BY MIKE PLUMBLEY
Nothing coming up? The fresh faced young man behind the counter,
obviously straight out of University, continued to peer hopefully
into his computer screen.
David Gascoyne, G-A-S-C-O-Y-N-E,
English poet and writer who wrote A Short Survey of Surrealism
in 1935, lives just across the water near Cowes?
Sorry, we dont seem to
stock him on the shelves. Its a small publisherEnitharmon
Presswould take us a while to get a copy for you. I
leave the bright shiny new edifice of Southamptons West Quay
shopping precinct without a copy of David Gascoynes recently
discovered novella April. Empty handed and hardly surprised.
Our culture seems to shrink-wrap
everything. The massive bookshop has pallet loads of books delivered
each and every day by lorry. The poetry section brims with poets
Ive never heard of from every conceivable corner of the world,
yet has no room for this distinguished man of poems and prose living
literally on their doorstep.
David Gascoynes writings illuminate
the past century with clarity. His is a rich language filled by
touchstones to a gone world. The late American poet Allen Ginsberg,
an admirer of Gascoynes work, placed him both geographically
and culturally for me: David Gascoyne is a Surrealist poet.
He belongs to the Paris School of Surrealism of Breton, Eluard,
and Ernst, whom he translated when he lived there before the war.
Paris became David Gascoynes
vortex. He was drawn there by copies of avant garde magazines bought
in a Charing Cross art bookshop in the early 1930s. His poetry at
sixteen is full of the slate greyness of English streets and seaside
towns. Then it appears to burst open with the colour of Paris, where
he spends his 17th birthday. There, surrealism pulls him but doesnt
define him. It is a bright star in his personal constellation. David
Gascoyne undertakes a journey of self-realisation at a time when
the world is literally exploding around him.
The twentieth century began with
generals carving up the European map; Sigmund Freud dissected the
human psyche while poets and painters roasted sacred cows. Dadists
flour-bombed and deconstructed both art and literature to farce
half a century before the onslaught of the Goons, Monty Python,
or the Bonzo Dog Dooh Dah Band (originally Dada Band but whos
Somewhere between the Cabaret Voltaire
in Berlin and the left bank of Paris, Dada came and went, leaving
Surrealism to grow and flourish in Frances post-war stability.
Whilst Dada had sought to debunk everything, Surrealism placed new
demands on reality. From Dadas theatre of the absurd emerged
Parisian Andre Breton, who was the keeper of the Surrealist flame.
Together with Paul Eluard and Max Ernst, the prime Surrealist campaigners,
Andre Breton held court in Paris. I went to Paris in 1933
where I met Max Ernst and José Corti in a bookshop on the
left bank at Montmartre. I spent my 17th birthday in Paris and when
I came home I persuaded my publishers to allow me to write A Short
Survey of Surrealism. It was published in 1935 and reprinted in
A Short Survey of Surrealism
is an extraordinary worka powerful, persuasive book written
by a young man who goes to the heart of the movement. Here he speaks
with freshness and vibrancy on the art and poetry emanating from
Paris in the 1930s. Books written in retrospect pale by comparison.
David Gascoyne is able to draw conclusions
about the origins of Surrealism by conversing with the founders
of the movement. He proposes Surrealisms development from
the works of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lautréamont and Sade.
Surrealism, writes Gascoyne,
is not a style, nor an aesthetic, nor simply a way of writing
or painting, but a universal activity of the mind unlimited to any
one particular time or place. Widening and deepening the whole human
experience, it is the germ of a new mentality that might revise
the old scale of human values in every field to construct a form
of society that would realise the full potential of every human
The young poet and author not only
mixes with the great surrealists but stands among them. He translates
their works in English and expresses the movements aesthetic
and political nature. He turns his analysis as though he were refracting
light on a prism.
