A life in poetry – inspirational writer Michael Horovitz dies aged 86

PIONEERING poet Michael Horovitz – who helped liberate the post war poetry scene from its academic confines and steer its passage in a more anarchic and inclusive direction – has died, aged 86.

He founded New Departures poetry publishing in 1959, brought Allen Ginsberg to Stroud in 1979, and launched the Poetry Olympics in 1980.

Michael moved to Stroud with his wife Frances and son Adam – who are both now acclaimed poets in their own right – in 1971 and has had a presence here ever since.

Born in 1935, Michael was the youngest of ten in a Jewish family based in Frankfurt, Germany, who all managed to escape to Britain before the Second World War ignited.

They settled in London and he went on to study English at Oxford University, where he and a group of friends put together the ground breaking poetry magazine New Departures in 1959.

Contributors over the years included Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, Ted Hughes and William Burroughs, with early drafts of what would become the Naked Lunch featured.

There were also illustrations by David Hockney.

Michael was interested in freeing up poetry – in terms of what was said, how it was said, who said it and how it went out into the world.

He enjoyed combining poetry with music and art, in co-operative live performances where interaction with the audience was key.

As such, New Departures evolved into a live project, taking writers and musicians on the road.

Passionate about the work of William Blake, Michael was also inspired by the Beat writers of the US of the 1950s.

He became a close friend of Allen Ginsberg – one of the 20th century’s most influential poets – and in 1965 helped to organise and appeared at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall, a landmark event featuring Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Adrian Mitchell and others.

Equally as interested in championing new talent as in sharing his own, he showcased more than 60 poets in his Children of Albion – Poetry of the‘Underground’ in Britain anthology, published by Penguin in 1969.

He brought Allen Ginsberg to Stroud on Bonfire Night 1979 and – together with Frances and eight-year-old Adam – they gave readings in the yard behind Starters Cafe (which is now Boots on Stroud High Street).

After 16 years of marriage Michael and Frances divorced in 1980, but the couple remained on good terms until Frances’ death from cancer in 1983.

Michael released a book about the Slad valley – Midsummer Morning Jog Log – illustrated by Peter Blake, in 1986.

A natural facilitator, Michael encouraged many interesting collaborations between a diverse range of creative people.

He devised the Poetry Olympics, an eclectic series of live poetry events, with the aim of encouraging ‘a rebirth of the spirit of poetry and of the public’s interest in it’.

Big names like Paul Weller, Kylie Minogue, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Damon Albarn took part.

Michael Horovitz died on July 7.

At the time of his death, an exhibition of his work – Bop Art Paintings, Collages, Photomontages, Prints and Picture Poems – was on display at Chelsea Arts Club.

He is survived by his son Adam.

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