Friday, 27 February 2009

Dynamite shoes

He breathed in air
He breathed out light
Adrian Mitchell was my delight

Roger McGough introduced Radio 4’s Poetry Please commemoration of Adrian Mitchell with this reworking of Adrian’s own tribute to Charlie Parker, whose ‘Lover Man’ opened the programme. Over the next half hour, some of Adrian’s many friends and fellow poets remembered him and read from his work.

Jackie Kay chose Adrian’s ‘Back in the Playground Blues’ about his childhood experience of bullying. Michael Horovitz took us back to that biggest poetry gig of all time, when Adrian spat out ‘Tell me lies about Vietnam’ (actually titled ‘To Whom It May Concern’) at the Albert Hall in 1965. Andrew Marr picked up ‘A Puppy Called Puberty’. And John Hegley gave us ‘Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow’ (‘Number One, patriotic: I didn’t lay down my life in World War II so that you could borrow my wheelbarrow; Number Two, snobbish: Unfortunately Samuel Beckett is using it’).

There was also Jonathan Price (‘Death is smaller than I thought’), Michelle Roberts, Carole Ann Duffy, Brian Patten and John Agard. And most of all there was Adrian’s wife, Celia, reading ‘The Doorbell’, which Adrian had written for CND in 2006. Celia said she had chosen because ‘it is about war and destruction and we met and fell in love because we were both wearing CND badges and we saw each other across the room’:

There, on the doorstep, stood the War.

It filled my front garden,
filled the entire street
and blotted out the sky.
It was human and monstrous,
shapeless, enormous,
with torn and poisoned skin which bled
streams of yellow, red and black ...

The War had many millions of eyes
and all wept tears of molten steel.
Then the War spoke to me
in a voice of bombs and gunfire:
I am your war.
Can I come in?

Roger McGough rounded off with a clip of Adrian and his daughter Sasha singing: ‘Poetry glues your soul together/ Poetry wears dynamite shoes.’ Sasha tells me that she and Celia have agreed to do some of Adrian’s regular gigs this year, including probably the Latitude festival, with Sasha singing and Celia reading his poems. Celia says they’re thinking of a big public commemoration for Adrian, maybe at the Hackney Empire in the autumn.
I’m sure they’ll be unmissable. In the meantime, you can listen to the whole of the Poetry Please commemoration at

Pictured: Philosophy Football’s t-shirt, with which Adrian was delighted and distributed to various friends and family members, is available from

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