To whom it may concern

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.’

William Burroughs

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).

Adrian Henri

Jan. ‘64

Witnessed this day by:

James Ensor

Charlie `Bird’ Parker.

Adrian Henri

From <>

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

I’d been out the night before & hadn’t seen the papers or the telly

A poem in tribute from one poet to another, written shortly after the death of TS Eliot by Adrian Henri. Eliot died in 1965, when Henri was in his mid-30s, and his best years of poetry and success were yet to come. I suppose all poets of the second half of the 20th century were very aware of Eliot’s poetry and position as one of the foremost poets writing in English in the first half of the last century.

Poem In Memoriam T. S. Eliot

I’d been out the night before & hadn’t seen the papers or the telly
& the next day in a café someone told me you were dead
And it was as if a favourite distant uncle had died
old hands in the big strange room/new shiny presents at Christmas
and I didn’t know what to feel.

For years I measured out my life with your coffee spoons

Your poems on the table in dusty bed sitters
Playing an L.P. of you reading on wet interrupted January afternoons

Meanwhile, back at the Wasteland:
Maureen OHara in a lowcut dress staggers across Rhyl sandhills
Lovers in Liverpool pubs eating passion fruit
Reading Alfred de Vigny in the lavatory
Opening an old grand piano and finding it smelling of curry
Making love in a darkened room hearing an old woman having a fit on the landing
The first snowflakes of winter falling on her Christmas poem for me in Piccadilly Gardens
The first signs of spring in plastic daffodils
on city counters

Lovers kissing
Rain fallin

Dogs running
Night falling
And you `familiar compound spirit’ moving silently down Canning St in a night of rain and fog.

Adrian Henri

From <;

The first stanza of the poem simply recounts how the poet heard of Eliot’s death and its immediate impact on him. The style is conversational and uses everyday language, clear to all. He compares Eliot to a distant uncle, not very well known but kind and benevolent, someone who was clearly a good influence on the younger poet.

The next three lines allude to Henri’s experience of growing up with Eliot’s poems always available, as part of his way of life he had the books and recordings and was able to assimilate both knowledge and easy familiarity with Eliot’s work.

The poem then morphs into a tribute of another sort – replicating the sparse, somewhat obscure allusions and unusual connections of an Eliot poem, such as the Wasteland, but using the language and style of Henri’s own work, evoking scenes from Liverpool and North Wales, each line highlighting another seemingly unconnected image, but the total adding up cumulatively, as in an impressionist painting, to a colourful and affectionate portrait of a time and place. The final line quotes from Eliot’s “Little Gidding”, one of the Four Quartet poems. In that poem a “familiar compound ghost” appears and speaks to Eliot. Here the spirit presumably represents Eliot himself, walking down Canning Street in Liverpool, Adrian Henri’s native city.

This is a warm and loving poem and a fine tribute from one poet to another

The Poetry Dude

It’s Susan I talk to not Tracey,

This is for anyone who has teenage or pre-teen daughters… I assume the oet Adrian Henri must have been observing his own daughter or daughters, probably with a mixture of exasperation and wry amusement. As for myself, I have a 15 year-old daughter and I think she has just about passed this phase by now, but I recognize it completely.

I guess if this poem were written today, it could be called BFF…

‘Best Friends’ by Adrian Henri

It’s Susan I talk to not Tracey,
Before that I sat next to Jane;
I used to be best friends with Lydia
But these days I think she’s a pain.

Natasha’s alright in small doses,
I meet Mandy sometimes in town;
I’m jealous of Annabel’s pony
And I don’t like Nicola’s frown.

I used to go skating with Catherine,
Before that I went there with Ruth;
And Kate’s so much better at trampoline
She’s a showoff to tell you the truth.

I think I’m going off Susan,
She borrowed my comb yesterday;
I think I might sit next to Tracey,
She’s nearly my best friend: she’s OK.

From <;

Note how from the beginning to the end of the poem, the identity of the best friend shifts from Susan to Tracey, while everything in between consists of vignettes of other girls and why they are or are not suitable to be best friends, mostly not. The best way to describe this condition is probably transitory intensity, thank goodness they grow out of it…

The Poetry Dude

`Lily of the Valley (Convalaria Majalis, fam. Lilliaceae). Grows wild in N. England. Commonly cultivated.

In this poem, Adrian Henri, the poet of Liverpool, goes out into the country and reveals the beauty and the dark side of the country and by analogy the wonder and despair of love. It is a Country Song in contrast to his urban poems, but there is still a subtle reference to Liverpool itself

Country Song
`Lily of the Valley (Convalaria Majalis, fam. Lilliaceae). Grows wild in N. England. Commonly cultivated. Flowers in May. Berries red when ripe. Leaves particularly poisonous because three constituents depress the heart, like Foxglove.’

