It was a great thing that New York’s Kicks Books decided to re-release the poetry of Royston Ellis for today’s generation. Ellis is not that well known a poet in the United States. He is best known as being a “footnote” in the story of The Beatles, which is unfortunate. Back in the early days of the band, long before their meteoric rise towards world domination, a young, bearded, “beatnik” (although he never really considered himself one) poet befriended the band and legend has it that it was he who suggested The Beetles become The Beatles “with an A”. Ellis had been around a while before meeting the Beatles. Originally from London (born in Pinner, Middlesex - a suburb of London) his first works were published via Scorpion Press as early as 1959 (although some poems were published in various periodicals before then). But it was his Jiving To Gyp that put him on the map of England’s version of the “Beat Poet” scene. England’s scene was completely and totally unrelated to its American counterpart, although they were aware of it. The English scene was something else entirely, although with a similar sensibility. While Allen Ginsberg was causing trouble with his now famous “Howl”, Ellis was already making waves among the young, hip set around London and soon beyond. As early as 1960, he was performing his poetry with a then teenage Jimmy Page (who wrote a very brief introduction to this volume) and Ellis referred to what he was doing, mixing “beat music and poetry” as “Rocketry.”
Gone Man Squared collects Ellis’s various chapbooks in their entirety as well as some originally unpublished works from the same time period. These chapbooks include Jiving To Gyp (1959), Rave (1960), The Rainbow Walking Stick (1961), Burn Up (1962), Berlin (1962), The Rugged Angel (1962), The Seaman’s Suitcase (1963) and The Cherry Boy (1967). Many of the poems in this collection reflect the scene at the time: the bars, the music, the sex, and the cast of colorful characters that Ellis had met along his poetic journey. They are written in a “Beat” style but they are far different in tone and in approach than his American counterparts. One could see the influence these poems may have had on what was to become a flourishing Liverpool poetry scene in the mid-1960s with poets such as Adrian Henri and Roger McGough. While Ellis’s poems may not be as “whimsical” and “playful” as the later Liverpool bards, they are nevertheless injected with a dose of wit and humor and a touch of bemusement as he chronicles some of the more bohemian characters that surrounded him at the time. Some of the poems are deadly serious, as with Berlin Bar - one of my favorites - which reflects the period just after the Berlin Wall was erected. It reads, in part:
We left the grim silence of the east / His memories of childhood; / His fleeing from home and hard work / Disturbed him; / the torn roots / Of life were tingling too much. / But that night, back in Eve’s bar, / watching behind the machine / the glitter, the gloom, his own Berlin / He felt secure again.
Other poems such as Rave, another favorite, captures the wildness of a dingy rock club, the bodies pressed together, the band at full volume, the writhing bodies on the dance floor:
Rave / and swirl / on a moody pattern / that beats out a drum / that must have soul / jabbed with relish / and laughter / streaming down a cheek / and swirling hair.
And the dark As The Angel Flies which reads:
Chatter, each finger wagging / brown sweat and sniff, and chant / your triumphs, eager being; / body built to plunge and snarl / tight face, hard eyes, and viciousness / grinding to exhaustion. / Blood spurts upon your satisfaction / and phlegm flows round the blanket lair / The lover blinks as the angel flees / like a whore from a hermit’s nest.
There are some highly original works here and for me they rank right up there with the other mid-sixties British poets at the time - with their fascination with the contemporary: music, art, poetry, literature. Ellis’s poems were just the beginning salvo for what would become “Swinging London” and “The Liverpool Scene” - Beat but not Beatnik - more Pop Art in a way. Nevertheless any admirer of Beat poetry should have no problem enjoying this book. Definitely recommended, especially for those who love this period in poetry.