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Of all the poets who are connected with Liverpool, perhaps the greatest is C.P.Cavafy, a twentieth century Greek cultural icon, although he was born in Alexandria. From a wealthy family, his father had business interests in Egypt, London and Liverpool. After his father’s death, Cavafy’s mother brought him in 1872 at the age of nine to Liverpool where he spent part of his childhood being educated. He lived first in Balmoral Road, then when the family firm crashed, he lived in poorer circumstances in Huskisson Street.

One of his most famous poems is The City which is reproduced below. Since Cavafy had roots in Alexandria, Greece, Constantinople (Istanbul), Paris and London, his city -although most influenced by  Alexandria where he was known as ‘the poet of the city’ – his city in the poem could be any city.

The City


You said, “I will go to another land, I will go to another sea.

Another city will be found, better than this.

Every effort of mine is condemned by fate;

and my heart is — like a corpse — buried.

How long in this wasteland will my mind remain.

Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I may look

I see the black ruins of my life here,

where I spent so many years, and ruined and wasted.”

New lands you will not find, you will not find other seas.

The city will follow you. You will roam the same

streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;

in these same houses you will grow gray.

Always you will arrive in this city. To another land — do not hope —

there is no ship for you, there is no road.

As you have ruined your life here

in this little corner, you have destroyed it in the whole world.

Sir Sean Connery backed by music of Vangelis go to make for a sugary sweet version of Ithaca; again, it seems more than about a particular place or set of myths. Coming from a great seaport such as Liverpool, it resonates the more.

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"The Day of the Dead": Adrian Henri

A quite unusual picture of Hope Street! Artist and poet Adrian Henri was at the centre of the thriving cultural scene in Liverpool 8, especially in the Hope Street area. He taught in the art college, and was often to be seen upstairs in O’Connors Pub at the corner of Pilgrim Street – now a costume hire shop but then on the circuit that took in the Everyman Bistro, the Philharmonic (pub), the Cracke and The Pilgrim. Henri performed his poetry along with the likes of The Scaffold (including Roger McGough, John Gorman and Mike McGear ) and as leader of the poetry-rock band Liverpool Scene.

In the painting, among the figures in the crowd are artists and writers William Burroughs, Alien Ginsberg, Frida Kahlo, Ed Kienholz and Henri’s Liverpool painter friend, Sam Walsh. In the main painting shown here the white suited, pipe-smoking figure on the far left is Malcolm Lowry. Lowry was the alcoholic author of the brilliant novel, Under the Volcano. He was brought up in Birkenhead and referred to Liverpool as that terrible city whose main street is an ocean. Apart from the opening chapter, the novel is all set on the Mexican Day of the Dead when the hopelessly drink-soaked Consul who is the subject of the book dies. There is a very good overview of Lowry himself in a Guardian article.

Henri also painted another imaginative piece, The Entry of Christ into Liverpool. This refers back to James Ensor’s 1889 painting, The Entry of Christ into Brussels. It is fascinating to see how we can put imaginative ‘maps’ or ‘representations’ over the everyday city we inhabit.

The Entry of Christ into Liverpool

Figures in the painting include the Beatles, John Gorman and Roger McGough (Scaffold), William Burroughs, Charlie Mingus (jazz musician), Arthur Dooley (the Liverpool sculptor), James Ensor as Christ on the donkey, and many of Henri’s friends.

 

“The Liverpool Scene”

From Henri’s poem, The Entry of Christ into Liverpool:

City morning, dandelion seeds      blowing from wasteground
smell of overgrown privethedges.   children’s voices
in the distance.    sounds from the river.
round the corner into Myrtle St.   Saturdaymorning shoppers
then
down the hill
THE SOUND OF TRUMPETS
cheering and shouting in the distance
children running
icecream vans
flags breaking out over buildings
black and red green and yellow
Union Jacks   Red Ensigns
LONG LIVE SOCIALISM
stretched out against the blue sky
over St George’s Hall
now the procession
THE MARCHING DRUMS

Obituary of Adrian Henri

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Mark reads John Masefield’s poem, Hell’s Pavements . You can read the words in the anthology we’re beginning. Click on the Liverpool and Literature button: it’s the first item.

The video for this reading was shot off a Mersey ferry and we put an ‘aged film ‘filter on it to make it look as old as Mark (!)

“The Thames is a wretched river after the Mersey and the ships are not like Liverpool ships and the docks are barren of beauty … it is a beastly hole after Liverpool; for Liverpool is the town of my heart and I would rather sail a mudflat there than command a clipper out of London”

John Masefield

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We are starting an archive of materials which represent Liverpool’s connection with literature and the arts. Starting with Daniel Defoe we’ll be exploring the wealth of materials up to the present day, including novels, poetry, art, theatre, film and television. Not to mention music!

Here, Denis reflects back on his youthful encounter with Casabianca, the poem with perhaps the most famous opening of all, “The boy stood on the burning deck…”  Felicia Dorothea Hemans who wrote the poem was born in Dale Street, Liverpool.

 

 

 

 

Dormer High School in Warwickshire, was, what might be called, a kitchen-sink school.  It was a Roman Catholic school that, mainly, served the offspring of the Irish who moved from Cork in the early 1950s, when the car manufacturer, Fords, closed down the factory there and moved it to Leamington Spa.

 

Even though Dormer was a typical secondary modern and most of the pupils were destined for Flavels, Fords, Lockheeds or any of the other factories that provided ‘Jobs-For-Life’, the ethos of erudio pro erudio was unspoken but dominated.  If we asked a teacher what use a certain topic would be for a job, we would, inevitably be told, ‘none’.

 

The library shelves contained modern as well as classical literature (some, like Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, would horrify Educationalist of today) and in our English classes we would be introduced to some of the finest poetry ever written.  Mainly, I recall only the Romantics, such as Coleridge, Byron , Wordsworth or Shelly.  But a poem that stuck in my mind was Casabianca, written by Felicia Dorothea Hemans.

 

Casabianca was the name given to a twelve year old boy; the son of a ship’s officer on board L’Orient , a French ship, destroyed by Admiral Nelson in 1798.  It was said that the boy remained in his post, even though the ship was being destroyed, hence one of the most famous opening lines of a poem:  ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’.

 

The author, Felicia Hemans (nee Browne) was born in Dale Street, Liverpool, in 1793 –  although she later moved to Flintshire, in Wales.  Her first collection of poetry was published in Liverpool when she was only 14 years old, catching the attention of no less a figure than Percy Bysshe Shelley, who she later felt to be ‘a dangerous flatterer’ and she put an end to their correspondence.  During her life Hemans sold more volumes of poetry than any other poet, except Byron. (more…)

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