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TRIBUTE In memory of Michael Horovitz

A unique poet, cultural organiser, editor, visual artist, translator and mentor

ON JULY 7, yet another cultural comrade of mine left this Earth at the age of 86 — the pioneering performance poet and tireless, almost evangelical promoter of all things poetic, jazzy, artistic and sometimes just downright batshit weird, Michael Horovitz.

He started performing and organising poetry events in the 1950s and was one of the prime movers behind the groundbreaking and rumbustious, by poetic standards of the time, legendary Royal Albert Hall beat poetry “happening” of 1966.

“Misbehaving” beat poets somehow got poetry banned from the RAH for the next 18 years. God knows how long the ban would have been if we punk poets had been there.

Michael tirelessly promoted and encouraged up-and-coming poets for over half a century through his magazine New Departures and his regular Poetry Olympics live events. And he really was open to new ideas and performers, as is perfectly illustrated by what happened the first time I met him 40 years ago in late 1981, very early on in my life as Attila the Stockbroker.

Myself and fellow ranting poet Seething Wells had just finished doing a gig on the back of a lorry at a Right to Work Campaign demonstration in South London.

I knew that Michael was hosting a big Poetry Olympics event at the nearby Young Vic Theatre that evening and that the star of the show was Jam front man Paul Weller, who at that time was writing poetry himself and had set up a publishing house, Riot Stories, to encourage new writers.

An ideal audience for us. “Let’s gatecrash it,” I said to Swells. And we did.

Michael was completely unfazed. Confronted with a punk and a skinhead, both loud, claiming to be poets and demanding five minutes each, he took us on trust, put us on just before Weller and we stormed it.

That 10 minutes between us got us a brilliant NME review from editor Neil Spencer, a support gig with the Jam and a spot on the LP of the event Michael released soon afterwards. For Swells it was his first encounter with the NME, for which he’d later become a star writer. For me it was one of my first big breaks in my single-minded quest to make my dream of earning a living as a poet a reality.

That was the beginning of a 40-year comradeship. As an organiser he was brilliant. As a poet it was complicated. Some of his stuff — Midsummer Morning Jog Log, his ode to his Gloucestershire home, and his New Wasteland, a modern rewrite of an old radical classic — were brilliant. Some I freely confess to dismissing as total hippy bollocks.

But the thing I will never, ever forget about Michael is his Anglo-Saxophone. He has “played” it alongside some of the great musicians of our age. He got it out at the slightest opportunity. And, in its, and his, honour, I shall leave you with this poem.

PUT IT AWAY, MICHAEL!

Purple clothes and floppy hat.
‘Oh, Michael, what the hell is that?’
(An object of uncertain shape
Festooned with ancient masking tape.)

‘Mock not, Attila’ cries the bard.
‘It may be old and battle-scarred
But it is blessed with wondrous tone.
Behold my Anglo-Saxophone!’

With that, he blows into the thing
And, simultaneously, starts to sing.
The sound is quite remarkably
Like a demented bumblebee.

Now I’m an early music punk.
I play the crumhorn when I’m drunk.
I soon express my point of view.
‘Michael, old mate, that’s a kazoo.’

But he’s away, his Muse is flowing!
His Anglo-Saxophone he’s blowing!
The poets’ friend. An inspiration.
For Michael, this commemoration.

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