There is always opposition to the dominant culture - sometimes hidden, sometimes out in the open: a radical cultural tradition that accompanies our struggles for a different society, to give shape and meaning to our desire for another way of hearing, of seeing, of feeling. I got this from many people as I was growing up, and the poet Adrian Mitchell was one of those people.
Everything stopped for a moment when I heard of his death on 21 December. In that instant I remembered all those times he stood before me, the poetry of love and life and anger and outrage filling whatever space he had come to perform in. I stood with him in the middle of Piccadilly on 15 February 2003 - speechless, as we felt 2 million human beings for peace and against war moving around us like a slow, wide river. Adrian was momentarily the rock midstream.
In 1969 I picked up an anthology of poetry called Children of Albion: Poetry of the "Underground" in Britain. I used to duck when I saw or heard the word poem. On reflection I think it was the word "underground" that intrigued me. The cover showed a naked man, arms outstretched and light bursting out from all around him. This, I assumed, must be Albion. It turned out to be a painting by William Blake called Glad Day and was in celebration of the French Revolution.
Inside the book was a revelation, dozens of poets who wrote in a language I understood. And there I found Adrian. His poem, To Whom It May Concern, a savage attack on the Vietnam War, was a poem that he adapted for every war since, including the present one in Iraq (Tell Me Lies about Iraq), and one about Blake.
Later I discovered that Blake was part of our radical past when we had a Hornsey International Socialist branch outing to see a play in celebration of Blake's life and work called Tyger, written by Adrian. We were all taken in to his giant heart that night.
Adrian is gone now but the poems will stay. He arches over my life, that socialist anarchist pacifist poet who wrote in the rhyme of a talking blues, referring to jazz, be-bop and Beethoven, filling supermarket trolleys with fun and scorn, always letting us into his dreams and desires, wearing his heart on his sleeve - where it should be.
All his books carried an Educational Health Warning: "None of the work in this or any of my other books is to be used in connection with any examination whatsoever. But I'm happy if they're read aloud in schools." Make sure you read them aloud when you get up, before sleep, looking in the eyes of those you love; carry them to demonstrate; take them as a weapon to strike our enemies with.
Thanks, Adrian, we'll get there in the end.