I wanted your soft verges but you gave me the hard shoulder

Back in the 1960s, Penguin Modern Poets brought out a poetry collection called ‘The Mersey Sound’. Its cover design soon became a classic and a generation were introduced to the poetry of Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Beat poetry had combined with Pop Music and Liverpool was the place to be. The driving force behind this explosion of artists, poets and musicians was the writer, painter and teacher, Adrian Henri (1932-2000). ‘

Book cover designer – Alan Spain

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He first came to prominence with the Liverpool Scene, a poetry band that toured the country, released 4 LPs but unlike Liverpool’s well-known Pop Groups of the 1960s had little commercial success. It was however as a poet and painter that he was to become well known. Influenced by the newly emerging Pop Art scene both here and in America, the ‘Mersey Sound’ proved to be a major best seller and brought him public recognition.

Henri Entrychrist

While other artists headed south to pursue their careers in London, Henri stayed in Liverpool and as an art school lecturer and as President of Liverpool Academy of Arts was a well-known and inspirational figure in the city. Alan Byrne, OCA tutor, was a friend of Henri’s in his Liverpool days and as a committee member of the Chelsea Arts Club has helped to put together a small exhibition of his art and poetry.

In the entrance hall Alan has created a wall of memories, messages, poems and photographs with contributions by the two surviving Mersey Sound poets Roger McGough and Brian Patten. The informal style of display was inspired by the memory of Brian as a sixteen year old selling him “four poems for tuppence” as they stood waiting in a bus shelter.

Wall installation

Elsewhere on the stairs, there are Pop art inspired paintings from the sixties with Flags, Targets and Advertising, showing his identification with the emerging Pop Art Scene. Original drawings and prints are shown beside more modern giclee reproductions. His subject matter includes drawings of Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry’s surreal creation and perhaps the alter ego of Henri himself, let loose in the street of Liverpool. James Ensor , another influential figure for Henri is the inspiration for his best known work ‘The Entry of Christ into Liverpool 1964 (Homage to James Ensor)’ and looming above the heads of the drinkers and snooker players can be seen large paintings of skeletons and masked figures, scenes of mayhem and disorder among the modern day more sedate revellers of the Arts Club. For the general public to see more of Henri’s work and assess his contribution to British Art, a major retrospective now needs to be organised. Here is an opportunity for Tate Britain to live up to its name and to start showing the work and revive the reputations of seemingly neglected and deserving British artists.

As Henri wrote in his poem ‘Song for a Beautiful Girl Petrol Pump Attendant on the Motorway” –

‘I wanted your soft verges,
But you gave me the hard shoulder’

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4 comments for “I wanted your soft verges but you gave me the hard shoulder

  1. CliveW
    10 October 2011 at 6:21 pm

    The first book of poetry I ever bought. Excellent.

  2. DianeB
    10 October 2011 at 7:18 pm

    My first poetry purchase too 🙂 Sadly the book is long disappeared from my collection, possibly loaned to a friend and never returned. I seem to recall a poem (McGough?) with lines about pigs flying in formation “and then you will say you love me” – and a rather charming one which started “Discretion is the better part of Valerie, though all of her was nice….” I loved that book!

  3. 11 October 2011 at 11:19 am

    I once, at a party, was introduced to someone called Valerie and without thinking said ‘and is discretion the better part of Valerie?’ Her response was to stare at me and say ‘yer what?’ Needless to say this was not the start of a beautiful relationship.

  4. 11 October 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I have spent much of my life looking for that bus.

    Diane this is the one you mean isn’t it?

    Tonight at noon
    Supermarkets will advertise 3p extra on everything
    Tonight at noon
    Children from happy families will be sent to live in a home
    Elephants will tell each other human jokes
    America will declare peace on Russia
    World War I generals will sell poppies on the street on November 11th
    The first daffodils of autumn will appear
    When the leaves fall upwards to the trees

    Tonight at noon
    Pigeons will hunt cats through city backyards
    Hitler will tell us to fight on the beaches and on the landing fields
    A tunnel full of water will be built under Liverpool
    Pigs will be sighted flying in formation over Woolton
    And Nelson will not only get his eye back but his arm as well
    White Americans will demonstrate for equal rights
    In front of the Black house
    And the monster has just created Dr. Frankenstein

    Girls in bikinis are moonbathing
    Folksongs are being sung by real folk
    Art galleries are closed to people over 21
    Poets get their poems in the Top 20
    There’s jobs for everybody and nobody wants them
    In back alleys everywhere teenage lovers are kissing in broad daylight
    In forgotten graveyards everywhere the dead will quietly bury the living
    and
    You will tell me you love me
    Tonight at noon

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