A David Gascoyne Celebration was one night in a series run by the Poetry Library called Special Edition. As I was organising this one – with help from Library staff Pascal O’Loughlin and Jessica Atkinson – it definitely began to feel special when out of the blue a great line-up dealt itself like a poker of aces. Jeremy Reed, Iain Sinclair, Nick Papadimitriou and MacGillivray all confirmed, after other potential contributors were already booked, or pulled out, or didn’t reply. With such a posse rounded up, a great night was guaranteed.


I kicked off the evening by plunging the packed-out audience in at the deep end of Gascoyne’s oeuvre, the collection Poems 1937-42, which I discussed as a classic of English Existentialism and my favourite slim volume of 20th century English poetry. That’s a copy in my hand from the Poetry Library’s vaults, and a signed first edition was displayed in a glass case for all to see.


The Scottish poet MacGillivray told the story of the infant Gascoyne visiting his father in Kinghorn on the Firth and being there when news broke of WW1 ending, a moment which must have had a profound influence on a sensitive writer who would become one of the great civilian poets of WWII. She performed his Surrealist poem – the first in English – ‘And the Seventh Dream is the Dream of Isis’ as well as a poem from her forthcoming Bloodaxe collection The Nine of Diamonds.


I’d spotted Nick Papadimitriou on Facebook referring to Gascoyne as ‘Darling David’ and later furnished him with Gascoyne’s first address at 59 Gayton Road, Harrow, when Nick announced on Facebook he wanted to walk there and did anyone know the house?
Already a fan of his deep topography, it was a pleasant surprise that he shared a passion for Gascoyne so I was very happy when he accepted the invitation to do something. He talked of Harrow and of its ancient church St Mary’s which had been consecrated by St Anselm in 1094, and later of a visit to the Teddington Lock site of Gascoyne’s poem ‘The Gravel Pit Fields’. Nick read from that poem and from the radiophonic poem ‘Night Thoughts’.


Jeremy Reed had also featured in my 2012 event An Evening Without David Gascoyne, which was part of Mental Travellers at Pentameters Theatre. A close friend and editor of Gascoyne, he’d been hailed by Gascoyne as the most talented poet of his generation. Jeremy performed three new poems of homage to Gascoyne including ‘To Be David’; also putting in a last word for the other David who had influenced him so much, a certain Mr. Jones.


It was thanks to Iain Sinclair’s 1996 Conductors of Chaos anthology that I first began to appreciate Gascoyne. He was thinking of showing film footage of Gascoyne he had made with Chris Petit but it couldn’t be located in time for the event. Instead Iain read from the schoolboy novel Opening Day and reminisced about visiting Gascoyne on the Isle of Wight. Hallucinatory warmth, wit, wisdom and a bonus vision of a behatted Ezra Pound on Kensington Church Street.


David Gascoyne was undoubtedly a forerunner of Londonism and psychogeography in his poetry and prose, which is why he can attract such fascinating advocates. The audience included Enitharmon editor Stephen Stuart Smith, film-maker John Rogers, and novelist Will Self.

Someone very young in some bar at the end of the night asked me if the Poetry Library was ‘part of the establishment’. It was a funny question. Gascoyne himself was never part of any establishment and the line-up of the celebration was radicals and mavericks only, not members of what Jeremy Reed via William S. Burroughs called ‘the Club’.  I hope I was persuasive in my reply that the Poetry Library is utterly unlike such elitist and exclusive literary institutions as TLS and Faber in that all poets are welcome to use it freely, all poetry books and magazines are stocked, all poetry events are advertised. The Poetry Library is a horizontal water-trough.

Here is the official recording of the event. Iain Sinclair’s mention of myself and MacGillivray’s ‘Celtic voices’ suddenly made me realise that – without planning – the event had been a pan-British and Irish Isles celebration of David Gascoyne featuring an Irishman, a Scotswoman, a Welshman, a Londoner/Englishman, and a Jersey Islander.


Photos: Max Reeves

Photo of MacGillivray: Julie Goldsmith




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Poetopographer Niall McDevitt introducing deep topographer Nick Papadimitriou at A DAVID GASCOYNE CELEBRATION in the Saison Poetry Library.


Here is a review of Nick’s book Scarp by a third man: http://www.mythogeography.com/scarp.html

Photos: Julie Goldsmith


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Rue Rollin is an ancient pedestrian road in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris near Place Monge metro.

6 Rue_Rollin.jpg

I have found out about it because David Gascoyne used to visit a friend at number 6, visible to the right of the photograph. Benjamin Fondane was a poet, essayist, philosopher, film-maker. Gascoyne admired his book on Arthur Rimbaud called Rimbaud le Voyou (Rimbaud the Thug). After correspondence, Fondane felt Gascoyne had really understood his writing and was soon offering regular hospitality to his young English admirer.


