I guess the Liverpool poet of the 1960s and 1970s, Adrian Henri, is following a pattern set by Francois Villon in the 1400s by putting out a poetic last will and testament. And both were somewhat whimsical and anti-establishment figures in their own ways, ready to both make you look at the world through a different lens, while also bring a smile to your face. Both of those aims tick my boxes, for sure.
This poem has a quote from William Burroughs at the head of the poem – another rebellious and whimsical character, author of “The Naked Lunch” among other works.
Adrian Henri’s Last Will And Testament
`No one owns life, but anyone who can pick up a Fryingpan owns death.’
To whom it may concern:
As my imminent death is hourly expected these days/ car brakes screaming on East Lancs tarmac/trapped in the blazing cinema/mutely screaming I TOLD YOU SO from melting eyeballs as the white hot fireball dissolves the Cathedral/being the first human being to die of a hangover/ dying of over emotion after seeing 20 schoolgirls waiting at a zebra crossing.
I appoint Messrs Bakunin and Kropotkin my executors and make the following provisions:
1. I leave my priceless collections of Victorian Oil Lamps, photographs of Hayley Mills, brass fenders and Charlie Mingus records to all Liverpool poets under 23 who are also blues singers and failed sociology students.
2. I leave the entire East Lancs Road with all its landscapes to the British people.
3. I hereby appoint Wm. Burroughs my literary executor, instructing him to cut up my collected works and distribute them through the public lavatories of the world.
4. Proceeds from the sale of relics: locks of hair, pieces of floorboards I have stood on, fragments of bone flesh teeth bits of old underwear etc. to be given to my widow.
5. I leave my paintings to the Nation with the stipulation that they must be exhibited in Public Houses, Chip Shops, Coffee Bars and the Cellar Clubs throughout the country.
6. Proceeds from the sale of my other effects to be divided equally amongst the 20 most beautiful schoolgirls in England (these to be chosen after due deliberation and exhaustive tests by an informal committee of my friends).
Witnessed this day by:
Charlie `Bird’ Parker.
So the somewhat formal opening line, “To whom it may concern” transitions immediately into a musing of the various ways in which the poet might meet his imminent death, none of them involving dying of old age in his bed. A car crash on the main road between Liverpool and Manchester (the East Lancs road); being burnt to death in a fire in a cinema or a Cathedral (one of Liverpool’s two great cathedrals); succumbing from an epic hangover; or just being overcome by the sight of a gaggle of precocious schoolgirls… He wants to go out with a bang, not a whimper.
The poem then goes into a list of the poet’s intentions for the disposal of this possessions, loosely speaking. There is an overt nod to Henri’s admiration of the anarchist tradition with the notion that Bakunin and Kropotkin could come back to life and be his executors.
And then on we go with the poet’s effects, revealing his taste for jazz and blues, poetry, young people, especially young girls, Liverpool and its surroundings go along the East Lancs Road (which I have taken many times myself), and a love of those places where ordinary working class people gather for sustenance and entertainment – coffess shops, chip shops, pubs and dives – the places that make England special (although it is 30 years since I lived in England, these places are also in my heart).
This poem was written in 1964. Luckily for us all, this poem did not turn out to be a premonition of Adrian Henri’s actual death. He lived on until 2000, writing many more entertaining and thought-provoking poems.
The Poetry Dude