The most vital feature of surrealism
is its exclusive interest in that point at which literature and
art give place to real life, at that point at which the imagination
seeks to express itself in a more concrete form than words or plastic
images. (Page 61, A Short Survey of Surrealism by David
In a handful of years, David Gascoyne
eclipsed his initial poetic efforts and firmly set himself on a
path of self discovery. Some of his earliest poetry is found in
the Poets Corner of the Sunday Referee newspaper alongside
other young poets such as Dylan Thomas and Laurie Lee. The year
is 1933, before he embarks for Paris. Three of his poems printed
there, Seaside Souvenirs, On The Terrace,
and Slate in particular evoke a sense of the grey drabness
of England in the 1930s. Always bluntly honest about his own writing,
he now describes them to me as juvenalia:
of jellyfish left behind,
a pocketful of sand,
a dead, pressed leaf,
the woven rhythms of three days
these are the traces, faded, indistinct
wears a fading rose
Upon her breast. She and the colonel stare,
Dumb, at the footworn pavingstones
As they walk on. A sigh disturbs the air.
On the Terrace
eroded slate packs loose and flat
in broken sheets and frigid swathes of stone,
like withered petals of a great grey flower.
By comparison, David Gascoynes Surrealist poems freefall
down spiral staircases of imagery as though evolved at a Mad Hatters
tea party attended by Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, and René
Magritte. In writing a Surrealist poem you have to clear
the mind, start with a blank sheet and let your imagination take
over, he suggests.
The results can be read from David
Gascoynes Surrealist poems And The Seventh Dream Is
The Dream Of Isis and Salvador Dali, where the
imagery tumbles line by line without tripping over itself:
an explosion of geraniums in the ballroom of the hotel
there is an extremely unpleasant odour of decaying meat
arising from the depetalled flower growing out of
her ear her arms are like pieces of sandpaper
or wings of leprous birds in taxis
and when she sings her hair stands on end
and lights itself with a million little lamps like glow-worms
you must always write the last two letters of her Christian
upside down with a blue pencil
she was standing at the window clothed only in a ribbon
she was burning the eyes of a snail in a candle
she was eating the excrement of dogs and horses
she was writing a letter to the president of france
And The Seventh Dream Is The Dream
of the precipice is black with lovers;
The sun above them is a bag of nails; the springs
First rivers hide among their hair
Goliath plunges his hand into the poisoned well
And bows his head and feels my feet walk through his brain.
The titles of David Gascoynes Surrealist poems dont
necessarily imply what the poem is about, as he would point out
to me, And The Seventh Dream Is The Dream of Isis,
is not about the she God of Egyptian mythology. Salvador
Dali is not based on any of Dalis paintings nor is
particularly about him although it is suggestive of him.
The creative burst of Surrealist
poems and essays extends from 1933 to 1936. Returning from his
first visit to Paris, the poet convinces his publishers Cobden-Sanderson
to finance what would become A Short Survey of Surrealism.
David Gascoyne would then spend a further three months in Paris
interviewing and gathering material from Surrealist painters,
poets, and writers.
The resultant book brims with ideas
and ideology clearly argued and defined by the author. Translations
of Surrealist poetry rubs shoulders with a collection of Surrealist
art featuring Man Ray, Miro, Dali, Ernst, Magritte, and Yves Tanguy.
In the summer of 1936, Andre Breton,
Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dali visited London to promote
Surrealism. The resultant exhibition appears to have had the hallmarks
of a Buster Keaton film:
met Roland Penrose through Paul Eluard, his long-time friend.
Roland had a house in Hampstead and a committee of surrealists
met there to plan the International Surrealist Exhibition
that was held at the New Burlington Gallery in London. This
was in 1936. I remember Dali gave a lecture in a new diving
suit, a proper diving suit complete with metal helmet. He
had one of those lantern shows that didnt work very
well and it got very hot inside the suit and I remember having
to go out and try and find a spanner to get him out of the
Underlying the Parisian Surrealist movement was an ideology born
from the Russian Revolution. That is, if a group of around 30
artists working together in 1935 might be regarded as a movement.
Although links of solidarity between the political ideology of
the Bolsheviks and the Parisians were tenuous, as David Gascoyne
recalled: The Communists considered that Surrealism was
not the kind of work that the proletariat needed to read.
