An Open Letter to the Company of Nine – CHE’s poetry Group

The background to this letter (published below) is as follows. CHE’s successful poetry group, called The Company Of Nine, is producing a volume of its members’ poetry. 30 contributors submitted 104 poems from which 33 were selected, including two by Laurence Collinson. Laurence later received a note from the editor of the volume asking whether Laurence wished to publish under a pseudonym. “So far I have assumed that as this is to be an avowedly CHE publication the poets will wish to have their identities concealed,” wrote the editor. Expressing surprise at this, Laurence received a second letter that included this comment: “Although the booklet is to be a CHE publication, there can be no guarantee that it will be seen only by CHE eyes, which means that for some to be published in it under their own names would not be brave but downright stupid. Second, some of our contributors may wish to avoid publicity through doubts about the worth of their work.”

30 Andrewes House,
Barbican,
London EC2Y 8AX

31 January, 1973.

Dear …,

I was more shocked by your second letter than your first. You give ‘two points to remember’ as reasons that contributors to the CHE poetry anthology might wish to publish under a pseudonym.

(1) The booklet might be seen by other than CHE eyes, and consequently, for some to be published in it under their own names ‘would not be brave, but downright stupid’.

(2) Some contributors may not wish publicity because of ‘doubts about the worth of their work’.

Neither of these reasons seem to me to be rational or valid. Firstly, contributors who wish to remain ‘in the closet’ should not have submitted material to a booklet that is ostensibly part of a CAMPAIGN. (Remember: CHE means Campaign for Homosexual Equality?) There are plenty of ‘straight’ poetry journals wherein one may be published without having to suffer the ordeal of guilt by association; let these courageous poets submit their creations there! Really, what respect must these people have for the Campaign, for themselves, and for their own homosexuality that they, must engage in such self-oppression!

Secondly, writers who doubt the ‘worth of their work’ don’t usually submit that work for publication!

I have decided to protest against this typical CHE furtiveness by (a) withdrawing my poems from this anthology – will you please see that this is done; and (b) publishing this as an open letter in an appropriate journal.

Laurence Collinson

Needs To Be Noticed

COLLECTED POEMS by Ian Horobin. The Jameson Press, 160 Albion Road, London N16 9JS. Price £2.00.

To have John Betjeman, our newly crowned Poet Laureate, and Laurens van der Post each contribute a separate introduction to a book of poems is quite an achievement for a living poet. Ian Horobin is entitled to that achievement. His poems, to use his own words, “record (and, if possible, evoke) emotion — emotions of a long and varied life, in peace and war, success and failure, hope and sorrow.”

Horobin is a homosexual who has spent several years in English prisons and was also a prisoner of war of the Japanese. He was a Member of Parliament and a Junior Minister in the Macmillan Government of 1957-59. He was gazetted a Life Peer in 1962 but withdrew acceptance as his case was about to come up.

As John Betjeman says “Most poems speak for themselves”. A critical analysis would not be particularly useful, nor, in view of the great variation of the collection, would it be helpful to any potential reader. The poems divide themselves in character into those which express thoughts and emotions, those concerned with the war, and some critical pieces about politics, religion and events. These last will make the most popular appeal and the following quotations will suffice to show why.

From “Holy Orders’’

“A sneak, a pharisee, a dunce
Will tell you what God wants at once,
And do extremely well by it.
But is God really such a shit?”

“To an American Senator”

“Crown me Boston’s, Ireland’s pride;
Watch me run away and hide,
I have my fun with someone’s daughter
Leave her – head safe under water.
Now I’ll run for President,
With the IRA’s consent.
Christian murderers please note:
I’ve scooped the Roman Catholic vote”

From “Finis Coronat Opus”

“From the BBC the children suck
Propaganda and drivel and muck.
The interviewers are rarely civil
Pushing their poison and muck and drivel”.

From “Berber Goatherd”

Jesus loves me. This I know
For Ian Paisley tells me so.
But he hasn’t told us yet
What he thinks of Bernadette”.

Horobin has met with triumph and disaster in his life and has suffered humiliation and public disgrace. But his wit and humour survive and his poems deserve the recognition now denied to him.

Poem

19720901-09In this world we live in
We have got to give in
To the thoughts and feelings
That we know must be
And it’s not surprising
That we’re realising
In this world of freedom
That we, too, are free

We belong like they do
We’re not wrong – we may do
Things they’ll learn to understand
The reasons for
And our group is growing
They will soon be knowing
That each day our numbers
Build up more and more

The love that once could never speak its name
Will shout about for all the world to hear
The love that once we had to hide away
We will show with pride and build up, year by year
That ‘friend’ we had we can call lover now
The flat we ‘shared’ can now be called a home
The act of sin has let the sunshine in
We are gay and free and we are not alone

Forelock and Foreskin

Fields of Wonder, by Rod McKuen. W.H. Allen, £1.00
Twelve Years of Christmas, by Rod McKuen, W. H. Allen, 80p.

19720901-10Two slender volumes of lyrics from the man who, according to the blurbs, must be something like the eighth wonder of the world. A thousand popular songs he’s written. Academy Nominations have crossed his path and there’s a string of major classical works too. He’s the world’s best-selling poet, it sez here.

