiator of the British Poetry Revival. Sitting in firelight, your face a shadow
- Connie Pickard, co-founder of the Morden Tower reading series. The Tower Reading Room is still running today with Connie at the helm. Sitting in firelight, your face a shadow; As the years slide by
- Gael Turnbull, Scottish poet and an important figure in the British Poetry Revival. Gael was instrumental in developing ties between the avant-garde British poets and American poets. No fuss, no fret
- David Burnett, Scottish poet and co-founder of Colpitts Poetry, one of the UK’s most prestigious live poetry reading organisations. Words can make no difference now
- Ivor Cutler, Scottish poet, humorist and songwriter who regularly performed his humorous poems in his soft Scottish burr on the legendary John Peel BBC radio sessions. Ivor also appeared as the bus conductor in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film. Hello Mr Cutler
- Wendy Mulford, Welsh poet associated with the British Poetry Revival and the development of feminist poetry in the 1970s. Don't imagine (ever) an ending
- Tony Harrison, English poet and playwright, widely considered to be one of Britain’s greatest living poets. I know this world's so torn but I want no other
- Rosemarie Harrison, artist and first wife of Tony Harrison (nee Rosemarie Crossfield Dietzsch). It’s love, so there
- Tony Lopez, English poet who was one of the younger members of the British Poetry Revival. He later became Professor of Poetry at the University of Plymouth. I was that boy who fell to earth
- John Riley, English poet who was murdered at the height of the British Poetry Revival in 1978. His poetry became so hard to find in print that a rare volume was selling for £10,000. I put out the light and listen to the rain
- Anne Cluysenaar, Belgian born poet and painter who established the literary magazines, Scintilla and Sheaf before her untimely death. Open, the bright petals on her outspread wings
- Richard Kell, Irish poet reading at Morden Tower Poet appointed dare not decline
- Cynthia Fuller, English poet and editor. Private tenderness
- Elaine Feinstein, British poet, founder of Prospect magazine, and the first publisher of Beat poetry in Britain. You’ve Ruined My Evening / You’ve Ruined My Life
- Dave Westerley, a frequent attendee at the Morden Tower readings. Vanished into nowhere Zen
- Unknown audience members You’re on your own / It’s off / It’s on, Look through my eyes up at blue, I grew up ~ a solitary child, Her arms outstretched, I am as ever beside you
- Brian Whaley, a Lifelong jazz enthusiast and the artist’s inspiration for this exploration of counterculture in North East England. Where’s the JAZZ man, where?, Yacketayakking