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Poetry Olympics Olympians

Poetry Olympics and its precursors – Live New Departures, Jazz Poetry SuperJams and the Royal Albert Hall First and Second International Poetry Incarnations of 1965 and 1966 – have featured several hundred poetry and music performers. A number of the pioneers have now passed on to Elysium, including most of the self-styled Beat Generation writers.

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Media: Review of Barry Miles’s Beat Collection by Michael Horovitz, Daily Telegraph (Books on Saturday, Nov 2005)

Damon Albarn

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Allen Ginsberg

Image: Michael Horovitz and Allen Ginsberg chanting at the ICA, London 1965 (Peter Whitehead)

Mahmood Jamal

Born in Lucknow, India in 1948, Mahmood Jamal came to Britain from Pakistan in 1967. His poems have been published in the London Magazine and broadcast on BBC Radio and he has performed at leading poetry venues in London and around the UK.

In 1984 Mahmood was the recipient of the Minority Rights Group Award for his poetry, translations and critical writings. In the same year he published his first volume of poetry, Silence Inside a Gun’s Mouth. Mahmood Jamal works as an independent producer and writer and has produced several documentary series, notably a series on Islam entitled Islamic Conversations. He was also a lead writer on Britain’s first Asian soap, Family Pride, and wrote and produced the groundbreaking drama Turning World for Channel 4.

Mahmood Jamal has a degree in South Asian Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His published works include:

Coins For Charon – Courtfield Press 1976
Silence Inside A Gun’s Mouth – Kala Press London 1984
Penguin Book Of Modern Urdu Poetry – Penguin Books, London 1986
Modern Urdu Poetry – Farida Jamal/Translit Kuala Lumpur 1995
Song Of The Flute – Culture House, London 2000

Sugar-Coated Pill: Selected Poems, one of the first poetry publications from the Edinburgh-based Word Power Books has a number of remarkable features and has already attracted wide spread acclaim: ”…very powerful and moving.” (Tony Benn) … ”I have long been a fan of Mahmood’s poetry – since his first book ‘Silence Inside A Gun’s Mouth’. His new collection, ‘Sugar-Coated Pill’, will no doubt consolidate his reputation as a special voice.” (Linton Kwesi Johnson) … ”It’s just the book we need today. Burning bright, as Mr Blake would say, with wit and bite and beauty – a tyger of a book – as my dear friend Andrew Salkey used to say – keep on keeping on…” (Adrian Mitchell) … ”This collection moves one in its voyage across worlds torn with political strife yet creates a new world of the imagination that enables our hearts still to sing….” (Susheila Nasta) … ”I think he achieves what is very rare in the world – it tempers anger with both compassion and wisdom to make very fine poems. Well done Mr Jamal!” (Gerry Loose, Survivors’ Press)

“Mahmood Jamal’s poetry speaks of division and its consequences. From the divided self to the divided world his lines traverse the actualities of separation and intimate the possibilities of reconciliation. We live in an age when poetry needs its politics; though we should never forget that politics always needs its poetry. Jamal supplies both in full measure”. (Ian Syson, publisher, Vulgar Press and contributing editor to Overland magazine, Australia)

“Mahmood Jamal is an outstanding political poet because he is actually a very fine poet… a master of words possessed of something which we can call wisdom”. (Angus Calder)

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Media: Sugar Coated Pill, Bookends (Time Out London, July 12 2006).

Elvis McGonagall

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Jeff Nutall

Another major catalyst of socio-cultural change over the last half century is the late-lamented Jeff Nuttall, who was also a long-standing collaborator with our continuing Olympian teams of troubadors.

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POT! Anthology, photographs of Jeff with friends & accomplices, a little-known poem and memoir by him, plus reminiscences by Michael Horovitz and Molly Parkin.