Nevertheless, the ideology and ideals were reflected by Andre
Breton, the architect of the Surrealist Manifestos of 1924 and
David Gascoyne describes Breton
as a man of strong will and views. In A Short Survey of Surrealism,
the author acknowledges, even for all the allegations of his tyrannical
authoritiveness, that except for Andre Breton the
Surrealist movement could never have existed, for it is difficult
to imagine it without him as it is to imagine psychoanalysis without
It was Bretons single-mindedness
that led to David Gascoynes parting with the Surrealist
group. The schism occurred at a meeting of the Surrealists at
a café in Montmartre where they got together at six each
evening, just around the corner from Andre Bretons
apartment. Id joined the Communist Party as one did in those
days. Id been on several marches against Mosleys blackshirts
in London. Breton accused me of being a Stalinist and a Roman
Catholic. He was a Trotskyist who you didnt argue with for
long. I was excommunicated.
Also in 1936, David Gascoyne accompanied
Roland Penrose and his wife Valentine to Spain to help the Catalan
Propaganda Ministry in the civil war against Francos fascist
rebels. While in Barcelona, David Gascoyne met with Picassos
elderly mother and sister.
Returning to England via Paris,
he took the opportunity to visit Picasso with news from his family.
I found Picassos apartment gloomy, dusty and untidy,
with most of the seemingly randomly chosen furniture covered with
newspapers or dust-sheets. Also standing about here and there
against the walls were some, but not a lot of his canvases, a
few of which he somewhat perfunctorily showed to me. He also showed
me, with more enthusiasm, some of the paintings belonging to his
collection of other artists work, mostly unframed and standing
about the flat also as though at random, among which I particularly
remember a Cezanne still-life, a Renoir and, above all, Dounier
Rousseaus famous Mariee. (Collected Journals
At this point in his life Picasso
had cast aside his brushes for the pen to write poetry. Some months
later Picasso ended his painters block to deliver
his damning work on the Spanish Civil War, Guernica.
David Gascoynes creativity
was still at full tilt. He had turned to prose and writing novels.
His novella April would be completed on April 16, 1937.
In David Gascoynes frank journals he admits to fruitless
struggles with plots and the abandonment of projects. A
possible exception is the novella referred to in the
present volume as April (as in April is the
cruellest month, . . . ). This may not have been altogether
terrible, and at the time I was quite pleased with it, in spite
of the even then rather dubious plausibility of the heros
dying of diabetes, in a coma brought about supposedly by his thwarted
passion for an icy, sexually repressed English girl, daughter
of a teacher at the Sorbonne . . . In any case it is impossible
now to judge its merits as the ms has long since disappeared .
. . (Page 14, Collected Journals 1936-42)
By some miracle of fate David Gascoynes
lost handwritten journals finally ended up in the British Library
in London. Sixty years or so year later, friend and editor Roger
Scott would uncover a copy of April. April brings
to life what it was like to have lived in Paris in the 1930s,
enthuses Roger Scott. It has a keen sense of a lived in
and loved in place. The book has three main characters: Judith,
her lover Frédéric and Max, who is a Communist.
David gives the idea of what it must have been like to have been
at a Communist meeting in Paris at the time.
1937 marks another turning point
in David Gascoynes writing, for it was then that he chanced
upon the works of Pierre Jean Jouve, whom the poet regarded as
the greatest it has been my good fortune to know.
In the autumn of 1937, my
discovery of a copy of the 1930 edition of Pierre Jean Jouves
Poémes de la Folie de Hölderlin in a book dealers
box on the Paris quays marked a turning point in my approach to
poetry. I had not so much become disillusioned with Surrealism
as begun to wish to explore other territories than the sub- or
unconscious, the oneiric and the aleatory. Jouves Hölderlin
translations led not only to my essay, poems, and translations
published by Dent the following year as Hölderins Madness,
but to an excited first reading of Jouves own poetry and
prose, and before long to an acquaintance with the poet and his
psychiatrist wife that was to last nearly thirty years.
