Richard’s Literary Byways: Pete Who?

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  • #9221
    RichardB
    Participant

    No, not that Townshend fellow. Read on…

    Back in 1967, when I was in the midst of studying for English A Level, a book came out that introduced me and a lot of other people to a new idea of what poetry could be: accessible, direct, down-to-earth, irreverent, witty. Those who derided it as not proper poetry missed the point. This stuff was performance poetry, intended to be read aloud, and therefore needed to be simple and immediate. Many people did get the point though, for the book became one of the best-selling poetry anthologies ever. It was called The Mersey Sound, and featured the work of, and brought to national prominence, three poets from Liverpool: Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten.

    This new kind of poetry was not unique to Liverpool. It had been bubbling away for some years in what was then known as the Underground, and a year or so later another anthology of poetry in the same style was published, called Love, Love, Love: the New Love Poetry and proclaiming its Underground origins with a spectacularly psychedelic cover by the renowned poster artists Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (aka Michael English and Nigel Weymouth). This book’s fate was very different to that of The Mersey Sound. As far as I can make out it hasn’t been reprinted for at least fifty years, and such few references as I can find on the internet nearly all relate to ancient copies for sale on Abebooks, eBay and Amazon. It has been forgotten.

    But not by me. In particular, one poem from it has stayed with me. Titled Connections, it was written by the anthology’s editor, one Pete Roche.

    Unlike, say, Roger McGough or their near-contemporary in the same field Adrian Mitchell (‘the Shadow Poet Laureate’ as he was once called), Pete Roche does not today enjoy the status of a national treasure. Indeed, he is even more obscure than the book he edited. Though he was active on the Underground poetry scene of the nineteen-sixties, nothing seems to be known about him after 1975. He has left behind him only a few articles in long-vanished magazines and that forgotten anthology of poetry.

    Which I think is a pity, because I believe he had a not inconsiderable talent. It wasn’t just that one poem: I forget how many others of his own he included in the anthology, but for me they were all among the best ones, and if you’d asked me to nominate my favourite poet in the book his would have been the name I’d have come up with.

    And I wasn’t the only one. While digging about recently on the net I came across a page where two people agreed that the poem from Love, Love, Love that had stayed with them was another one by Pete Roche, Somewhere on the Way.

    I was pleased to find both poems on-line, and here they are. Both give me that delighted start of recognition (‘Yes! Ain’t that the truth? That’s exactly how it is!’) that is one of my litmus tests to distinguish poetry from verse – and yes, there is a difference.

    See what you think.

    Connections

    Missing the bus to Hammersmith
    Means you miss the train to Leicester Square
    Which means in turn (and following
    The ghastly business to its
    Logical conclusion) that you miss
    The overnight express
    At Euston;
    A kind of chaos that will not stand
    Over-close inspection
    (The name of the game is Connections)

    Naked in darkness, fumbling, tumbling
    Together, any minute now one or both of us
    Will burst out laughing, and as for me
    I’m all for leaving the light on, but
    The meter’s just gone – which
    Being so, we fumble on, quite unaware
    That we are, in fact,
    Pushing in
    Different directions
    (The name of the game is Connections)

    Words like Hello and Goodbye sound much the same
    When spoken from the bottom of a well;
    It’s hard to tell whether people are singing
    Inside their heads; beds creak louder
    In the dark; missing the mark
    Is worse that missing trains.
    Naked in cities, tumbling, fumbling for
    Friends, regretting the way love tends to lead
    To logical rejections (And the name of the game
    Is Connections).

    Somewhere on the Way

    I wanted to say a lot of things:
    I wanted to say how often lately
    Your bright image has wandered through
    The dusty old antique shop of my mind;
    I wanted to say how good it is
    To wake up in the morning
    Knowing that the day contains
    Something that is you.

    I wanted to say a lot of things:
    I wanted to talk about
    The changing colour of moments,
    The silent secret language
    Of bodies making love.
    I wanted to say that you
    Are always only as far from me
    As thoughts are from thinking.

    I wanted to say
    I love you
    In fourteen foreign languages
    But most of all (most
    Difficult of all) in English.

    I wanted to say a lot of things,
    But they all seem to have lost themselves
    Somewhere on the way; and now I’m here
    There’s nothing I can say except
    Hello, and –
    Yes, I’d like some coffee, and
    What shall we find to talk about
    Before the night burns out?

    #9222
    Sandra
    Participant

    I’d not heard of Pete Roche, and much enjoyed these two examples, thank you for them.

    It’s that sort of recognition/everyday honesty that draws me to certain songwriters (I’m thinking Aidan Moffatt in his Arab Strap days), and why Vicki Feaver spoke so loudly to me.

    #9230
    RichardB
    Participant

    From JaneShuff (copied from the wall)

    Thank you for this, Richard. I spent my childhood and teenage years in Liverpool and The Liverpool Poets were a big part of it. I thought I hadn’t heard of Pete Roche but, amazingly, I found myself able to recite Somewhere On The Way as I read it so the poem must be buried somewhere inside the dusty old antique shop of my mind. Thank you!

    #9231
    RichardB
    Participant

    Jane, I suspect that, er, somewhere on the way you too encountered that anthology, so long ago you’d forgotten about it until my post reminded you.

    Yes, I like the Liverpool Poets too. It’s only one aspect of his talent, but Roger McGough has raised that lowest form of wit, the pun, into an art form. Like this, from The Mersey Sound:

    The act of love lies somewhere
    Between the belly and the mind
    I lost the love sometime ago
    Now I’ve only the act to grind.

    Genius!

    #9232
    JaneShuff
    Participant

    I’ve just wasted an hour, thanks to you Richard, trawling through the internet searching for Brian Patten who was my particular favourite and ordered a copy of Little Johnny’s Confession which I am sure is the book of his I used to have. Fingers crossed.

    #9234
    Daedalus
    Participant

    They do have that sort of instant hit of relateable truth don’t they? Ironic, or perhaps not, that Roche’s career might apply to the principle of ‘Connections’, even though it’s clearly about something much more personal. A missed connection here or there is the difference between national treasure status and obscurity.

    Also interesting for me to learn where Roger McGough got his first break. He would have been one of the handful of current poets I could have named as a child, and was probably the only one I met.

    #9246
    RichardB
    Participant

    ‘Instant hit of relateable truth’: yes, that a good way of putting it.

    Jane, if you got a result you haven’t been wasting your time, have you?

    #9247
    JaneShuff
    Participant

    You’re quite right Richard. Although the lack of hoovering and the pile of christmas cards still waiting to be written might point to a different conclusion!

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