A facsimile edition of Derek Jarman’s only poetry collection, A Finger in the Fishes Mouth, originally published by Bettiscombe Press, Bridport, Dorset in 1972, is due to be published by Test Centre, with a new Foreword by Sophie Mayer and Afterwords by Keith Collins, Jarman’s partner, and Tony Peake, his biographer.
Postcards from Jarman’s own collection, here gorgeously reproduced in an evocative green, preface each of the 32 numbered poems, written when he was in his early twenties. The impact is at once beguiling, light and playful. The original printers refused to reproduce an image of a priest being pleasured by a nun before the poems, ‘Christmas 64’ and the image has not survived into this edition.
The book will be launched on Wednesday, 19th February at the London Review Bookshop, twenty years to the day since Jarman’s death. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of the film director, diarist, gardener and gay activist just after he left King’s College, London having studied English, History and History of Art to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in the early Sixties.
This collection then stems from a time when Jarman was immersed in the wide range of historical, literary and cultural references, which inform his provocative films, and when he was in the process of finding his own sexuality and providing a tradition with which he could align himself. Jarman has his feet firmly both in Renaissance tradition and Modernist experiment.
On first sight of the front cover, Wilhelm von Gloeden’s picture of a young boy with his finger in the mouth of a flying fish, I anticipated a collection of absurdist poems from the era of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell and their artistic pranks defacing library books. It is in fact more of a travelogue of loosely linked postcard images and words and in part has a Beat connection. This is perhaps Jarman’s version of ‘On The Road’. Jarman loved Beat poetry and visited San Francisco and City Lights Bookshop in the summer of 1964 to pay his respects.
There are also poems here that come from Jarman’s immersion with painters from Rembrandt to Rothko, poets such as Coleridge, as well as cities from Calgary, New York to Venice and Greece.
One of the strongest poems, ‘Death Comes Through Mirrors’, is prefaced with a Twenties Riviera hotel interior and dance room,
and has an easy conversational style complete with a Jean Cocteau poem quotation:
Death comes through mirrors
is a blind man with a violin
collecting grudging offerings
I ask you’, is the hat
and you reply
‘Consider the fiery red
cherubims in the blue sky
or those empty cavernous
spaces where the image
scatters on the silver’
no his hat is empty
he is a young man
with violets in his eyes
he is blind and sings
It is thought that Jarman destroyed the majority of the first edition and so the new edition fills in a missing piece in Jarman’s extraordinary oeuvre.
David Caddy 5th February 2014