Who’s the most read male English poet: Ted Hughes? Adrian Mitchell? Philip Larkin? Nah. My friend Dennis Gould? Yeah. By a mile I reckon.
Dennis who? I imagine the literary establishment wailing. And well it might. Its path has never crossed Dennis’s — and never will in his lifetime. Someday, he’ll get his due, though, even if the literary detectives of the future find it an almost impossible task to research their earnest degree theses based on his life and works. How come, then, that he’s so widely read? And the answer, dear poetasters, is a combination of talent, originality, commitment, energy — and the GPO (or ROYAL MAIL as it now prefers to be titled).
And why the GPO? Well, I’ve known Dennis for 37 years — we met, of course, via a post card declaring a shared interest in poetry and football in the year England won the World Cup — and throughout those years he’s consistently designed printed and published his own vibrant and committed poems on postcards and posters — and bombarded the world with his words. I’ve long imagined posties across the nation reading his poem postcards — the poem not the private message on the other side you understand — as they plod up the path to the front door and thereby experience a genuine revelation. This is poetry? But its in a language that I can understand! It’s about things and feelings I know too — it’s about real life!
Adrian Mitchell’s oft quoted remark that ‘most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people’ is not applicable to Dennis — or to most poets I know personally or to whose work I am drawn. Pat V T West has a poem about seeing Dennis performing in a street festival in Bristol circa 1970 and being inspired to believe that she could do that (be a public poet) too. Perhaps in direct consequence, she and Dennis have performed together as part of a loose collective known as Riff Raff Poets for 30 years and she has been organising the poetry events at the Glastonbury Festival for the past 16 years.
What Dennis and Pat – and those other poets of my acquaintance mentioned above — have in common is that they haven’t been to university or art school. In fact, I don’t think they did Eng Lit at school either and so they approach their writing unburdened by the expectations of Faber and Faber and the editors of posh literary magazines. Dennis’s postcard poems can be read in the time it takes to walk from a front gate to a letterbox and, although the quizzical postie may disagree with his anarchist and pacifist sentiments, she or he will undoubtedly get the meaning of the poem in the course of the same short journey. Now that is a gift: to the deliverer and the receiver.
seeing – with great pleasure –
poster poems and poem postcards
reproduced regularly in IT
has reminded me
of something I wrote
years ago for
Dave Cunliffe’s cherished
Global Tapestry Journal