Fondane was a Romanian Jew who had abandoned Surrealism and taken up Religious Existentialism which he was learning from his esteemed mentor the emigre Russian Jewish philosopher Leon Chestov. This was the philosophy he passed onto Gascoyne in a direct line of transmission. Chestov was older than Fondane as Fondane was older than Gascoyne. One day in 1938, Fondane passed Gascoyne in a Paris street uttering the words ‘Chestov est mort.’ However, Fondane was not destined to outlive Chestov by very long. In 1939, Fondane gave the transcripts of all his conversations with Chestov to a friend for safekeeping. After military service which culminated in imprisonment and escape from a prisoner-of-war camp, he hid out at 6 Rue Rollin but was eventually denounced to the Nazis. After a spell of hard labour at Drancy he was sent to Birkenau and gassed.

(The bars below the plaque almost look like prison bars).

Place Benjamin Fondane.jpg

This beautiful spot on Rue Rollin has been named Place Benjamin Fondane in his honour, but he is not the only distinguished philosopher to have lived on it.

Descartes' house

Descartes stayed regularly at number 14 in the 1640s when he was able to get away from professional duties in the Netherlands.


The philosopher himself explains how this double life made him feel curiously happy and free.

Pascal's house.jpg

But there is yet another philosopher in the mix. This is the site of Blaise Pascal’s now demolished house at no 2 Rue Rollin, almost next door to Fondane. (Merci a Parsienne de Photographie for the image). I haven’t been able to ascertain much more about his time here or any other images. I can’t read the plaque either.

The Chestov/Fondane/Gascoyne line of Existentialists looked to Pascal for their inspiration and found it in his unfinished, unpublished masterpiece Pensees which he was working on at this address when he died at the age of 39 in the year 1662. (His death seems to have taken place nearby at his sister, Gilberte’s, house ie. “maison de Mme Perier, sa soeur. Paris, rue Neuve Saint-Etienne, aujourd’hui rue Rollin, Vème arr..”)

Pascal's deathplace

Religious/Christian/Jewish Existentialists are attached to his idea of the Gulf. Secular Existentialists can trace their lineage back to the rationality of Descartes.

Gascoyne wrote a poem of homage to Fondane called ‘To Benjamin Fondane’ but after he heard the news of Fondane’s death, he changed the title to ‘I.M. Benjamin Fondane’. He regarded the poem as ‘premonitory’.



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DG photo

Wednesday 3 February 2016
The Poetry Library

Join us for a celebration of the centennial of enigmatic English poet David Gascoyne (1916 – 2001).

An overlooked, self-deprecating figure, who endured a series of incarcerations, he claimed to be ‘a poet who wrote himself out when young and then went mad’. But he went on to become a common denominator for surrealists, psychogeographers, existentialists, Francophiles, and more.

The Londonist‘s preferred London poet, Gascoyne is a kind of modern Blake, an urban mystic and perennial philosopher. Rebuffed by TS Eliot and the literary establishment of his day, his brilliant posthumous career is only just getting started.

With readings from MacGillivray, Niall McDevitt, Nick Papadimitriou, Jeremy Reed and Iain Sinclair.

The Poetry Library at Royal Festival Hall

Admission is free but space is limited. To book your place email specialedition@poetrylibrary.org.uk


59 Gayton Road
59 Gayton Road where David Gascoyne was born on 10 Oct 1916

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THE HUMAN ELEPHANT (in the inhuman room)


‘I was in his soul as if inside a palace that had been deliberately emptied so that no one as ignoble as myself could be seen in it’ – Rimbaud
for the socially cleansed

it is come, the time of our decanting. goodbye to the interconnecting,
anti-gravity walkways with their strips of frosted glass, hello to regular
paths and irregular paving-stones. goodbye to our streets in the air, hello
to pound shops and charismatic chapels. we had mystical mansions, we
had 1000 keys, so they jealously took it away, who cannot understand
our tribal croaks, our medicine men, our ghetto aromas, our pirate
smiles. six castles of communism loomed worryingly large for them. six
ships we sailed into bureaucratic, pea-soup seas. six rectangles of Hel


only Glasspool is left, his one white car, an unnamable on the 10th floor,
and the decanted old woman who comes back to walk her decanted dog.
our houses, our shops were illumined by the original planners who had
based everything on light, on sunlight, and we could buy anything,
the spices of earth, from neighbours who lived in the same lighting,
whose living-rooms were also chemists, launderettes, hairdressers,
shebeens. ‘environmental determinism’ says Glasspool. verily, the
overclass envies the underclass, covets what the other doesn’t have


