Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Beat Goes On

When I was a young lad in Lancashire in the 60’s, I was turned on to the beat poets and, a bit later, the modern Liverpool poets headed up by Roger McGough. These introductions were made by an inspirational English teacher at my school, Peter Sampson. I absorbed Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso avidly before discovering our own young voices in Adrian Mitchell, Adrian Henri and company. One of my first ports of call in the U.S. was the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco made famous by the beat poets.

A couple of years back, I spent two days with Daisy Goodwin, a writer, film producer and all around talent in the U.K. She is an avid fan of all things poetic and has published a bunch of anthologies, bringing poetry closer and more accessible to everyone. As you might expect, Daisy is extremely empathetic, warm, emotional and caring. I haven’t seen her since the two days we spent together working on inspirational leadership for a company she was working for at the time. On Saturday, I read a full-page review of her new book, Silver River, which was published in the U.K. on September 17. What struck me was an extract where Daisy talked about her mother leaving home when she was 5. It was in the late 60’s and the piece describes the effect that the departure had on her as a woman and a mother. “When I was 6 my mother moved to Dorset with a man who became my stepfather. Joe didn’t have a proper job, like my father. Joe was a novelist. Always a trend spotter, my mother had found a man who summed up the late 60’s; young, Northern, working class, dirty, rude and sexy.”

Apart from the last adjective, this pretty much described me in the late 60’s. It also made me nostalgic for the great novels of the time. John Braine with Room at the Top and its hero Joe Lampton, Allan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and my favorite, This Sporting Life by David Storey.

They were gritty, authentic, everyday working class dramas. In hindsight, we can now see that they set the foundation and bridged the gap from post war austerity to the freedom we are all currently enjoying. To complete the story, a few days ago I was in the medieval city of Montpellier, drinking red wine from the Languedoc. I was with a great writer, Spiro Zavos, and a budding talent, John Daniel. Spiro is of my vintage and was waxing lyrical about the same 60’s literature I talked about earlier, though he was reading them in deepest New Zealand. It's a small world.

I’ll be reading the rest of Silver River this week.