There’s a new piece by me up in the New York Times today. It’s about an early and informal mentor I had as a teenage – a British theater teacher named Simon Harrold.
If you’re interested in some of the stuff I’m talking about in the piece:
Here are some pictures of Simon:
And here’s a link to a recording of Richard Burton leading a performance of Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milk Wood” radio play. Simon actually gave me two different version of “Under Milk Wood” on cassette – one was a version Thomas himself read and one was a different version which I think was the Burton version but I could swear is a slightly different performance. But I might be wrong about that. Anyway, it’s beautiful and it’s all on YouTube:
In terms of Brian Patten, I looked all over the internet for a recording of him reading his early work and I couldn’t find anything. You can track down his more recent poetry, but he’s a bit more gentle these days and it’s not really the same experience I had with his work at 16 or so. But here’s a representative poem from the collection Simon lent me. Imagine this read in a sharp, trebly voice that sounds simultaneously very restrained and very angry:
The Projectionist’s Nightmare
by Brian Patten
This is the projectionist’s nightmare:
A bird finds its way into the cinema,
finds the beam, flies down it,
smashes into a scene depicting a garden,
a sunset, and two people being nice to each other.
Real blood, real intestines, slither down
the likeness of a tree.
‘This is no good,’ screams the audience,
‘This is not what we came to see.’
Some bonus material: In addition to compelling me to read Ulysses, Simon also gave me a recording of Joyce’s famous “Anna Livia Plurabelle” monologue from Finnegan’s Wake, read (almost impenetrably) by the author. I used to listen to that one a lot, too, and there’s video with the words here:
And at one point Simon did a full performance of Beckett’s one-man play “Krapp’s Last Tape” at our school. Here’s a picture of that:
Here’s John Hurt doing the full play in 2000:
Thanks to Jane Fielder for sending this picture to me, and thanks to Liz Knox and David Weidman for helping explain some backstory about Simon to me. Simon was a fascinating and somewhat mysterious person and some of my memories of him (like the circumstances by which he arrived at the school and like my memory of his house with its giant bookshelf, antique furniture, and fancy cocktail cart filled with fine crystal) started to seem like something I had invented or exaggerated to myself over time – Liz helped assure me that I remembered that stuff accurately.