Nationality: British. Born: London, 24 October 1932. Education: Greenways School, Wiltshire; Dauntsey's School, West Lavington, Wiltshire; Christ Church, Oxford (editor, Isis magazine, 1954–55), 1952–55. Military Service: Royal Air Force, 1951–52. Family: Married Celia Hewitt. Career: Reporter, Oxford Mail, 1955–57, and Evening Standard, London, 1957–59; columnist and reviewer, Daily Mail, Woman's Mirror, the Sun, the Sunday Times, Peace News,Black Dwarf, New Statesman, and the Guardian, all London. Instructor, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1963–64; Granada Fellow in the Arts, University of Lancaster, 1967–69; fellow, Wesleyan University Center for the Humanities, Middletown, Connecticut, 1971–72; resident writer, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, 1974–75; visiting writer, Billericay Comprehensive School, Essex, 1978–80; Judith E. Wilson Fellow, Cambridge University, 1980–81; resident writer, Unicorn Theatre for Young People, London, 1982–83. Awards: Eric Gregory award, 1961; P.E.N. prize for translation, 1966; Tokyo Festival award, for television, 1971; Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1988. Agent: Peters Fraser and Dunlop, Fifth Floor, The Chambers, Chelsea Harbour, Lots Road, London SW10 OXF, England.
(Poems). Oxford, Fantasy Press, 1955.
Poems. London, Cape, 1964.
Peace Is Milk. London, Peace News, 1966.
Out Loud. London, Cape Goliard Press, and New York, Grossman, 1968; revised edition, as The Annotated Out Loud, London, Writers and Readers, 1976.
Ride the Nightmare: Verse and Prose. London, Cape, 1971.
Cease-Fire. London, Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam, 1973.
Penguin Modern Poets 22, with John Fuller and Peter Levi. London, Penguin, 1973.
The Apeman Cometh. London, Cape, 1975.
For Beauty Douglas: Collected Poems 1953–1979. London, Allison and Busby, 1982.
Nothingmas Day (for children). London, Allison and Busby, 1984.
On the Beach at Cambridge: New Poems. London, Allison and Busby, 1984.
Love Songs of World War Three (collected song lyrics). London, Allison and Busby, 1989.
Celia, Celia; Goodbye. London, Poems on the Underground, 1989.
Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1991.
All My Own Stuff. London, Simon and Schuster, 1991.
Blue Coffee: Poems, 1985–1996. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour, 1996.
Balloon Lagoon and the Magic Islands of Poetry (for children).London, Orchard, 1997.
Heart on the Left: Poems, 1953–1984. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour, 1997.
Dancing in the Street: A Poetry Party. London, Orchard, 1999.
Recording: Poems, with Stevie Smith, Argo, 1974.
The Ledge (libretto), music by Richard Rodney Bennett (produced London, 1961).
The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade [Marat/Sade], adaptation of a play by Peter Weiss (produced London, 1964; New York, 1965). London, Calder, 1965; New York, Atheneum, 1966.
The Magic Flute, adaptation of the libretto by Schikaneder and Giesecke, music by Mozart (produced London, 1966). US, with others (produced London, 1966). Published as US: The Book of the Royal Shakespeare Production US/Vietnam/ US/Experiment/Politics…, London, Calder and Boyars, 1968; as Tell Me Lies, Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1968.
The Criminals, adaptation of a play by Jose Triana (produced London, 1967; New York, 1970).
Tyger: A Celebration of the Life and Work of William Blake, music by Mike Westbrook (produced London, 1971). London, Cape, 1971.
Tamburlane the Mad Hen (for children; produced Devon, 1971).
Man Friday, music by Mike Westbrook (televised 1972; produced London, 1973). With Mind Your Head, London, Eyre Methuen, 1974.
Mind Your Head, music by Andy Roberts (produced Liverpool, 1973;London, 1974). With Man Friday, London, Eyre Methuen, 1974.
The Government Inspector (as The Inspector General, produced Nottingham, 1974; revised version, as The Government Inspector, produced London, 1985). London, Methuen, 1985.
