In Memoriam, Michael Horovitz

Michael Horovitz, poet, preeminent champion of the avant garde, and the liberation of poetry in the UK, has died. He was 86.

New Departures, Issue 1

Horovitz was born in Frankfurt (then Nazi Germany) in 1935, the youngest of ten siblings, and moved with his family to Britain two years later. In London, his father, Dr. Avraham Horovitz, was part of a network helping other Jewish families escape the Holocaust. As a postgraduate student at Oxford (Brasenose College) studying William Blake, he founded New Departures with Anna Lovell and David Sladen in 1959. Like his Beat contemporaries in America, Horovitz had grown tired of the staidness of literary culture in Britain, and thus New Departures published writers like William Burroughs, Samuel Beckett, Ted Hughes, Jack Kerouac, and in later decades, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Kathy Acker, among many others. Seeming to invoke “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” Horovitz wrote:

At Oxford I saw budding talents buried alive, most elegantly taught to lie, still most persuasively cast in Eliot’s calligraphy of dry bones. Legions of professional hollow men—brandishing standards of the New Criticism and New Lines—re-laid their trenches, held the muddied field and apportioned the spoils.

In the early ‘60s, Horovitz toured the UK with poet Pete Brown (also the lyricist for Cream) as “Live New Departures,” poetry performances that incorporated music and audience participation. On June 18, 1966, he took part in the New Moon Carnival of Poetry in the Round at the Royal Albert Hall, along with Spike Milligan and Vanessa Redgrave, an event the Daily Telegraph reported was marked by “Rowdyism, bad language and the breaking of glasses and bottles…” and “later deteriorated into ‘chaos and obscenity.’” Consequently, poetry events were banned from the Royal Albert for 18 years.

Peter Whitehead’s Wholly Communion (1965), featuring Christopher Logue. Michael Horovitz appears at 5:20.

He gave one of his greatest performances the year prior, as part of the International Poetry Incarnation, an historic gathering of more than sixty poets at the Royal Albert, including Corso, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Alexander Trocchi, and Andrei Voznesensky. The event was documented in Peter Whitehead’s 16mm film Wholly Communion. He went on to organize numerous other events, including the Poetry Olympics (held for the first time in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey) and Jazz Poetry Super Jams, both of which drew numerous well-known artists and musicians.

Horovitz lived for many years in Notting Hill, where he kept an archive of books and papers notorious for its disarray. “Indoor skip it may appear to you, but compared to Francis Bacon’s studio, my pad here is Versailles,” he said in an interview with the Evening Standard. He was easily recognizable, dressing in bright, colorful clothing; often purple. Horovitz published a dozen books of his own poetry, and many more as editor and translator. He was appointed OBE in 2002, and made an unsuccessful bid at running for professor of poetry at Oxford in 2010.

Like his hero, Blake, he spent his final days discussing future projects, and continuing to work from his bed in hospital.