(Page xiv, Selected Poems)
Sparked by this change in direction,
David Gascoynes inspiration continues unabated. It was a
torrent stifled initially by the Second World War and then by
the poets use of amphetamines.
Again his work is full of rich
language. All traces of Surrealism have evaporated. He relies
on less abstract, more clearly defined themes. Figure In
The Landscape from Hölderins Madness draws upon
the metaphysical of man and his universe:
small among the infinitely huge,
Drunk with the rising fluids of his breast, his boiling heart,
Exposed and naked as the skeletonupon the knees
Like some tormented desert sainthe flung
The last curse of regret against Omnipotence
And the lightening struck his face.
David Gascoynes poem Miesere expands on the
a monstrance silver-wrought
But from the tree of human pain
Redeem our sterile misery,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
That mans long journey through the night
May not have been in vain.
you browse through David Gascoynes Collected Poems,
those from 1936 to 1942 are ablaze with man and nature in and
out of order. Tomb of what was, womb of what is to be.
It is as though some form of alchemy is at work, replacing the
Russian roulette of a Surrealists blank page with a semblance
of order and divine plan.
The period is also marked by his
own personal demons, as depression started to attack his senses.
I returned from Munich in 1938 depressed. Dr. Blanche Reverchon,
wife of Pierre Jean Jouve was a psychiatrist and I went to her
surgery every couple of days. The poem The Fabulous Glass
is my recall of a session there. It was a beautiful house and
the poem refers to an alcove where there is a statue with the
childs face disfigured.
fell inside my mind;
Until an Alcove rose to view
In which, obscure at first,
There now appeared a Virgin and Her Child;
But it was horrible to behold
How she consumed that Infants Face
With Her voracious Mouth.
As the decade slipped towards an inevitable war in Europe, David
Gascoyne was sliding into his own abyss of torment. During the
Second World War David Gascoyne had joined the Entertainment National
Service Association (ENSA) touring company and began experimenting
with amphetamines. Benzedrine catarrah inhalers could be bought
with ease from any local chemist, but, as the poet noted: Nobody
said you shouldnt empty the contents into water, shake it
up and drink it. Although his style seems more reflective,
the drugs at this point do not entirely stifle his creativity.
The poems between 1946 and 1950 respond to the sense of loss and
hopelessness that war has brought both for him and his world.
There is a yearning to return to the Paris that had gone forever.
In A Vagrant he asks:
lack and mine are much the same. What, oh what can
A vagrant hope to find to take the place of what once was
Our expectation of the Human City in which each man might
Morning and evening, every day, lead his own life, and Mans?
And too in the Sacred
Hearth, a call to recapture the fire amongst the wreckage of war-torn
for refugees have rents, we ought to know
that there can be for us no place quite alien and unknown,
No situation wholly hostile, if somewhere there to burn
The faithful fire of vision still awaiting our return.
Sun: 1947, a poem of hope and expectancy, appears to express
a need to learn from the mistakes of a past, symbolising the desire
for a better harvest from a Europe laid to waste.
Magnificent strong sun! In these last days
So prodigally generous of pristine light
Thats wasted only mans sight who will not see
And by self-darkened spirits from whose night
Can rise no longer prison or praise
Let us consume
in fire unfed like yours
And may the quickened gold within me come
To mintage in due season, and not be
Transmuted to no better end than dumb
And self-sufficient usury. These days and years
the sudden call to harvesting,
When in the fields mans labours only yield
Glitter and husks, then with an angrier sun may He
Who first with His gold seed the sightless field
Of Chaos planted, all our trash to cinders bring.
In 1950, David Gascoyne spent a year in America, partly on a reading
tour of New York and New England with fellow poets Kathleen Raine
and WS Graham. The poet had been friends with Kathleen Raine and
her husband Charles Madge since their poetry was first published
by Geoffrey Grigson in New Verse in 1933.