What are the constituents that depress the heart?
the scent of lilies in dark green silences under trees
milkweed and ragwort and sunshine in hedges
small flowers picked amongst trees when it’s raining

A year ago
You planted lilies in the valley of my mind
There were lilies at the bottom of my garden
And ferrys at the bottom of my street

I sit here in sunlight with the smell of wild garlic
Trying to tape record the sound of windflowers and

What are the three constituents that depress the heart
Without you here in the country?

Adrian Henri
From <;

The poem begins with a definition. It is Lily of the Valley and most people probably immediately leap to consideration of its beautiful colour and scent. But the defiinition then goes in a different direction, it is not the beauty of the colour or the sweetness of the cent, but the poison that comes from the leaves which can cause the heart to stop.

The poem then becomes versified with the stanza beginning “What are the constituents that depress the heart?”, perhaps already linking the plant’s actual effects with the danger of disappointed love. There follow three lines of bucolic musing around the calm and beauty of a country scene with hedges and wild flowers.

The next stanza directly brings in the personal experience of a love affair – the poet’s lover planted lilies in his mind a year ago – to captivate him or to poison him, that is the question raised by what has gone before. The ferries at the bottom of the street here are presumably the Mersey ferries sailing between the Pier Head and Birkenhead (I’ve taken those many a time to cross the River Mersey).

The final two stanzas are wistful and regretful – the poet Is trying to tape record the sound of wild flowers – a futile exercise, perhaps like love itself; and he is wondering how his love has failed, what are the constituents o fthe loly of the valley which have stopped his heart, now that the lover has left the country.

The Poetry Dude

Warm your feet at the sunset

Here is a slight, inconsequential poem from Adrian Henri, but an agreeable fragment of whimsy nonetheless. Love on a galactic scale, guided by the stars in a literal sense. Maybe he was with his lover at night gazing up at the clear night sky…

I’m guessing this poem might have been written in the 1960s, when people everywhere were thrilled by the advances in the space programme which got men to the moon. Looking up at the sky must have been a much more common pastime than it seems to be today

Galactic Love poem

Warm your feet at the sunset
Before we go to bed
Read your book by the light of Orion
With Sirius guarding your head
Then reach out and switch off the planets
We’ll watch them go out one by one
You kiss me and tell me you love me
By the light of the last setting sun
We’ll both be up early tomorrow
A new universe has begun

Adrian Henri

From <;

I like that first line, “Warm your feet at the sunset”, it really captures the moment..

The Poetry Dude

I wanted your soft verges

Liverpool poet Adrian Henri making a poem with a pun. The title is longer than the poem itself. And the character in the title would be unrecognizable today. When was the last time anyone saw a petrol pump attendant, let alone a beautiful girl petrol pump attendant, and even more let alone on the motorway (the first service stations to go self-service, probably in the 1960s).

Song for a Beautiful Girl Petrol­ pump Attendant on the Motorway

I wanted your soft verges
But you gave me the hard shoulder..

From <;

Apart from that, I am totally in sympathy with the sentiments expressed in this poem. Long live the soft verges…

The Poetry Dude

Well I woke up this mornin’ it was Christmas Day

A poem for the season, by Adrian Henri, the Liverpool poet of the 1960s and 1970s. In fact it is a poem about the dark side of Christmas and the New Year, when the trappings of the holiday season are there, but the poet’s loved one is absent, so what is the point of it all.

A poem for all those who struggle t get through Christmas because their love or their family is absent, you are not alone…
Well I woke up this mornin’ it was Christmas Day
And the birds were singing the night away
I saw my stocking lying on the chair
Looked right to the bottom but you weren’t there
there was
. .. . aftershave
but no you.

So I went downstairs and the dinner was fine
There was pudding and turkey and lots of wine
And I pulled those crackers with a laughing face
Till I saw there was no one in your place
there was
nuts and raisins
. . . mashed potato
but no you.

Now it’s New Year and it’s Auld Lang Syne
And it’s 1 2 o’clock and I’m feeling fine
Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot?
I don’t know girl, but it hurts a lot
there was
vodka dry Martini (stirred
but not shaken)
…. and 12 New Year resolutions
all of them about you.

From <;

This poem is definitely meant to be read aloud, so you can hear the rhythms of the lines, not obvious just when you see them on the page. I think Henri terms this a “talking blues”, so there is a clue.

The three stanzas of the poem take us on a journey from despair in the first stanza at waking up alone on Christmas morning, seeing the traditional contents of the Christmas stocking, but no loved one; the second stage, in the second stanza is about dissimulation, as the poet is pretending to have a good time with the traditional English Christmas dinner with turkey, Christmas pudding and, of course, pulling Christmas crackers. The third stage is at the New Year’s party, singing Auld Lang Syne with some hope and some decision to get back together in the New Year. Many resolutions fall by the wayside of course, but one hopes that the prospect of happiness renewed may have some success in the New Year.


The Poetry Dude