The few times I’ve seen Rod McKuen perform (on television) he turned me off like nobody since Michael Parkinson. He was, it struck me, a case where sincerity was at once too much and not enough. Too much to tolerate – that intense gaze beneath the white-blonde forelock, an arm buried elbow deep in sheepdog, the introspective muttering. Not enough – to explain and excuse an inability to sing: to carry a tune, hit a high note, project.

In one of his Christmas verses he writes:-

There was the year I first heard Brel and cried
because I thought I’d never sing that well

Does he think he sings that well now, I wonder. But this seems to be how McKuen casts himself, as a transatlantic Brel, a chanteur in an essentially European tradition. But Brel has musical guts and dynamism, he looks outwards. McKuen looks inwards, the introspective loner in faded jeans, riding the range of the recording studios and babbling, like Falstaff on his death bed, of green fields.

In these sequences McKuen throws himself on the world like an open sore and records the pain and balm that come his way. He is passive from the opening stanza :-

“. . . I travelled not to Tiburon or Tuscany
but battled back and forth
between the breasts and thighs
of those who fancied for a time
my forelock and my foreskin.”

Always he is the innocent: “Fields of wonder/ are the places God goes walking,/ I found them by mistake and I’ve trespassed.” And he makes his position clear:-

Love I wore
As open as a wound
a mad mistake I know
but love, like Lent,
only comes to those of us
who still believe.

We are not, in all honesty, so far away from the wonderful world of Patience Strong (“A smile is a light in the window of the face that shows that the heart is at home”) and even in pain the quiet, consoling voice preludes sleep. He has added a tentative awareness of sexuality to this simplistic view of life (“I have in common with all men/a lump in swimming trunks”), but it seems a faintly embarrassing itch, lost beneath sententious, didactic clumsiness when the message is rammed home.

Only a few of these collected verses are intended as lyrics for music. But they are often ridden with the kind of imagery that sounds probing when murmured through a microphone but which fails to survive reading: “There were fences that I leapt/and some that I slid under,/even when I knew I’d tear my pants.” Now and then, though, McKuen does come up with the goods as here: “The sawdust made/by two lives rubbed together/is as useless in the cover up/of changing feelings/as the kind spread thinly/on the floors of butcher shops …”

Twelve Years of Christmas is a collection of annual messages to his friends between 1958 and 1969. They are summings up of the past year, very personal and idiosyncratic. Ironically, their very intimacy makes them far more immediate and interesting than the pomposities of the bigger sequences. Here, in such verses as The Jazz Palace and El Monte Rod McKuen does indeed nearly approach the quality of Jacques Brel. The style of these Christmas messages is less effortful, the lines more fluent, the experiences more relevant than in Fields of Wonder.

The Piccadilly Affair

One Thursday night I was at Picadilly Circus, viewing the lights and minding my own business, when after a time, I got talking to a boy next to me. and in the course of the conversation he said he was from Australia. He had a slight Aussie twang in his voice (which was rather nice), his hair was fair, with pale blue eyes and freckles over his nose, which made him rather attractive to me. We talked for a time and then went for a cup of tea.

05-197208xx-4By this time I had fallen in love with him. with his soft Ausie twang and his freckles, and his slim build, and he talked away quite freely, about everything. “Where do you live” I said. “Kent, he said, “What time is your last train”

I said, “1.45″ he said, “Well come down to my place and spend the time till your train time” which he did, good I thought, this boy will be mine for a few hours. Wow, I thought, wonderful. wonderful.

After a short taxi ride we arrived at my place, up the stairs and into my small bed-sit, and after a short period of time his beautiful, slim, half-sunburnt, naked body was mine, there there will be no need to tell you any details, only one thing, there was no response to me advances, he just lay there quite passive, letting me do the work, when the time came for him to go he got up and dressed himself, and as doing so he said, “you know the score, what about it”, “About what” I said, “Come on, you know what I mean, my £5 plus my taxi fare back to the place where you found me”.

I could not believe it, then I realised it was not me he wanted but my cash, then he realised that I was surprised and that I had not realised he was for rent when we were talking at Picadilly, and I think that in a way he was sorry, by the way he talked after. We had a cup of tea and we talked and I gave him his £5 (may be daft on my part), and then he went for his train, and as he went out he said “I would like to see you again”, “OK sometime”, I said, and went back to my room and remembered a poem of long ago, it is;

You are not the boy of my prayers and tears
But of my love, my hope, my certainty
You are not a god you are the boy I am
You breathe in me my blood is yours
What I have you possess
As I hoped and wished
We shall henceforth be together for ever
And it is my turn to say to you
How splendid that is
                      always
If it be sin to love a lovely lad
Oh then sin I for whom my soul is sad

and I have been around Picadilly a few times and seen my god from Australia with other people, then disappearing, how sad I am when it is not me who is with him, what can I do, can anyone tell me for I love the lad from Australia, love him with all my heart, do the people who rent themselves not realise, they are breaking peoples hearts in the process.