A Seventh Man, music by Dave Brown, adaptation of the book by John Berger and Jean Mohr (produced London, 1976).
White Suit Blues, music by Mike Westbrook, adaptation of works by Mark Twain (produced Nottingham and London, 1977).
Houdini: A Circus-Opera, music by Peter Schat (produced Amsterdam, 1977; Aspen, Colorado, 1980). Amsterdam, Clowns, 1977(?).
Uppendown Mooney (produced Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, 1978).
The White Deer (for children), adaptation of the story by James Thurber (produced London, 1978).
Hoagy, Bix, and Wolfgang Beethoven Bunkhaus (produced London, 1979; Indianapolis, 1980).
In the Unlikely Event of an Emergency, music by Stephen McNeff (produced Bath, 1979; London, 1988).
Peer Gynt, adaptation of the play by Ibsen (produced Oxford, 1980).
The Mayor of Zalamea; or, The Best Garrotting Ever Done, adaptation of a play by Calderon (produced London, 1981). Edinburgh, Salamander Press, 1981.
Mawgli's Jungle, adaptation of The Jungle Book by Kipling (pantomime; produced Manchester, 1981).
You Must Believe All This (for children), adaptation of "Holiday Romance" by Dickens, music by Nick Bicat and Andrew Dickson (televised 1981). London, Thames Television-Methuen, 1981.
The Wild Animal Song Contest (for children; produced London, 1982).
Life's a Dream, with John Barton, adaptation of a play by Calderon (produced Stratford-on-Avon, 1983; London, 1984).
A Child's Christmas in Wales, with Jeremy Brooks, adaptation of the work by Dylan Thomas (produced Cleveland, 1983).
The Great Theatre of the World, adaptation of a play by Calderon(produced Oxford, 1984).
C'mon Everybody (produced London, 1984).
Animal Farm (lyrics only), book by Peter Hall, music by Richard Peaslee, adaptation of the novel by George Orwell (for children; produced London, 1984; Baltimore, 1986). London, Methuen, 1985.
The Tragedy of King Real (screenplay), in Peace Plays 1, edited by Stephen Lowe. London, Methuen, 1985.
Satie Day/Night (produced London, 1986).
The Pied Piper (for children), music by Dominic Muldowney (produced London, 1986). Birmingham, Oberon, 1988.
Mirandolina, adaptation of a play by Goldoni (produced Bristol, 1987).
The Last Wild Wood in Sector 88 (produced Rugby, 1987).
Love Songs of World War Three (produced London, 1988).
Fuente Ovejuna, adaptation of the play by Lope de Vega (produced London, 1988).
Woman Overboard, adaptation of a play by Lope de Vega, music by Monty Norman (produced Watford, 1988).
The Patchwork Girl of Oz, adaptation of the story by L. Frank Baum (for children; produced Watford, 1988).
The Pied Piper. Birmingham, Oberon, 1988.
Anna on Anna (produced Edinburgh and London, 1988; Baltimore, 1990).
The Tragedy of King Real (produced Ongar, Essex, 1989).
The Wild Animal Song Contest and Mowgli's Jungle. Oxford, Heinemann Educational, 1993.
The Snow Queen: A Play with Songs (for children), adaptation of the story by Hans Christian Andersen. London, Oberon, 1996.
The Siege: A Play with Songs. London, Oberon, 1996.
Plays with Songs. London, Oberon, 1996.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (for children), adaptation of the novel by C.S. Lewis. London, Oberon, 1998.
Tom Kitten and His Friends: A Play with Songs (for children), adaptation of stories by Beatrix Potter. London, S. French, 1998.
The Mammoth Sails Tonight! (for children). London, Oberon, 1999.
Screenplays: Marat/Sade, 1966; Tell Me Lies (lyrics only), 1968; The Body (commentary), 1969; Man Friday, 1976; The Tragedy of King Real, 1983.
Radio Play: The Island (libretto), music by William Russo, 1963.
