Friday, September 21, 2007

Ride it like you stole it

Bill Griffiths has died. It is terribly sad. Bill was one of the honest originals: a brilliant, curmudgeonly figure: poet, biker, founder of Pirate Press, gifted translator of Old and Middle English texts. There's a cracking obituary in The Independent. Nicholas Johnson, poet and publisher, has done him proud. "He read Medieval and Modern History at University College, London, graduating in 1969" writes Johnson. "By this time he was a fringe member of the Harrow Roadrat bikers, knew many Hells Angels chapters, and was resourceful and precocious on a red Ducati".

I read with Bill a couple of times. Both times, he fell asleep during my reading, beard on his chest, and snored. Snored loudly and joyously. People in the audience grew rigid with apprehension. Those sitting next to him wondered whether they should dig him in the ribs to wake him up. They generally thought better of it.

Poetry readings are ghastly things. I have never understood why people go to them. Perhaps it is some strange desire to see the poet in action to understand the work: the thought that when a poem is read by its author, somehow its real meaning is expressed. Privileged knowledge. Celebrity lights. This is nonsense. "Who anyone is or I am is nothing to the work. The writer properly should be the last person that the reader or the listener need think about": Denise Riley.

And I love Bill Griffiths not just for his work, for his variousness, but also for a valuable lesson. Thank you, Bill, for snoring through my poems, so adding a perfect commentary to the whole business of hawking yourself on stage. Go well.

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