Monday, December 29, 2008

Adrian Mitchell: A Bit of Heart

It's not much, what with Gaza and Zimbabwe and Darfur and every failing heart or mindless terror wherever it may be, but Jackie Ashley makes a brilliant case for the buoyant, enlarging, healing and ever-expanding effects of Adrian Mitchell's poetry in the Guardian today. Writing about the almost co-incident deaths of three leading lights of leftist writing -- Harold Pinter, Adrian Mitchell, and Bernard Crick -- she concludes:
in terms of spreading good values, getting people to laugh and feel angry for the right reasons, it may be that Mitchell mattered most. Across the country there are people who have been influenced by Mitchell's socialist, pacifist and kindly values. We have plenty of cleverness. We need a bit of heart.
Mitchell's work overspills even a broad definition of heart: generosity, romantic and erotic play, passion, sturdiness, the great beating engine (of rhyme or blood) that keeps things going, that speeds up with excitement. Like a heart, he worked tirelessly to give and to spread, to move the lifeblood of language and song around the body. But because
he was a street poet, and one who loved writing for children [...and h]is poems are full of fantasy and simplicity
he was never mentioned in the same breath as the Nobel Prize. But for the thousands of children whose early, or earliest, theatrical experience was a school trip to his fine version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (with its emphasis on generosity and co-operation), or the teenagers reached by "Puppies" or "The Killing Ground" whose thrum and precision make the link between boring old poetry read in school and soaring new lyrics heard on the radio, Mitchell is *in* their blood. He may not have had an adjective coined after his pauses, but his pacifist and passionate words are as deeply grooved into the British mind as the lyrics of the Beatles. We need him now. Bloodaxe -- a press that has never doubted the power of street poetry -- is publishing his last book next year, Tell Me Lies, with a "remix" of his famous "Tell Me Lies about Vietnam" as its title poem.

Adrian Mitchell from Neil Astley on Vimeo.

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