Roger McGough

Another group of energetic troubadours who rode and read with the New Departures/Poetry Olympics bandwagons from the outset were the Liverpool Poets – whose highest profile performer has been Roger McGough. His autobiography: Said and Done was reviewed by Michael Horovitz in the Sunday Times (The Culture) in 2005 (see media)

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John Hegley

John Hegley, the much loved comic poet/muso, is another artist featured in all of the Poetry Olympics anthologies. His work, Uncut Confetti, was reviewed by Michael Horovitz in the Telegraph Arts & Books supplement, titled, “I promise to spink before I theak”.

John Hegley’s substantial poetic output is consistently plain-speaking yet metaphysical, mordant yet mellifluous, wildly experimental yet deeply traditional. Like Gavin Ewart, Wendy Cope, Roger McGough and others oft-captioned light versifiers, he speaks many a true word in jest on page and on stage to children of all ages. His books, like those of Blake, Edward Lear, Thurber, Stevie Smith and John Lennon, come festooned with witty drawings that complement and reinforce the verbals. And like those of John Agard, Valerie Bloom, Adrian Mitchell and other authentic pop/ular poets of our time, Hegley’s performances (self-accompanied on mandolin, with and without fellow troubadours) abound in telling improvisations and invent new possibilities for call-and-response, word-riff chorales and spontaneous audience participation every time.

His other-people oriented work experience as both Social Security counter clerk and stand-up comic has rubbed off on many of the verse and prose pieces in Uncut Confetti , his tenth volume. So has his tender family man’s dedication to the entire human family. Here and there he lets habitual recourse to rhyme, wordplay and jokery get the better of him, but for the most part this collection of recent reminiscences and reflections consolidates his position as one of our most reliably entertaining and generously communicative contemporary bards.

What is more (and not the case with quite a lot of would-be satirical chappies), his own aspirations and achievements are treated just as sharply as everything else. In “On Paper”, for instance: “She’s sat with me here at the table she isn’t yet able to speak, she’s throttling into her bottle she’s only a month and a week. I mixed her milk yesterday evening to make up her milk from the breast, it’s twenty past three in the morning, she’s wearing her sleep-suit and vest. I’m writing this poem one handed/the other is feeding the muse, she’s just had a wee bit of winding and over my poem she spews.”

What Ted Hughes wrote forty years ago about Adrian Mitchell’s work applies equally, in every respect, to Hegley’s: “He is no more naïve than Stevie Smith, but like her he has the innocence of his own experience, inner freedom, and the courage of his own music. Among all the voices of the Court, a voice as welcome as Lear’s fool. Humour that can stick deep and stay funny.”

“On Paper” quoted above observes Hegley’s daughter from the poet’s point of view. “Baby at Work” looks more closely at the more distinct purposes and palpable realities of life for the child – albeit with “the innocence of his own experience” organically inbred: “She is one. She is having fun. Everything’s a skittle or in the wrong place. Surfaces are to be cleared. Milk is to be spilt not cried about. Crying is for getting stuff: attention, biscuits, the pencil full of poem. The soil in the houseplants is there to be spread around the carpet. Glasses don’t belong on tables, or the face, and parents do not belong in the bed.”

John Hegley is a singing dancing 56 year-old rainbow treasury of luminous wordsounds. Long may he go on formulating his agreements and quarrels with himself and others, as in “Beliefs and Promises”: “I believe that Buddha would have been a good goalie. I believe there is a greater whole which I am part of. I believe in not ending sentences with prepositions. I believe that rules are there to suggest the possibility of breaking them,/but I don’t believe that rules are made to be broken/because that’s just another rule. . . . . I promise to think before I speak. I promise to speak before I think. I promise to spink before I theak. I promise to know when to stop.”

Fran Landesman

An even longer-standing Olympian & Jazz Poetry SuperJammer, much loved for her uniquely telling song lyrics (whether performed a capella, or with star accompanists such as Simon Wallace on piano, and her son, guitarist-singer Miles Landesman); for her straight – and not-so-straight – poetry; and also her unfailingly sparky jokes and good humour.

Although she sometimes claims to suffer from an oldie’s CRAFT syndrome (of her own invention: “Can’t Remember A Fucking Thing”) she always recalls the hard stuff of her essential scripts – plus, invariably further enlivens it with pointedly ebullient ad libs on each successive gig.

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