Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Adrian Mitchell and the Special Branch Poetry Critics

The poetry critics from Special Branch
Solomon Hughes
(Originally published - Morning Star - January 3rd 2009, following the death of Adrian Mitchell.)
The strongest  lost radical voice of 2009  belonged to the poet Adrian Mitchell, who died on the December 20.
His poem To Whom It May Concern remains one of the most powerful anti-war works of our times.
If we journalists had remembered it better, we would have uncovered more of the empty propaganda promoting the war on Iraq before the conflict started, rather than after the bombs have dropped.
Mitchell's words held as well for the newsroom in 2003 as in 1964. He wrote: "So chain my tongue with whisky/Stuff my nose with garlic/Coat my eyes with butter/Fill my ears with silver/Stick my legs in plaster/Tell me lies about Vietnam."
The whisky-chained tongues and silver-filled ears were sadly around for Iraq as well as Vietnam.
The murderous hokey-cokey of Mitchell's poem, where "You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out/You take the human being and you twist it all about" is also now being danced around the Gaza Strip.
I spoke briefly to Mitchell last year when I found that Special Branch had opened a file on the poet.
I got hold of a previously secret Special Branch report of a 1968 Youth CND demonstration against the Vietnam war.
Mitchell addressed the demo and the documents showed that Special Branch had added their notes of his address to their " Adrian Mitchell" file.
The cloth-eared Special Branch poetry critic was not a fan of Mitchell's oeuvre.
The undercover policeman wrote: "Adrian Mitchell recited one of his poems, the meaning of which was largely unintelligible."
Even today, some of what Special Branch wrote about Mitchell was "redacted" - it was blanked out and remains secret.
I spoke to Mitchell and he gave me what every journalist wants - a good quote.
He told me that he thought that the "intelligence" services had been interested in him ever since he went to a Communist Party wine and cheese event for peace at Oxford.
He told me: "I wasn't a Communist, but I like wine. And cheese. And peace." Mitchell also said that Special Branch were "very silly, but I hope they still have their notebooks open because I'm still doing this stuff."
Unfortunately, they can now close their notebooks as Mitchell he is unable to continue doing his radical stuff, but I remain very glad that he did.
I hope that another generation of poets is ready to dictate their work into Special Branch notebooks now Mitchell is unavailable to the Secret Police Poetry Appreciation Society.

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