The poet, publisher, impresario and visual artist Michael Horovitz, who has died aged 86, made an immense impact on the cultural scene in Britain from the late 1950s onwards.
In 1965, Horovitz was one of the organisers of the International Poetry Incarnation, a manifestation that brought together poets from the UK, US and Europe. Some 7,000 people arrived at the Albert Hall on a hot day in June for readings, and revelled in the spontaneous party that followed. With performances by Beat Generation poets, including Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso, the event is credited with heralding the arrival of hippy culture in Britain. Horovitz’s own reading was captured on celluloid by Peter Whitehead as part of his film Wholly Communion.
Michael Horovitz was born in Frankfurt in 1935, the youngest of the ten children of Rosi and Dr Avraham Horovitz, a lawyer. He was the grandson of the Hungarian rabbi and historian Markus Horovitz, who was descended from a family of scholars. Escaping the rise of National Socialism, his family emigrated to London in 1937. Educated at William Ellis School in North London, he won a place at Brasenose College Oxford, where he read English.
In an interview, Horovitz recalled making his way from Oxford to London for jazz concerts, where on one occasion he met Dizzy Gillespie: “I was then bearded and bedraggled and full of dope smoke and he came up to me and said: ‘Man, you look like early pictures of Christ’, which of course amused me, partly because I’d grown up in Orthodox Judaism where Christ was just a kind of heretical Rabbi, not to be emulated...”
Venturing into publishing during his time at Oxford, he founded the periodical New Departures. An irregular magazine first published in 1959, it featured a heady combination of poetry, prose, images and even musical scores, curated by Horovitz and his editorial team. The first edition included writers as diverse as Bernard Kops, William Burroughs and Stevie Smith, with illustrations by Victor Pasmore and Kurt Schwitters. The magazine in turn spawned a series of Live New Departures Roadshows, organised by Horovitz, which combined jazz and poetry, read by the magazine’s writers.
Following the success of the International Poetry Incarnation, Penguin books commissioned Horovitz to edit Children of Albion: Poetry of the ‘Underground’ in Britain (1969), his selection of 63 experimental and alternative poets of the late Sixties. The anthology, featuring a cover illustration by William Blake, has become a valuable record of the period.
A sequel, Grandchildren of Albion: An Illustrated Anthology of Voices and Visions of Younger Poets in Britain, published in 1991, introduced the voices of a new generation of poets, including figures such as Jean “Binta” Breeze, Grace Nichols and Sujata Bhatt. A reviewer for the Evening Standard described the book as “crackling with more energy than the National Grid”.
I first met Michael at London’s Albert Hall, during the Superjam event of 1996, where we discussed our shared passion for the poetry of Kenneth Patchen. Just as in 1965, that manifestation brought together an array of poets, this time including Roger McGough and John Hegley. But he also welcomed to the stage pop stars such as Patti Smith, Damon Albarn and Kylie Minogue, who read the lyrics of her hit I Should be So Lucky, as a conventional poem, much to the amusement and delight of the assembled audience.
At that time, still using long-hand letters, phone and faxes, I went on to help Michael take gentle steps towards the use of computers, email and establishing a website for his Poetry Olympics events.
In music, Horovitz had been a major force in the world of poetry and jazz since his time at Oxford. He led The William Blake Klezmatrix Band, with Annie Whitehead on trombone and Peter Lerner on piano. A particularly memorable performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall saw the group perform a spectacular rendition of Shalom Aleichem, with Horovitz on vocals and his Anglo-Saxophone, a kazoo-like instrument.
Through his long and productive career, Horovitz published more than a dozen books of his own poetry and edited eight anthologies of works by others. Most ambitious of all was A New Waste Land: Timeship Earth at Nillennium (2007), a multimedia condemnation of mankind’s impact on the world.
In addition to his writing and publishing activities Horovitz was a skilled visual artist, often combining both words and images in his works. The artist and poet Jeff Nuttall once wrote: “He paints as he writes and performs, in dancing gestures, with sufficient acumen to recognise a possible total intensity of pigment, colour and recorded motion in time to pin it down and emphasise it, so that the work crackles with energy instead of merely using it up.” A new exhibition of his paintings opened at Chelsea Arts Club shortly before his death.
Interviewed in 2012, Horovitz commented on his lifetime of creative activities and collaborations across so many types of media: “My hope with all the arts and my work with the arts since childhood has been to achieve engagement of consciousness at all levels.” Elsewhere, he would say:“I would hope to shake things up — not in a negative, destructive way but in a truly Shakespearean way, restoring the authority of poetry in one of the great centres of culture – my hope with everything I do is to try and bring audiences and poetry together.”
He frequently wrote for this newspaper, providing his perspectives on new publications by Jewish authors and poets. Horovitz married the poet and presenter Frances Hooker in 1964. They were divorced in 1980 but had remained friends until her death in 1983. He died at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington following a fall, and is survived by their son Adam, a poet.
Michael Yechiel Ha-Levi Horovitz: born 4 April, 1935. Died 7 July, 2021