Gascoigne? 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 don’t seem to stock him on the shelves. It’s a small publisher—Enitharmon Press—would take us a while to get a copy for you.” I leave the bright shiny new edifice of Southampton’s West Quay shopping precinct without a copy of David Gascoyne’s 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 I’ve 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 Gascoyne’s 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 Gascoyne’s 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 Gascoyne’s 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 doesn’t 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 who’s splitting hairs?).  
      Somewhere between the Cabaret Voltaire in Berlin and the left bank of Paris, Dada came and went, leaving Surrealism to grow and flourish in France’s post-war stability. Whilst Dada had sought to debunk everything, Surrealism placed new demands on reality. From Dada’s 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 1936.”  
      A Short Survey of Surrealism is an extraordinary work—a 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 Surrealism’s 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 being.”  
      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 movement’s 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 Gascoyne)  
      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 Poet’s 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”:  

‘The pattern of jellyfish left behind,
a pocketful of sand,
a dead, pressed leaf,
the woven rhythms of three days
these are the traces, faded, indistinct’
—Seaside Souvenir

‘The woman 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

‘The rain 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 Gascoyne’s Surrealist poems freefall down spiral staircases of imagery as though evolved at a Mad Hatter’s 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 Gascoyne’s 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:

‘there was 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 name
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 Isis

‘The face of the precipice is black with lovers;
The sun above them is a bag of nails; the spring’s
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.’
—Salvador Dali

      The titles of David Gascoyne’s Surrealist poems don’t 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 Dali’s 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:  

     ‘I 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 didn’t 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 suit’
—David Gascoyne  

      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 1929.  
      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 Freud.”  
      It was Breton’s single-mindedness that led to David Gascoyne’s 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 Breton’s apartment. I’d joined the Communist Party as one did in those days. I’d been on several marches against Mosley’s blackshirts in London. Breton accused me of being a Stalinist and a Roman Catholic. He was a Trotskyist who you didn’t 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 Franco’s fascist rebels. While in Barcelona, David Gascoyne met with Picasso’s elderly mother and sister.  
      Returning to England via Paris, he took the opportunity to visit Picasso with news from his family. “I found Picasso’s 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 artist’s 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 Rousseau’s famous Mariee.” (Collected Journals 1936-42)  
      At this point in his life Picasso had cast aside his brushes for the pen to write poetry. Some months later Picasso ended his “painter’s block” to deliver his damning work on the Spanish Civil War, Guernica.
      David Gascoyne’s 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 Gascoyne’s 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 hero’s 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 Gascoyne’s 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 Gascoyne’s 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 Jouve’s Poémes de la Folie de Hölderlin in a book dealer’s 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. Jouve’s Hölderlin translations led not only to my essay, poems, and translations published by Dent the following year as Hölderin’s Madness, but to an excited first reading of Jouve’s 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 Gascoyne’s inspiration continues unabated. It was a torrent stifled initially by the Second World War and then by the poet’s 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 Hölderin’s Madness draws upon the metaphysical of man and his universe:  

‘Infinitely small among the infinitely huge,
Drunk with the rising fluids of his breast, his boiling heart,
Exposed and naked as the skeleton—upon the knees
Like some tormented desert saint—he flung
The last curse of regret against Omnipotence
And the lightening struck his face.’  

     Similarly, David Gascoyne’s poem “Miesere” expands on the bigger picture:  

‘Not from a monstrance silver-wrought
But from the tree of human pain
Redeem our sterile misery,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
That man’s long journey through the night
May not have been in vain.’  

     When you browse through David Gascoyne’s 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 Surrealist’s 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 child’s face disfigured.”  

‘Thick shadows 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 Infant’s 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 shouldn’t 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:  

‘The city’s 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 Europe:

‘All roofs 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.’

     “September 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.  

‘September Sun: 1947
Magnificent strong sun! In these last days
So prodigally generous of pristine light
That’s wasted only man’s 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  

‘May bring the sudden call to harvesting,
When in the fields man’s 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 Gascoyne’s 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 anguish, in arms and in anger,
In passion, in Paris, in person
In partisanship, as the poet
Of France’s Resistance, the spokesman
Of unconquerable free fraternity’
—Elegaic Improvisation On The Death of Paul Eluard  

     In 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 poet’s later life with some sadness:  
     ‘It was not until quite recently, on reading Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting, which contains a bitterly ironic account of Eluard’s 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 poet’s 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 the radio.  
      There are three movements: The Nightwatchers, Megalometropolitan Carnival, and Encounter With Silence.  
      The Nightwatchers is almost Churchillian in its early verses:  

‘Around us, 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:  

‘Fear of all strangeness and all strangers; and above all else the fear
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 Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” or Allen Ginsberg’s 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, they’re but a sprinkling of pinpricks
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.’

     Then the movement builds towards a climax which even without the soundtrack makes a music all of its own:

 ‘When 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 alas,
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.’

     The final movement, Encounter With Silence, reminds one of Debussy, of a sense of serene calmness, of contemplation, a crystallisation of thoughts:

‘The Earth, 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, he concludes:

‘Greetings 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 other’s names.’  

      Night Thoughts must be regarded as David Gascoyne’s 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.” (Collected Journals)  
      David Gascoyne took to wintering in Paris and spending his summers in Aix-en-Provence, painting sporadically.  
      “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 Gascoyne’s 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 1993)  
      David Gascoyne’s encounter and subsequent marriage to Judy Lewis in 1975, much at Judy’s insistence, seems to become another turning point in his life. David Gascoyne’s 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 L’Ordre 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.  

The 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 couldn’t travel up to London but I managed to speak to Allen on the phone,” David Gascoyne recalled.  
      David Gascoyne’s 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 Sinclair’s prose poem, performed in celebration of David Gascoyne’s 81st birthday in 1997, paints a marvellous picture of the poet. The references to Bob Dylan and George Harrison refer to David Gascoyne’s 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 poet’s 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.  
      “‘It’s 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 Gascoyne’s 81st birthday was a fitting tribute made special by the fact that the poet himself completed the evening’s 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 so exciting.”  
      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. Dun’s 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 don’t 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 spell it?”  


       Interviews 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 Gascoyne’s recently rediscovered novella is available as a limited edition from:  

Enitharmon Press
36 St. George’s 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 Gascoyne’s website.


Editor’s Note:

     You can read more about the Isle of Wight in Mike Plumbley’s feature “Vapour Trails,” included in the Winter 2001 edition of The Paumanok Review, available in the archive at http://www.paumanokreview.com.