Online Archive  
Issue 13 - June 1973
Morden Tower
Since 1964 the Morden Tower has played host to many great poets, who bothered to make the journey northwards (or as in the case of McDiarmid and other great Scottish masters, south) for a small fee and relatively small audience, poets have come from America and Canada and many other points of the world. Whatever it had, it made it worth the journey. Allen Ginsberg came in 1965 before his performance at the legendary Albert Hall reading, and imparted what wisdom he had weaned from the east and breathed the winds of change, which influenced the then young regular audience to zoom off eastwards and seek a broader vision than the confines of our own northern English city gave us. The building was used in the early days as a focus for spotty, beautiful struggling youth to get stoned, make a platform other than the industrial commercial educational establishments of the city acknowledged. People stumbled along the unlit lane in winter, huddled in the half light, round an ineffective fire and made their own warmth from proximity of one to another. Many attempts were made throughout its history to sabotage the building. Police were not infrequent visitors, the councils freaked out, and the then north-eastern association for the arts tried to starve it out when we applied for grants. Many break-ins occurred, resulting in the intruders destroying all they could find within the building and leaving the familiar hallmark of their own turds on the floor, which were consequently swept up and joss sticks lit for the next reading. Sometimes the poets were dull, but always the occasion was good because the people had made the effort to come and be with each other, to sit huddled on the floor and drink and listen carefully to what the poets said. Listened to how the words sounded alongside each other. Placed carefully side by side for the pleasure of the sound. A playful concern with words, or a meticulous concern with the language to create a music, delivered by the voice to the receptive ear. The language in this game is no rule of a ruling elite, or a coercive minority abusing the language for commercial or manipulative ends. Poets play with words to create pure pleasure in their sounds. Such men and women have no place left in the educational factories, where their sounds fall upon analytic, rational joyless ears, they have no place in the power centres where the language is used to control abuse and ultimately deny and suppress the life-lust we all demand fulfilment for.

In 1963 after the Aldermaston marches had fizzled out, there was an obvious lack of focus (at least locally) for the joy those occasions had made possible. The Ban the Bomb movement was not a fear of death as some critics suppose, so much as it is a celebration of collective joy, a refusal t accept our ends and the ends of our children at the hands of a ruthless ruling class, determined to retain its power structure at the cost of our lives. It's a cliche, but needs to be repeated anyway, that was in all its souped-up efficiency is a natural extension of capitalism. Capitalism has no interest in anything like poetry because it reverses the role of the course of the language as it has been used since standard English was introduced, when the British formed its empire and needed a common language to administer its dominions. After an active involvement in the CND and committee of a hundred Connie Pickard learnt the joys of a non-coercive communal activity centred round what she was most concerned with, poetry, and founded Morden Tower. Many attempts were made to shut the place down, some of which I have mentioned above. About a couple of years ago, we got a mate, who is an electrician, to install electricity. Six months later someone broke in and ripped out the fittings, the plugs and the mains. You can't really think that some kids crazy for a bit of creative destruction would have done that. I mean what common or garden vandal would risk his or her life actually ripping out a mains box? I never believed it, but then I'm paranoid at the best of times and situations like that make me suspect the worst, based, I might add, on bitter experience. The event effectively put us out of action for many months, during which time we organised readings in the University Theatre. That proved unsatisfactory because the audience (all of us) had grown to feel the Morden Tower was our home. Our own place. Nobody at the door with a uniform saying "you can't bring beer bottles in here and put that cigarette out". You came and paid your five bob and if you couldn't pay, well OK. Hugh McDiarmid said "he'd read in Canada and USA, Russia, Japan, and many other places, but none had given him greater pleasure than the Morden Tower". Allen Ginsberg said he'd learnt more in the Morden Tower than he had in a hundred universities. Poets felt at home there. After the demoralisation of the means of lighting and heating being ripped out, Connie got another mate to install electricity again and the corporation to put in new windows (the old ones were falling out). After eight years they finally got the message and realised it was worth the effort. They had the structure repaired and she planned the first reading for the new season to take place on 12 May with Ted Berrigan. We had both despaired at the thought of opening it again, but the Northern Arts in the persons of Phillip Bomford and Sid Chaplin had encouraged us enormously to get the place on its feet again. The audience had begun to miss their place and its function had not been adequately replaced. The night before the reopening some arsehole set fire to the building and gutted it. Ten years' work gone up in smoke. Connie managed at the last moment to find a suitable alternative. The Miners Institute, between the Lit and Phil and the Royal Station Hotel. An incredible building at the best of times, but still not our own place. Never mind. Undaunted she continues, with one of the best seasons on record. Two of America's greatest poets, Robert Duncan (23 May) and George Oppen (date unfixed, though within the next few weeks) are coming. McDiarmid in September. Eric Moytramm on 1 June. Hope to see you there. Any queries to Morden Tower Bookshop (formerly McKenna's) 38 Handysides Arcade, Percy Street, Newcastle NE1 4PZ (phone 29460). There is a mailing list if you want to be on it.

Tom Pickard