It was fitting that the assembled fellow’s announcements from the floor, prior to the talk, included clarion (perhaps ‘anglosaxophonic’) calls to our hearts and minds to protest about the draconian public spending cuts. How can and will culture counter the belligerence of a governmental alliance purporting to big society?
With hope, energy and poetry.
The poet, with his ‘anglosaxophone’, appeared to transcend the frailties of his age as he sprang about, animated by the ecstasies of poetic language and primal communication; only to return to an apparently nervous if not highly strung awkwardness, in which he stood, while his hands restlessly fiddled with his hair. In contrast to the sonority of his performance poetry, his voice flattened, sometimes somnolently, as he reflected on the darker side of experience, were it historical, contemporary, familial and personal.
He recalled his unsettled childhood as a German Jewish refugee in Britain during World War II. This experience marked the beginnings of his resistance to doctrines of faith and ideology made bellicose and internecine. The young Horovitz grew up defiantly counter cultural, inventing resorts of skies painted green and trees blue, to express Utopian and poetic interconnectedness. This was sometimes, he recounted, much to his mother’s consternation.
Horovitz’s 76 years have formed a long, wide and sometimes turbulent stream of consciousness which, for the purposes of understanding, requires an extensive array of anecdotal stepping stones or ports of call at which to encounter the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Stevie Smith and Cornelius Cardew. One and a half hours was a very short time to explore the interconnectedness of their visionary and often troubled contumacies.
So how potent is the counter culturalism of such Dada infused exclamations as, ‘The Furore of Sneezing’? The various connections between history and context reveal the potency as being in a state of flux. That poem performed to what was likely to have been a highly educated, liberal, middle class audience, at the Epicentre, possibly did little to counter that presiding culture. At its most contrary, the performance may have been novel, eccentric, zany or silly. The poem’s originator, Kurt Schwitters, was one of the artists derogatorily featured in the Nazi curated 1937 Degenerate Art (entarte Kunst) Exhibition; a show which toured Germany extensively. Six months prior to the opening of that show, Schwitters had fled Germany, finding exile first in Norway and then Scotland and Britain. He was interned as an enemy alien at the Douglas Camp, Isle of Man for a year and a half. Schwitters and Horovitz are/were both refugees and share an artistic consciousness born of rupture, survival and adaptation.
In the discussion following Horovitz’s talk and poems, a member of the audience told how she had discovered those World War II ‘enemy aliens’ had created a university at the Douglas (Internment) Camp. This is an example of counter culture at work, adapting to circumstances and hopefully resisting dehumanising forces. Schwitters may have been a student and/or teacher at the university and Michael Horovitz’s spirited performance of one of his sound poems represents a playful testament to the full, free ranging and liberating power of art and the capacity to learn by it in the most difficult of circumstances.