The new issue of Uncut magazine contains my feature about the International Poetry Incarnation, which took place 45 years ago this month on June 11, 1965. It begins like this:
Allen Ginsberg is drunk. Big, bald and bearded, like a Jewish bear stuffed in a suit, the beat poet stands tall in the Royal Albert Hall, London’s sacred haven of the high arts, and proclaims to 7,000 fellow thinkers:
“Fuck me up the asshole”.
In the crowd was Heathcote Williams, the future poet, playwright and artist. Williams recounts what happened next: “A man with a bowler hat, beside himself with anger, shouted out: ‘We want poetry. This is not poetry’, and Ginsberg retorted, looking up towards the gods: ‘I want you to fuck me up the asshole.’”
And it goes on in a similar manner for another 2,400 words. If you think that sounds like fun, head down to your local newsagent now.
The International Poetry Incarnation – which featured Allen Ginsberg, Adrian Mitchell, Gregory Corso and Michael Horovitz – is said to be the moment that signalled the arrival of the 1960s counterculture movement in London. However, in ‘White Heat’, his otherwise splendid history of the 1960s, Dominic Sandbrook writes dismissively: ‘Seven thousand people was indeed an enormous attendance… on the other hand, it was still considerably smaller than the typical crowd for a Second Division football match… to millions of people, the event meant absolutely nothing. What is more, it had not even been a very good reading.’
Oh, really? Watch this extraordinary clip of Adrian Mitchell from Peter Whitehead’s film of the reading, ‘Wholly Communion’, and tell me it has the same impact as Torquay vs Rochdale.