Monday, 17 October 2011

Memorial reading for Matt Simpson & Michael Murphy

Gathering at Deryn's first to check what we are doing in what order. First Deryn returns with Felix, then Gwyneth with Eira, both having been out for walks. Maurice Whitbread arrives with Kathryn Maris and on my way to the Bluecoats I bump into John and Pauline Lucas who are on their way to Deryn's. At the Bluecoats I meet old friend David S who was at art school with me at Leeds. We drink a coffee outside and talk of work and Liverpool. Having passed several bars and clubs on the way I say I have yet to see another city with so many. It's a city that likes parties and drinking. I remember David as Charley, singing and painting. We are both grey now but it doesn't seem so different from forty years ago.

Then the others arrive and soon the event is under way. The official readers are Gwyneth, Lawrence, Maurice, John and I with John to link us together, and Pete and Angela Topping to contribute a poem each. We balance the content between Matt and Michael. Behind us images of the two of them shuttle - a bearded Michael and an unbearded Michael, a genial close-up Matt and a Cool Hand Matt sitting on the pavement in his dark glasses.

Between the poems some talk of both. Honesty, precision, truth are regularly mentioned as are affection and tenderness and brilliance. There is the closeness to the physicality of their writing, Matt with his "pigness of pigs", Michael with his turf and allotments. There is the balance between the scholarly and the homely that, in Michael swells to something universal and deep by the end, and in Matt remains resolutely, touchingly humane. John has produced Collected Poems by both of them. Such things are landmarks waiting to be noticed and rediscovered time and again leading, with luck to recognition of value. Such celebrations are there not only to mark the passing of much loved people, but a claim laid down for them as poets.

The reading of the poems was marvellous throughout, all readers bringing the best out of the poems in their individual ways. It is superfluous to say that this was moving and, at times, quite electrifying. Very hard too to think the two men died within a month of each other, the younger, Michael, first, as a result of long illness, the elder unexpectedly, following a routine operation. I last saw Matt at Michael's memorial service. He said he was going into hospital. I assured him he'd be fine, as assuredly he should have been.

It was Matt who had introduced me to Michael, and Michael to Deryn. I had known Matt since the mid-eighties. We corresponded and exchanged poems, read each other's collections. Michael had spent time in Hungary and had translated fragments of Attila József; racy, colloquial translations. In the last year or so of his life Michael was producing poems as good as any and better.

When the poems are as good as these the poems go on breathing.


Kathryn M said...

That was the best kind of reading: astonishingly good poems and readers who more than did the poems justice. Your words about both poets were very moving. Is 'Maurice Whitbread' an in-joke? Or is he some British zillionaire heir who has been putting on a Cork accent for me all these years? Kathryn

George S said...

Damn! Sheer tiredness. M Whitbread was a very nice tutor at Leeds when I was doing fine art 69-72. Good man who loved poetry. I'll correct it.