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Michael Horovitz - An Obituary

Michael Horovitz – Poet, publisher, editor, promoter

 Born April 4, 1935; died July 7, 2021 

 

 Michael Horovitz, who has died aged 86, was a poet who helped kick open the doors of perception for an artform hitherto presumed to be the preserve of dusty scholars penning slim volumes held in hallowed halls. While Horovitz published twelve volumes of his own work across five decades, beyond his own writing, he became a tireless evangelist for a very English counter culture. He spread the word initially through New Departures, the magazine he co-founded with Anna Lovell and David Sladen in 1959 as an audacious counterblast to received literary orthodoxies.

 

Early issues of New Departures published work by William Burroughs, Stevie Smith, Samuel Beckett and Allen Ginsberg, as well as poems and dialogues by future founder of 7:84 Theatre Company, John McGrath. As the magazine moved through the 1970s and into the 1980s, Horovitz introduced newer voices, including Kathy Acker, Joolz Denby, Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Cooper Clarke and Attila the Stockbroker. They appeared in the magazine alongside the likes of Tom McGrath, R.D. Laing and Ivor Cutler. 

 

Horovitz recognised the umbilical links of a counter culture that stretched all the way back to William Blake, through to the Beats and beyond.  Under his freewheeling editorship, New Departures went beyond words. There were images from the likes of David Hockney and Peter Blake, and soundscores by John Cage and Cornelius Cardew.

 

Horovitz also recognised the power of poetry in performance as much as on the page, and above all saw poetry as a living thing. He had taken part in the 1965 International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall in London, organised by filmmaker Barbara Rubin. This saw a transatlantic alliance of the likes of Beat heroes Ginsberg, Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti sit alongside Brit-bards including Adrian Mitchell and Christopher Logue, as well as Glasgow-born novelist Alexander Trocchi. 

 

These finest minds of their generation declaimed, proselytised and let loose their words to a sell-out audience of several thousand seekers, for whom a cultural revolution had begun. The event was captured in Peter Whitehead’s film, Wholly Communion (1965). The restless spirit of the age was brought together again in Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain (1969), in which Horovitz edited and compiled work by more than sixty writers.

 

Horovitz had already moved poetry into the live arena with Live New Departures, when he teamed up for gigs with the likes of future Cream lyricist Pete Brown, jazz pianist Stan Tracey and saxophonist Bobby Wellins. A vintage recording of the group was released in 2014 as Blues for the Hitchhiking Dead (Jazz Poetry Superjam #1). As a kind of follow-up, in 2013, Horovitz collaborated with Paul Weller and former Blur vocalist Damon Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon, released on record as Bankbusted Nuclear Detergent Blues (Jazz Poetry SuperJam #3).

 

Horovitz’s own musical pursuits saw him later co-found the William Blake Klezmatrix band. He played the anglo-saxophone, an instrument of his own invention fashioned from a kazoo. 

 

In 1980, Horovitz founded the Poetry Olympics, set up in response to UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s proposed boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow. Eclectic cross-generational bills fused poetry with performance in a way that arguably opened the door on a now thriving spoken word scene. The likes of Mitchell and Roger McGough shared bills with Cooper Clarke, Acker, Skids singer Richard Jobson, and Weller. Later events featured Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue. The events captured a poetry that Horovitz once wrote of as going ‘face to face, lip to ear, hip to mind’.

 

Michael William Yechiel Ha-Levi Horovitz was born in Frankfurt, Germany, the youngest of ten children to Rosi (nee Feist) and Dr Avraham Horovitz, a lawyer of Jewish-Hungarian extraction. Horovitz’s parents fled Nazi Germany, and in 1937 settled their family in London, where they helped other Jewish families in Germany escape the Holocaust. 

 

Horovitz went to William Ellis School in north London, and in 1954 enrolled at Brazenose College, Oxford, where he studied English. He began an uncompleted PhD on William Blake, before embarking on the great life-long adventure that New Departures became.

 

In 1964, he married poet and broadcaster Frances Hooker, who published her work as Frances Horovitz. Her volume, The High Tower (1970), became New Departures 6. The pair parted in 1980. His own published collections began in 1963 with Declaration, with five other volumes appearing during the 1960s. Two books, football-based epic The Wolverhampton Wanderer, and Love Poems: Nineteen Poems of Love, Lust and Spirit, appeared in 1971. There were two anthologies , Growing Up: Selected Poems and Pictures 1951-79 (1979), and Wordsounds and Sightlines: New and Selected Poems (1994).

 

In 1992, Horovitz edited Grandchildren of Albion: An illustrated Anthology of Voices and Visions of Younger Poets in Britain). A decade later, he was awarded an OBE. He compiled several latter day New Departures anthologies; POW! (Poetry Olympics Weekend) (1996); POP! (Poetry Olympics Party) (2000);POM! (Poetry Olympics Marathon) (2001); and POT! (Poetry Olympics Twenty05) (2007).

 

The same year, he published his final broadside, A New Waste Land: Timeship Earth at Nillennium. At the time of his passing, an exhibition of Horovitz’s ‘Bop Art paintings, collages and picture poems’ had just opened at Chelsea Arts Club. Its appearance captured the prevailing spirit of bohemian London Horovitz embodied for more than half a century.

 

He is survived by his son, Adam.


The Herald, July 26th, 2021

 

ends

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