Shortly after David Gascoynes
return from America he learned of the death of Paul Eluard. His
response was a long evocative portrait of the Surrealist poet
finding a strength of inspiration which would desert him only
a few years later:
in arms and in anger,
In passion, in Paris, in person
In partisanship, as the poet
Of Frances Resistance, the spokesman
Of unconquerable free fraternity
Elegaic Improvisation On The Death of
his Collected Poems (Enitharmon Press) David Gascoyne underlines
that the long poem reflects on the Paul Eluard of the 1930s and
he draws attention to the poets later life with some sadness:
It was not until quite recently,
on reading Milan Kunderas Book of Laughter and Forgetting,
which contains a bitterly ironic account of Eluards inexcusable
failure to speak out in defence of his one-time friend the surrealist
Zavis Kalandra, who was hanged in Prague in 1950 during the French
poets visit to the city at the invitation of the Czech authorities,
that I fully realised what kind of man he had become at the end
of his life. If I had been aware of this incident at the time,
and fully understood the way authoritarian politics can transform
even so fraternal a poet as Eluard, it would not have been possible
(or, at least, I hope not) for me to write the kind of poem that
the Elegaic Improvisation turned out to be.
(Page xvii, Collected Poems)
The return from America also brought
a commission from the BBC which resulted in his radiophonic poem
Night Thoughts. It was an experiment in sound, of voices
and a choir, the sound of an underground railway and the music
specially written by Humphrey Searle. We had the use of a studio
for three months in Notting Hill Gate.
In printed form under its title,
Night Thoughts has a quotation from Hölderlin translated
from the German: But alas! Our generation walks in night,
dwells in Hades, without the divine
Night Thoughts is an opus,
a long magnificent work seeming to rise out from the quote by
Hölderlin, speaking to a post-war generation cocooned each
night by their firesides listening to the voice of the BBC on
There are three movements: The
Nightwatchers, Megalometropolitan Carnival, and Encounter With
The Nightwatchers is almost Churchillian
in its early verses:
as within us, battle rages
Enveloped in obscurity, our enemy,
An emissary from the world of shadows,
Assails us from an unknown vantage-point,
Observes us unawares, usurps initiative
And uses it to inspire such distrust in us
That we must now suspect him everywhere.
The theme, fear, shrouds
the work like a cold war of fighting demons:
all strangeness and all strangers; and above all else the
Of Love, of being loved, of being asked for love,
Of being loved yet knowing one has no love to return
Megalometropolitan Carnival is a climax of language as powerful
as saxophonist John Coltranes A Love Supreme
or Allen Ginsbergs opus Howl. The early verses
of the movement hark to the heavens like a Greek stargazer:
Do I see
splinters of old myths stuck in the sky above my head?
If stars are visible at all, theyre but a sprinkling
Blurred into insignificance by the brilliance on the ground,
Where the City round me celebrates the triumph of the brain
Of man over his darkness, in the effervescent blaze
Of a commerce-sponsored carnival of multi-coloured bulbs.
the movement builds towards a climax which even without the soundtrack
makes a music all of its own:
buffeted by pangs of dread of failure, we at once
Wrap blankets of cacophony about us, plucking strings
Of strident resonance to death with frantic fingers, while
The only ground-note to all songs is like the throbbing sob
Of childhood by our cold sophistication throttled, choked
Back in our lying throats, to underlie, pent in our breasts,
Each cry during the long spell of our carnival expelled
To swell the roar that rises with each climax repostponed.
final movement, Encounter With Silence, reminds one of Debussy,
of a sense of serene calmness, of contemplation, a crystallisation
Nature, Unconsciousness and Death. We are drawn down and back
towards them in the Night. But there is a Vigil where the
walker in the garden stands and wonders in the dark.
David Gascoyne evokes a clear-as-a-moonlit-night image of a man
in the garden renewing himself: Silence had delivered its
essential message to him and he had responded. Now he feels that
he no longer has the need to reassure himself with words.
The gentle ending of Night Thoughts
is a call to brotherhood, or, as he once expressed in more Marxist
terms about Surrealism, to construct a form of society that
would realise the full potential of every human being. For,
to the solitary. Friends, fellow beings, you are not strangers
to us. We are closer to one another than we realise. Let us
remember one another at night, even though we do not know
each others names.