when the communal heating system stopped, we resorted to small
convector heaters. they trash any commune, any communing. the big
dystopia kills off little utopias. when the communal heating system
stopped, we felt the Cold War creeping back under our psychedelic snake
draught-excluders. did you know the anti-pyramidal city had been built
by gypsies, riding on Indian elephants? Ganesh was our foreman, trunk
stuffed with bhang-lassi. the river Saddhus were out-of-it, Kali
was disarmed. no slum dogs, no millionaires could touch us then


nor were we decanted politely. no pinkies were extended to us. the war
on brutalism was brutalist. savagely they gentrify (never once suspecting
how nice we are). the streets in the air are an empty estate, a flotation
jerusalem. our fathers and mothers were buried here in a 60s tab of
orange sunshine and a free love climax, even as the big-fellow chief
dubbed us ‘the forgotten’. we fondly remember the vomit running up our
oesophagi, his tigrish chrism. but as his hug was the beginning of the
end for Gaddaffi, his eulogy was a kick in the balls of Cockaigne


here the human elephant (inhuman castle) in a graffiti-rich greyness, a
welcoming Hel, empty rooms in the endangered species, showroom trials,
rigged judges, juries, developers, developers, the development’s in the
detail (so the thesis goes). national salvation, sociopolitical failure, the
40-year day, an affordable toilet, a criminal idyll, more robinhood than
neighbourhood (so the thesis went). the elephant – child of the mammoth –
is invisible to those who only see tusks, see ivory, and aim their sights.
‘darling, how can you miss?’ a giant graffito: SAVE OUR ESTATE


we’ve been decanted and pepperpotted – in spite of because of our iconic
status – from our gridded elevations, from our streets in the air, having
refused to hand in identities, or give DNA samples. oh the flushed ova!
‘shooting an elephant’ wrote Orwell, a guilty authority. we have been
dispersed, all he go one one, we shan’t see ourselves for miles, for years.
we’ll live. they are only killing our living-rooms, amazing as they were. let
the ill-affordable houses come, clad in trespa, and let those who can ill
afford them piss into ladyporterloos. let the regrouping be unforeseen


Poetry: Niall McDevitt

Photography: Max Reeves (from his album REQUIEM)

(Note: this poem was inspired by a walk about the depopulated Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle and was first performed on the estate at an event organized by the Urban Forest)

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The Tyburn walk is to my mind ‘a British Establishment-upon-sewer walk’ as so many of its landmarks connect with ruling-class sites, most notoriously the site of six centuries of public hangings in what is now called Marble Arch.

Asquith, Winfield House (the U.S. Ambassador’s residence where the only above-ground view of the Tyburn is cordoned off by armed guards), the death-squads of the S.O.E., William Pitt the Younger, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, MI5, Houses of Parliament etc. etc. The Tyburn swirls its detritus under all their pillars, including royal piss and shit from the Palace itself to the Tyburn’s outflow by Vauxhaull Bridge, opposite the green and cream fortress of M.I.6.

The Tavistock Centre is on the course of the river and boasts the excellent statue of Freud above, though there is no monument to the other maverick shrink  R.D. Laing who worked there subsequently.

Sigmund Freud was assuredly not a member of the British Establishment – though he was lionised in the short time he lived and died in London – but his descendants very much feature in the family trees of the British ruling class and upper class of today.

That’s not a football scarf about his neck, it’s a Palestine scarf. I do not think Freud would object too much to sporting it. He was an anti-Zionist, as the following letter of rebuff shows:

Vienna: 26 February 1930

Dear Sir:

“I cannot do as you wish [i.e., become a Zionist] … Whoever wants to influence the masses must give them something rousing and inflammatory and my sober judgment of Zionism does not permit this. I certainly sympathize with its goals, am proud of our University in Jerusalem and am delighted with our settlement’s prosperity. But, on the other hand, I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state, nor that the Christian and Islamic worlds would ever be prepared to have their holy places under Jewish care. It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically-burdened land. But I know that such a rational viewpoint would never have gained the enthusiasm of the masses and the financial support of the wealthy. I concede with sorrow that the baseless fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust. I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall [i.e., the Wailing Wall] into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives. Now judge for yourself whether I, with such a critical point of view, am the right person to come forward as the solace of a people deluded by unjustified hope.”

Sigmund and I? Who’d have thought?

And the scarf is actually made by his great-granddaughter Bella Freud.(Proceeds to Palestine etc…)


Photo: Max Reeves



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