It’s interesting to speculate that these ‘Beautiful People’ were likely to be the parents of kids who, in the future, would queue all night to see an Oasis, Bowie or Blur concert – to name just a few bands.
Poetry in the late 60’s was a kind of ‘off-shoot’ of rock n’ roll. It was uber cool. The American poets – Ginsberg and Robert Creeley – gave spine-tingling readings that sounded like jazz- inspired riffs. They were to influence the innovative group of ‘Liverpool Poets’ : Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri, who were also linked with the whole Beatles musical phenomenon.
I was lucky. On the nights I attended Poetry International, I managed, with my friends ,to get front row seats. Every reading was excitingly ad hoc. One night, unexpectedly, Tennessee Williams strode onto the stage: beaming, handsome, his green eyes shining with fun and laughter – and amused us all with readings of his poems.
We also heard the great Russian poetess, Bella Akmadulina , read. And, gloriously, the great Italian poet, Ungaretti.
Guiseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970) was already a very frail ,old man.. Famous for his translations into Italian of William Blake’s visionary poems (Visioni di William Blake), published comparatively recently in 1965, he, too, in spite of his age, appealled massively to a young ‘hip’ audience, who were all just rediscovering Blake’s work.
On the first night, Ungaretti read from Sentitmenti del Tempo – ‘The Feeling of Time’ (1950), where he raged like Dylan Thomas, to this predominately young audience, against the end of life,and the ‘dying of the light’. It was a magisterial performance. As the critic, Julian Jebb, later wrote:
‘Ungaretti raged like Yeats against old age in a voice which made one think Henry Irving was still alive and had been born an Italian’.