Brian Patten: Poems Background

Brian Patten: Poems Background

John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Four first names that need no last names (though, admittedly, someone named Ringo probably never needs a last name). Back in the 1960’s they were very commonly referred to as “four lads from Liverpool” and they made the working-class British city pretty much the most famous European city in the world. They were not the only reasons that Liverpool ascended to the ultimate height of the world of creative artistry in the decade that changed the world forever. Though not nearly as famous outside England as they were inside, there other names had become forever established with the birthplace of the Beatles: Adrian, Roger and Brian.

Together, these three men wrote, published and performed poetry together to such a receptive public that they became known as the Liverpool Poets. Among the popular collections serving as anthologies exhibiting their work—and cementing their inextricable link to the rock and roll origin of the “Liverpool sound”—were The Mersey Sound and The Liverpool Scene, both published in 1967. The Mersey Sound has never been out of print since. What really linked the poets to the musicians, however, was that both groups of young men were performers as well. While the Beatles made the Cavern nightclub a legendary Liverpool tourist attraction, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten were at the forefront of the poetry-as-performance movement arising from the ashes of the Beatnik movement and preceding the poetry slams to come.

Of the three, Brian Patten always and always remained the standout, a combination of both John and Paul to the George and Ringo of the other two. Born in the Liverpool in 1946, he may have been the youngest, but he was also the most successful, having privately printed his first collection at the tender age of 15. Coming out almost right on top of each other, Patten’s second book Little Johnny’s Confession and his contributions along with McGough and Henri in Penguin Modern Poets 10 immediately transformed Patten into a figure considered worthy of attention among the literati. When that anthology was retitled The Mersey Sound, all three became a bona find commercial sensation.

Patten’s surge to the top as the true genius of the trio was certainly not hurt by the instantly recognizable association between his often surreal images and whimsical conceit in Notes to the Hurrying Man that might have seemed right at home as lyrics on a certain groundbreaking record released the same wildly prolific year of 1967 about a military man named Pepper and his band for the lonely-hearted. That whimsy would serve Patten well when the inevitable collapse of the Liverpool music scene happened and indeed in the decades since, he has been every bit as prodigious at producing children’s books as he has poetry for adults. In addition to poetry, Patten is also a successful playwright, including several collaborations with Roger McGough.

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