Sunday, December 21, 2008

Adrian Mitchell - Poet

My brain socialist
My heart anarchist
My eyes pacifist
My blood revolutionary

The BBC reported today on the death of poet Adrian Mitchell aged of 76. Described by Red Pepper as the "shadow laureate" Adrian was probably best known for his poems "On the Beach at Cambridge" and "To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies About Vietnam)" - but his writing was wide-ranging and not restricted to anti-war themes. One of his most powerful works was the anti-bullying "Back in the Playground Blues" - based on his own experience at school it widens to become an indictment of authoritarian society:

Back in the Playground Blues - Adrian Mitchell (1997)

I dreamed I was back in the playground, I was about four feet high
Yes dreamed I was back in the playground, standing about four feet high
Well the playground was three miles long and the playground was five miles wide

It was broken black tarmac with a high wire fence all around
Broken black dusty tarmac with a high wire fence running all around
And it had a special name to it, they called it The Killing Ground

Got a mother and a father, they're one thousand years away
The rulers of The Killing Ground are coming out to play
Everybody thinking: 'Who they going to play with today?'

Well you get it for being Jewish
And you get it for being black
Get it for being chicken
And you get it for fighting back
You get it for being big and fat
Get it for being small
Oh those who get it get it and get it
For any damn thing at all

Sometimes they take a beetle, tear off its six legs one by one
Beetle on its black back, rocking in the lunchtime sun
But a beetle can't beg for more, a beetle's not half the fun

I heard a deep voice talking, it had that iceberg sound
'It prepares them for Life' - but I have never found
Any place in my life worse than The Killing Ground.

More than any other poet Adrian successfully combined the rhythms of rock and roll with incisive political comment - I still have vivid recollections of his performance of his anti-boss poem "Fuck off Friday" at the Centenary celebrations for the anarchist paper Freedom in 1986. His work with children was both inspired and inspiring.

Jonathan Sale interview in the Independent.

Poetry Trust Interview with Michael Rosen and Adrian Mitchell

There is a good overview of his work on the British Council's Contemporary Writers website.

As a tribute Neil Astley has posted videos of Adrian reading three of his poems, on Vimeo, including "Especially When it Snows" an elegy for his adopted go-daughter Boty, who died of a heroin overdose. [thanks to Peony Moon]