Night Thoughts must be regarded as David Gascoynes
last great opus before he descended into two decades of suffering,
the most drastic consequences for me of the persistent
assault on the central nervous system that amphetamine abuse represented.
David Gascoyne took to wintering
in Paris and spending his summers in Aix-en-Provence, painting
At this time my ability to
write had completely deserted me. Even postcards home became difficult
to pen. This period of sterility and lost self confidence culminated
in 1964 in a mental breakdown which resulted in my being interned
in a psychiatric hospital run by the prefecture in a Parisian
banlieue. After some months, the directors of this establishment
ordained that I should be sent back to England: and on no
account should I live alone, I was told. I could not envisage
imposing myself on anyone in England, other than my ageing parents,
who had just moved to the Isle of Wight. (Collected Journals)
The death of David Gascoynes father in the late sixties
plunged the poet into deep despair. He finally became a patient
of Whitecroft Hospital on the Isle of Wight. Here, the weight
of lost decades of inactivity were lifted by the storybook meeting
with his future wife, Judy.
I used to visit Whitecroft
Hospital and read poetry to the patients there. One of my favourite
poems was called September Sun. I read it one afternoon
and one of the patients came up to me afterwards and said I
wrote that, I put my hand on his shoulder and said Of
course you did, dear. Then of course when I got to know
him I realised he had, Judy Gascoyne recalls. (Interviewed
by Mike Plumbley, Vic King, Pete Turner on the Isle of Wight in
David Gascoynes encounter
and subsequent marriage to Judy Lewis in 1975, much at Judys
insistence, seems to become another turning point in his life.
David Gascoynes spirit was rekindled. In the company of
Judy Gascoyne, the poet revisited Paris and performed at the Cambridge
Poetry Festival in 1975. Over the next decade he was to be feted
wherever he roamed: in Paris, Belgium, Italy, Amsterdam, Iceland,
Corfu, and San Francisco. In 1981, France honoured the Surrealist
poet and writer at the Pompidou Centre in Paris with A Homage
to David Gascoyne. The honour Chevalier de LOrdre
des Arts et des Lettres followed in 1996. David Gascoyne
was also made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1994.
And he began to write again.
formation of a National Poetry Day in the United Kingdom
in 1995 resulted in a landmark event at the Albert Hall. It was
the last reading in this country by Allen Ginsberg. I couldnt
travel up to London but I managed to speak to Allen on the phone,
David Gascoyne recalled.
David Gascoynes tribute to
his friend demonstrates not only their shared admiration for each
other but the poets return to powerful prose:
In a time
when the choice between screaming and silence is as taunting
as a koan proposing there to be life through the Hydrogen
bomb, you have poured out an unquenchable torrent of agonised
imprecation and lament, rhapsodies, lullabies, love-songs
and blues of unparalleled variety and force.
Best Minds: A tribute to Allen Ginsberg
(Morgan and Rosenthal)
Iain Sinclair, the distinctive London poet, was to visit David
Gascoyne on the Isle of Wight to record his contribution to the
first National Poetry Day at the Albert Hall in 1995. Iain Sinclairs
prose poem, performed in celebration of David Gascoynes
81st birthday in 1997, paints a marvellous picture of the poet.
The references to Bob Dylan and George Harrison refer to David
Gascoynes wife, Judy, who played egg cook and bottlewasher
to the stars on the occasion of the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival:
Chris Petit, Marc Atkins
and I took a day trip to the Isle of Wight to visit David Gascoyne
and to record him reading a poem for the Albert Hall extravaganza.
Out in the back garden over the tea table, the late afternoon
sunlight falling in a sharp wedge over the poets troubled
face, he spoke of alchemy, how the gold mark event and the publication
of Vale Royal had revitalised him, brought him back to life.
Its a miracle,
he said as Judy Gascoyne leafed through albums of photographs,
Allen Ginsberg in New York, Robert Duncan in San Francisco, visitors
to the Island, Bob Dylan and George Harrison.
