Adrian Henri

Love is…

Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fanclub with only two fans
Love is walking holding paintstained hands
Love is

Love is fish and chips on winter nights
Love is blankets full of strange delights
Love is when you don’t put out the light
Love is

Love is the presents in Christmas shops
Love is when you’re feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
Love is

Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is

Love is you and love is me
Love is prison and love is free
Love’s what’s there when you are away from me
Love is…

Adrian Henri died in 2000.  He was only 68 and had never fully recovered from a stroke he’d experienced a few years earlier.  I loved the guy, and this is an early example of the poems he’d read in pubs, at gigs, and later to a backdrop of folk-blues-rock.  I’ve written about him before (January 2019) in the context of the impact The Mersey Sound had on popular culture 50 years ago but think his work deserves highlighting in his own right.

Adrian was an artist in the broadest sense of the word: he went to art school, taught art,  Adrian2and exhibited his own work.  He wrote poetry, developed a performance poetry circuit with other writers (notably Roger McGough and Brian Patten), and diversified into music performance with his band The Liverpool Scene.  He liked a pint, he like painting, he liked writing poetry, he liked writing poetry about painting, and jazz, and poetry about poetry.  He loved talking to people, and was generous with his encouragement of other young poets and musicians.  His sheer force of personality and enthusiasm for living could carry you along to the point were eventually you might stop and ask yourself the following day what the hell had all that been about?

If his work could be typified in any way it was his adoption of what I’ve always called hisAdrian3 “list” poems where he gets on riff and then just bowls along with a succession of images that illustrate the point he is making.  For example there is The Blazing Hat, Part Two in which every line starts “This is the morning that…” and there follows a surreal list if incidents that range from the likely to the improbable.  Great War Poems lists ten cliches from practically every WW1 poem that you’ve read.  Without You describes exactly the 40 things you might imagine happening if “You” weren’t there anymore – from ” every morning would be like going back to work after a holiday” to “the first martian to land would turn around and go back home again”.

Adrian Henri helped make poetry democratic.  He demonstrated that you didn’t need rhyme or metre but if you had imagination and vocabulary then you compensate for that.  He got us to see that poetry wasn’t just something you read in the classroom, but it was something you’d write at home, and read out loud in a pub in town. He helped us educate ourselves by referencing his own cultural influences and encouraging us to find out what he was talking about with his repeated references to Alfred Jarry, Charles Mingus and James Ensor, among others.

Finally, one of the other characteristics of Adrian was that even after all the hype, and the publicity, and the books, and the rock tours of the UK, Europe, and the USA, he didn’t retire to the home counties, or London, or California, or Provence, but he stayed in Liverpool.  His audiences might have moved away to other places because they (we) needed the work, but Adrian remained in the place that he loved.  And I loved him for that.


if you weren’t you, who would you like to be?

Paul McCartney Gustav Mahler
Alfred Jarry John Coltrane
Charlie Mingus Claude Debussy
Wordsworth Monet Bach and Blake

Charlie Parker Pierre Bonnard
Leonardo Bessie Smith
Fidel Castro Jackson Pollock
Gaudi Milton Munch and Berg

Belà Bartók Henri Rousseau
Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns
Lukas Cranach Shostakovich
Kropotkin Ringo George and John

William Burroughs Francis Bacon
Dylan Thomas Luther King
H. P. Lovecraft T. S. Eliot
D. H. Lawrence Roland Kirk

Salvatore Giuliano
Andy Warhol Paul Uzanne
Kafka Camus Ensor Rothko
Jacques Prévert and Manfred Mann

Marx Dostoevsky
Bakunin Ray Bradbury
Miles Davis Trotsky
Stravinsky and Poe

Danilo Dolci Napoleon Solo
St John of the Cross and
The Marquis de Sade

Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Rimbaud Claes Oldenburg
Adrian Mitchell and Marcel Duchamp

James Joyce and Hemingway
Hitchcock and Bunuel
Donald McKinlay Thelonius Monk

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Matthias Grunewald
Philip Jones Griffiths and Roger McGough

Guillaume Apollinaire
Cannonball Adderley
René Magritte
Hieronymus Bosch

Stéphane Mallarmé and Alfred de Vigny
Ernst Mayakovsky and Nicolas de Stael
Hindemith Mick Jagger Durer and Schwitters
Garcia Lorca
last of all


Adrian Henri   1932-2000