Television Plays: Animals Can't Laugh, 1961; Alive and Kicking, 1971; William Blake (documentary), 1971; Man Friday, 1972; Somebody Down There Is Crying, 1974; Daft As a Brush, 1975; The Fine Art of Bubble Blowing, 1975; Silver Giant, Wooden Dwarf, 1975; Glad Day, music by Mike Westbrook, 1979; You Must Believe All This, 1981; Juno and Avos, from a libretto by Andrei Voznesensky, music by Alexei Rybnikov, 1983. Initiated and helped write student shows: Bradford Walk, Bradford College of Art; The Hotpot Saga, The Neurovision Song Contest, and Lash Me to the Mast, University of Lancaster; Move Over Jehovah, National Association of Mental Health; Poetry Circus, Wesleyan University; Mass Media Mash and Mud Fair, Dartington College of the Arts, 1976 and 1977.
If You See Me Comin'. London, Cape, and New York, Macmillan, 1962.
The Bodyguard. London, Cape, 1970; New York, Doubleday, 1971.
Wartime. London, Cape, 1973.
Man Friday. London, Futura, 1975.
Other (for children)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. London, Walker, 1985.
The Baron Rides Out [on the Island of Cheese, All at Sea]. London, Walker, and New York, Philomel, 3 vols., 1985–87.
Leonardo, The Lion from Nowhere. London, Deutsch, 1986.
Our Mammoth [Goes to School, in the Snow]. London, Walker, 3 vols., 1987–88; San Diego, Harcourt Brace, first 2 vols., 1987–88.
Rhinestone Rhino. London, Methuen, 1989.
Our Mammoth Has a Baby. London, Walker, 1989.
The Ugly Duckling, adaptation of the story by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Jonathan Hale. London and New York, D. Kindersley, 1994.
Steadfast Tin Soldier, adaptation of the story by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Jonathan Hale. New York, D. Kinderseley, 1996.
Maudie and the Green Children. Vancouver, Tradewind, 1996.
Gynormous: The Ultimate Book of Giants. London, Orion Children's, 1996.
My Cat Mrs. Christmas. London, Orion Children's, 1998.
Twice My Size. London, Bloomsbury, 1998.
The Adventures of Robin Hood and Marian. London, Orchard, 1998.
Nobody Rides the Unicorn. London, Doubleday, 1999; New York, Levine, 2000.
Editor, Strawberry Drums. London, Macdonald, 1989.
Naked in Cheltenham (miscellany). Cheltenham, Gastoday, 1978.
Tourist Snapshots of Chile. London, Chile Solidarity Campaign, 1985.
Love Songs of World War Three. London, Allison and Busby, 1989.
The Thirteen Secrets of Poetry. Hemel Hempstead, Simon and Schuster, 1993.
Who Killed Dylan Thomas? Swansea, Ty Llên, 1998.
Editor, with Richard Selig, Oxford Poetry 1955. Oxford, Fantasy Press, 1955.
Editor, Jump, My Brothers, Jump: Poems from Prison, by Tim Daly. London, Freedom Press, 1970. There are many poets who because they turn their back on politics believe they are somehow not engaged. But their indifference or their silence contributes toward the status quo. And the status quo demands, at different periods, exploitation, starvation, poverty, mass murder, torture, vile prisons, the stunting of children's imaginations and—in some part of the world during every day of my lifetime—war. When the revolution comes, I expect some poetry to make some contribution toward it; every revolution so far has had its own songs and poems. That contribution toward changing the world may be very small, but the smallest contribution helps when it is a matter of changing the world. I do not think that poets should sit down and say, "I've got to write a political poem." But I think a poet, like any other human being, should recognize that the world is mostly controlled by political forces and should become politically active. And if a poet attempts to live his politics, his poems will become politically active too.* * *
A writer whose work savages most establishment conventions, Adrian Mitchell often appears to present his poems and dramas as a series of revolutionary acts. Acknowledged as a natural precursor and kindred spirit of the Liverpool poets, he emerged as a major force in the public readings of the 1960s, with their attendant cult of protest and rebellion. To those who criticize the political involvement of his writings, Mitchell replies that poets also hold opinions. Ultimately, he feels, one cannot be neutral about injustice. He is a strong socialist, but his attacks go beyond party boundaries to denounce not merely capitalism and class privilege but also civilization itself when it becomes an excuse for genocide: "The brand name for a tribe of killer apes / Is civilization."
