Friday, May 26, 2017

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~


Outside the plasma supermarket
I stretch out my arm to the shoppers and say
“Can I give you one of these?”
I give each of them a leaf from a tree.
The first shopper thanks me.
The second puts the leaf in his mack pocket where his wife won’t see.
The third says she is not interested in leaves. She looks like a mutilated willow.
The fourth says “Is it art?” I say that it is a leaf.
The fifth looks through his leaf and smiles at the light beyond.
The sixth hurls down his leaf and stamps it till dark purple mud oozes through.
The seventh says she will press it in her album.
The eighth complains that it is an oak leaf and says he would be on my side if I were also handing out birch leaves, apple leaves, privet leaves and larch leaves. I say that it is a leaf.
The ninth takes the leaf carefully and then, with a backhand fling, gives it its freedom.
It glides, following surprise curving alleys through the air.
It lands. I pick it up.
The tenth reads both sides of the leaf twice and then says: “Yes, but it doesn’t say who we should kill.”
But you took your leaf like a kiss.
The tell me that on Saturdays
You can be seen in your own city centre
Giving away forests, orchards, jungles.

– Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008)

"Adrian Mitchell."
The Famous People website.
(accessed May 25 2017) 

Adrian Mitchell, English poet, playwright, screenwriter, novelist, journalist and children's writer, was one of England's foremost performance poets who sometimes had audiences of thousands. 

He was known particularly as an anti-bomb poet. An activist and revolutionary in the context of being a committed pacifist, he was considered the voice of the Left and often used satire – but he also sought to uplift people's spirits with his poetry. This one, I think, does both. The satire is there in the people's different reactions to being given a leaf. And overall, particularly in its closing lines, the poem makes me feel lifted up, inspired, happier.

If ever there was a time for an anti-bomb poet, this is it, after the explosion in Manchester. But this poem makes the point obliquely by focusing on Life. How hard it is, it seems to say, for us to recognise and appreciate the gift of life. That lack must surely be one of the things that leads to terrorist attacks. 

What can we helpless citizens do in the face of such horrors? Little, perhaps, in the way of direct action. But we can reaffirm our commitment to life, love and humanity, as the people of Manchester are now doing.  We can raise our voices, poetic or otherwise, in support of this commitment. And we can encourage ourselves by reading poems which have tenderness as well as strength. 

You can find out details of his life and work at Wikipedia, where I found this lovely tribute:

"Adrian", said fellow-poet Michael Rosen, "was a socialist and a pacifist who believed, like William Blake, that everything human was holy. That's to say he celebrated a love of life with the same fervour that he attacked those who crushed life. He did this through his poetry, his plays, his song lyrics and his own performances. Through this huge body of work, he was able to raise the spirits of his audiences, in turn exciting, inspiring, saddening and enthusing them.... He has sung, chanted, whispered and shouted his poems in every kind of place imaginable, urging us to love our lives, love our minds and bodies and to fight against tyrannyoppression and exploitation."

His obituary in The Guardian, by Michael Kustow, said:

The poet and playwright Adrian Mitchell, in whom the legacies of Blake and Brecht coalesce with the zip of Little Richard and the swing of Chuck Berry, has died of heart failure at the age of 76. In his many public performances in this country and around the world, he shifted English poetry from correctness and formality towards inclusiveness and political passion.

(Wikipedia also refers you to several other obituaries.)

An article at the Poetry Archive says:

Mitchell was committed to a form of poetry that welcomes as many people as possible - he was, perhaps, best known for saying that "Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people." Thus his work deals with recognisable subjects in clear, modern language, and can revel in strong rhythms, drawn as often from the blues and pop music as from the poetic canon.

His output was prolific. His several book pages at Amazon begin here. And you can listen to his own excellent recitals of some of his poems on YouTube.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).


  1. Sounds like the poet we need now more than ever

  2. Thank you for this tribute Rosemary. He is definitely the kind of poet we need nowadays. I so much enjoyed the poem you selected.

  3. Thanks for this Rosemary. I loved the poem. I'll be reading more of the poet's work.

  4. Oh Rosemary, what a perfect poem for this week. I am intrigued by this poet and LOVE the poem you featured here. The various responses to a leaf, much the same as their likely response to life, so tellingly described. I will check out more of his work. I loved this. Thank you.

  5. What a compelling poem! For me, I think it was saying, as well, that: human beings are so diverse in their thoughts, how can humankind ever hope to come together and make anything good happen – such as peace. Thanks for this, Rosemary. I must check out more of Adrian Mitchell's recited poems on utube.

  6. What a beautiful piece and post - it reminds us of taking joy in the little things perhaps.. From leaf to paper..clever indeed

  7. A wonderful poem and post. A much needed voice of our times. I also loved Michael Rosen's tribute to Adrian Mitchell.

  8. Luv that leaf poem. My favourite line

    "The fourth says “Is it art?” I say that it is a leaf."

    Much love...


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