He was writing again. He
passed me his notebook which was filled with black ink translations,
notes and future projects. The inspiration was back after a long
silence that stretched back into the fifties and now it came in
a rush. He spoke of Rambo exhibitions through docklands, the battle
of Cable Street, he recalled sinister Dr. Bluth hammering on a
white piano in his Notting Hill Surgery before shooting Gascoyne
up with a mixture of oxblood and methadone, Anna Kavan and Conrad
Veidt rescued from the cabinet of Dr. Caligari were beneficiaries
of the same treatment. All of them hitting the streets, bug-eyed
and hot to trot, Sinclair reported at the festival.
The event on Newport Quay in 1997
to celebrate David Gascoynes 81st birthday was a fitting
tribute made special by the fact that the poet himself completed
the evenings readings.
Judy Gascoyne opened the evening
with a wonderful quote about the new Anthony Minghella Theatre
as being a welcome change from those unfortunate settings
of poetry readings in pubs in tiny room next to the juke box.
David Gascoyne, seated in a wheelchair, introduced the first of
four poets, Iain Sinclair, with a glowing introduction which noted,
He has the eyes and ears of a poet which makes his prose
It was an amazing evening. Each
poet in turn introduced the next. Iain Sinclair handed over to
the late Barry McSweeney, prophetically on a tour called Hell
Hound On My Trail and who was fighting a losing battle against
alcoholism. McSweeney introducing the boy wonder Nicholas
Johnson who in turn brought on Aidan Andrew Dun, dressed
in a bandanna like a pirate of the seven seas and using every
inch of the stage for his oration. Duns words that night
eloquently introduced a reading from David Gascoyne: The
swans on the waterfront tonight draw closer and crane their necks
to hear these poems which follow. It is my very great pleasure,
it does me honour, to introduce a giant among poets, a poet with
the true consciousness of a seer. The imagination of David Gascoyne
travels in unique skies, his spirit moves in and above this shadowy
world. As for his life itself it is a record of legendary occurrences.
We are all very honoured tonight to be with David Gascoyne.
The introduction received warm
applause as the poet was brought to the centre of the floor to
read from his wheelchair. David Gascoyne read that night with
a spirit and a warmth undimmed by age. He was relaxed with only
the lowered lights and his failing eyesight making him fumble
as he reached the end of a series of poems. At one point Judy
Gascoyne called out, Darling do you think you would be better
without your glasses?
Yes, I was just thinking
that, he replied, discarding the spectacles onto the table.
There were poems about Corfu and
the Durrells, poems about Paris, unique little pieces on wartime
London, small Dorset villages, November in Devon, even a poem
that made it into the Penguin Book of Light Verse from his later
works during the 70s and 80s. That seemed to tickle the poet.
David Gascoyne also read September Sun: 1947, which
seemed to gain a power and majesty all of its own.
David Gascoyne no longer travels,
living quietly as he has done here on the Isle of Wight for a
number of years with his wife Judy in a terraced house near Cowes.
One of his oldest friends, Kathleen Raine, still keeps in touch.
We still talk regularly on the phone, he says.
Do recordings exist of Night
Thoughts? I wondered.
I dont know,
he said, You might try the BBC.
I suddenly got a horrible sense
of deja vu. Gascoigne, hmm nothing coming up, how do you
with David and Judy Gascoyne in 1994 for Isle of Wight Rock--A
music anthology (1995) and subsequently in January 2001.
Poems are quoted from David
Gascoyne--Selected Poems (Enitharmon Press). Quotations are
also taken from: Journal 1936-1937 --David Gascoyne (Enitharmon
Press) and A Short Survey of Surrealism --David Gascoyne
(City Lights Books)
April, David Gascoynes
recently rediscovered novella is available as a limited edition
36 St. Georges Avenue
London N7 0HD
My thanks to David and Judy Gascoyne for answering all my questions
and giving me a clearer insight into pictures from a gone
world. My thanks also to Roger Scott, Stephen Stuart-Smith
of Enitharmon Press, and Marcus Williamson who maintains David
can read more about the Isle of Wight in Mike Plumbleys
feature Vapour Trails, included in the Winter 2001
edition of The Paumanok Review, available in the archive