Michael Horovitz OBE

I’ve been corresponding with Michael Horovitz recently. An interesting man. Fifty years ago, while an Oxbridge student in 1959, he founded New Departures, a magazine dedicated to new poetry. Kerouac’s On The Road had just come out, CND marches were starting, Trad Jazz was the Alt. Rock of its day. Michael was the first man to publish extracts of William Burroughs.

As the Sixties got going he was one of the poets at the famous Albert Hall poetry event in 1965. He’s captured for ever in Peter Whitehead’s film of the event, Wholly Communion.

Over the years he’s put on various events – most of which lost money – but his phone book is a who’s-who of the Sixties counter culture and beyond. The magazine continues sporadically and he appears on radio from time to time, famously delaying the 9 o’Clock news on Radio4 one morning by 2 minutes because he just wouldn’t shut up! James Naughtie of that show is a fan.

He has an army of goodwill behind him and can call on the services of an eclectic bunch of poets and performers to turn out and lend support. Over the years I’ve filmed him at numerous events, including at the Albert Hall, where people like Joe Strummer, Julie Felix, Pete Townshend, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Adrian Mitchell and Paul McCartney have appeared. Michael would often turn up with a box of organic apples for people to munch and piles of back copies of his various poetry collections to sell. This is not a rich man. He is one of the last living links to the Beat Generation in this country. Allen Ginsberg was an acquaintance.

Sadly, in this 50th year of New Departures, Michael finds it hard to get arrested. A short collection of performances over the years was shown recently at the Portobello Film Festival – hey, I got a credit! – but the media in general couldn’t care less. Not sexy enough.

He still lives in the same Notting Hill flat he’s had for over 40 years, which would be worth a mint if it was, er, modernised. He was given an OBE for services to poetry a few years back, but he had to be nagged by his poet son, Adam, to accept it; “It’ll help in your applications for funding!”

Like all the characters I’ve met from that period, he’s charming, energetic and believes in life beyond just Tube/Work/Sleep. Guys like him helped write the Book: traces of what he did all those years ago filter through to things we take for granted today. Literary festivals; music and poetry; operating outside the mainstream; following your own path; folk revival; rock lyrics; underground publications; alternative night clubs with light shows and sound systems. He was there. Look him up on the web…

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