Henri was one of the Liverpool poets from the 1960s – and after – whose volume of Penguin Poets No. 10, The Mersey Sound, was a famous moment in such anthologies when it came out in 1967. The other two poets in the group were Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Henri was an artist, performance artist, musician, poet and friends with people like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Allen Ginsberg and others.
I met him briefly at a Toronto Harbourfront Reading series night on 25 October 1980. I remember the date because it is inscribed in my book of his poetry that I bought that night called “From the Loveless Motel.” I also recall the moment because I was so young and gauche and although I admired him greatly, I insulted him without intending to. I went up to him excitedly to buy the book and talk, and I told him that I had traveled a good part of the world in my life and as a fan of his writing I had looked all over the place for his volumes and never found any of them outside England. Or something to that effect.
My intention, of course, had been to show what a devoted reader I was and not how obscure he was as a writer. But naturally, his face dropped and he said, “Well, you’ve got plenty of them here….”
Anyway… the point of all this is to say that when I learned that the end of the world was about to come, it immediately reminded me of one of my favorite Adrian Henri poems, and I decided that I would read it at the open mic last night. I thought that as an introduction to Henri for the listeners, I would also read another of my favorite poems by him after the end of the world poem.
As it happened, a friend was also holding his annual end-of-the-year party, so I decided I would attend that first before going to the open mic. During the party I learned that the open mic at the Arte Café was, exceptionally, closing down early, for lack of its usual unfailingly loyal crowds of attendees. (Due no doubt to the Christmas holiday.) That meant my big moment as a reader – as opposed to singer – would never come. Neither, of course, did the end of the world.
But I did get to play my guitar and sing songs at the home of my friend, and that was loads of fun. And because I have this blog, I’ve decided that I can STILL read those two poems, and put them here on the blog for everyone to listen to – and then to go out and find Adrian Henri books and buy them wherever you may be. Henri, by the way, was born in 1932 and he died in 2000…on 20 December – IE, it would have been his 80th birthday two days ago, the day before the end of the world that never came.
The first poem, called, “Death in the Suburbs,” – and contained in “from the loveless motel” describes the end of the world…. which, as Henri says: “will surely come in Bromley South or Orpington.” Listen right to the end where suddenly I finish reading the poem only to have the sound of a siren emerge from outside my apartment like the end of the world has really begun after all:
The second poem, called, “Me,” is contained in Penguin Poets No. 10, and is a clever rhythmic thing which consists only of the names of people Henri would like to be, as you will hear if you listen: