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‘Living life totally…as a moving, growing thing’. In memory of Lee Harwood Part One

‘Living life totally…as a moving, growing thing’.  In memory of Lee Harwood Part One

On March 22nd 2009 I had written to Lee asking him to come to Dulwich College to give a poetry reading alongside Peter Robinson. I mentioned that I had been teaching ‘The Long Black Veil’ to my sixth form pupils and that I had also sent a copy of the poem to Michael Rumaker in New York. I thought that Mike would like to see this since he had been a close friend of both Olson and Wieners at Black Mountain College and after. Mike’s letter back was typically ‘on the nail’:

‘Finished Lee Harwood’s ‘The Long Black Veil’ this morning. Enjoyment more than I can say, except: herein, the process of a passion, lightly, deftly, touched on over wide, enchanting fields of language, spatially breathing, its poignancy leaving me breathless—passion worth anything beyond it, any pain, any pleasure before it. To have it, to have lived, to know one is alive. The singer is alive, his song alive. What more can one ask? Many thanks for sending me this lovely gift of a poem.’

On Friday April 24th the reading took place in the Masters’ Library in the College and in addition to the sixth form boys present the audience included the Australian poet Laurie Duggan and John Welch. We were also joined by Roy Fisher’s bibliographer, Derek Slade. As Peter Robinson wrote to me this morning, ‘It was such an honour to have the chance to read with Lee’. This, of course, was a memorable moment also on account of the review Peter had written for the TLS on 26th November 2004: ‘In the reader’s hands: Collected Poems of Lee Harwood’. A few days later Lee rang me at home to suggest meeting up for a drink in the Alleyn’s Head in Dulwich since he was staying in the area for a couple of weeks. We met up on May 6th and spent a lot of time talking about loss, the impossibility of registering absence in presence. I gave him a copy of Long Distance, the Ferry Press publication of poems by Lewis Warsh, since we had been talking about the famous photograph. Lee had sent me a copy of that Boston Eagles at Walden Pond, 1973, Judith Walker’s photo of John Wieners, Lee Harwood, Lewis Warsh & William Corbett, on the back of which he wrote ‘I thought this photo of four dodgy characters might amuse you. I don’t think you’d buy a used car from them, nor have them tarmac your drive. Though Mr Wieners’ gold lamé jacket and winning smile might fools some people.’ In May he also sent me a copy of The Hotel Wentley Poems which Joy Street Press put out in 2006:

‘This was, I guess, the final proof copy and they were ready to roll when Bill Corbett saw the many typos. It seems a Boston custom to have as many mistakes as possible, from my own experience of publishing there! Anyway Bill got it all right before the book was released’.

Sitting in the Alleyn’s Head we were talking about O’Hara and Lee gave me a copy of the piece he was asked to write by Robert Hampson, a personal angle, titled “Generosity of Spirit, Memories of Frank O’Hara and Israel Young”. We talked about Charles Tomlinson’s poem written soon after George Oppen’s death and about Lee’s own poem from In the Mists, ‘For Paul / Coming out of Winter’:

‘On a bright winter morning
sunlight catching the tops of white buildings
a tree outlined against the sea
a wall of flints

To be able to stop and see this
the luxury of being alive
when the waves crash on the shore
and a fresh wind streams up the narrow streets
A moment like this lightens the darkness
a little, lifts the heart until
you can walk down the hill near careless

How can that be? suddenly slammed up
against a wall by memories of the dead
loved ones completely gone from
this place

Shafts of sunlight cutting through the clouds
onto the everchanging sea below

How many times we discussed the sea’s colours
all beyond description words a mere hint
of what’s beyond our eyes then and now

On October 24th I drove over to Abertillery to stay with Ric Hool. Lee was staying as well and we three drove over to The Hen and Chicks in Abergavenny. Jeremy Hilton, Phil Maillard, Chris Torrance, Will Rowe, Lee and myself did an evening of readings in memory of Barry MacSweeney. We talked of Reznikoff and Oppen and Lee wrote to me in January of the next year:

‘To have the tangible, to have real objects in a poem. To be believed that what happens in a poem happens in this world we live in, not just in books. Reznikoff’s ‘girder’, or in that marvellous sequence by Oppen ‘Of Being Numerous’:

‘The great stone
Above the river
In the pylon of the bridge

‘1875’

Frozen in the moonlight
In the frozen air over the footpath, consciousness

Which has nothing to gain, which awaits nothing,
Which loves itself

Ian Brinton, 30th July 2015

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