Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I once met Brian Patten (one of the 'Mersey Poets', a group of young writers who emerged from the folk and skiffle scene in Liverpool in the early '60s, after the Beatles had made the city suddenly fashionable); not quite a 'hero' of mine, but certainly an interesting writer - and a very cool dude.

He came to give a reading of his latest book at the school where I was teaching (many years ago now), and I got to hang out with him for much of the day, including sitting next to him at lunch (dumb luck, as far as I recall, rather than starstruck connivance).

I remember telling him some stories about the war in the air in WW1 (one of my pet subjects at the time). He said he hadn't realised that The Red Baron was an historical figure and not a fictional one, and he thought this might make an interesting subject for a poem. I don't know if he subsequently wrote anything on this theme. If he has, I suppose I should claim some credit.

I also recall an amusing name-dropping anecdote that he told me. When, as a young man, he had first started to make it big, his publisher had sent him on a promotional tour to the States with that other great English poet, Stevie Smith. It was his first time in a plane and he was terrified. Stevie, sitting next to him, noticed his white knuckles and rictus grin as they waited for takeoff. By that time, she was quite well-seasoned in US book tours and transatlantic flying, so she did her best to reassure him: "There's no need to worry. It's landing that's dangerous."

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