Having formed his style from a mass of diverse influences, Mitchell seems able to produce poems for all occasions, some of his works tightly structured while others spill out in loose, free-blowing patterns akin to the playing of jazz and blues. In these latter poems, as in most of his plays, a strong non-Western element surfaces, the process of creation seeming more important than the finished artifact. On the other hand, his mastery of the rhyming form and his penchant for humorous one-liners—"I play golf so I exist"—nod in the direction of his poetic heritage. "Sorry Bout That" and "C'mon Everybody" display a telling verbal felicity: "Truth is a diamond / A diamond is hard / You don't exist without a Barclaycard."
An obvious spiritual ancestor is William Blake, whose radical antiauthoritarian vision is echoed in much of Mitchell's writing. In his drama Tyger and in the television play Glad Day he renders tribute to Blake with "celebrations" that blend propaganda and satire with slapstick comedy. Many of Mitchell's poems invoke the author of Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, while in the dramas Blake is quoted directly.
Not always a humorous poet, Mitchell expresses strong feelings in his writing, and his is the rage of a man who cares. Angered at the sight of human suffering, in "Subnormal Children" and "Old Age Report" he champions the downtrodden young and old alike: "The hell with retiring / Let them advance." His antiwar tirades have produced a number of memorable poems, varying from the caustic, balanced verses of "Chile in Chains" to the gradual, cumulative imagery of "Tell Me Lies about Vietnam." "On the Beach at Cambridge" depicts the nightmare aftermath of nuclear war, a vision surpassed by the grim, restrained narrative of one of Mitchell's finest creations, "The Dust": "When the bombs fell, she was sitting with her man / Straight and white in the family pew / While in her the bud of a child grew / The city crumbled, the deaths began."
Like his poetry readings, Mitchell's dramas are often semi-improvisatory collaborations, happenings reminiscent of the performance readings of Adrian Henri or Roger McGough. Most feature a strong element of audience participation, and through them Mitchell is able to obtain a spontaneous interaction between performers and audience. Mitchell has written, "A better thing than the human tear / is the human song," and it is his songs that bridge the gap between poems and dramas, being carried over into the latter as musical inserts that form an integral part of the plays and that lend emphasis to the characters and their actions. Mitchell has imbibed numerous musical influences—from blues singers, jazz musicians, Leiber-Stoller, music hall, and show tunes—and poems in the form of songs enliven his plays.
Greatest Hits brings together a selection of Mitchell's most requested items from live poetry readings, which he presents, not without a certain wry humor, as his "40 Golden Greats." With this collection he once more affirms his links with the world of popular entertainment (in the 1960s his performances and those of the Meryerside trio were seen as sharing affinities with the emerging stars of British pop music) and his love for some aspects of the rock scene. Greatest Hits, which spans four decades of his career and contains some of his best work, was later to form the basis of a "Greatest Hits" performance reading tour in the early 1990s.
The arrival of the new millennium finds Mitchell as active and committed as ever, producing interesting work in a number of different fields. He has brought out several anthologies of poetry for younger readers, contributing his own verses to Balloon Lagoon and The Magic Islands of Poetry, while in Dancing in the Street he provides an intriguing blend of verse, ranging from Shakespeare and Andrew Marvell to the lyrics of modern rock music. His adult poetry has been gathered into two significant collections, Heart on the Left: Poems, 1953–1984 and Blue Coffee: Poems, 1985–1996. While both books reward the interested reader, the former collection (decorated with some rather disturbing Ralph Steadman illustrations) obviously contains the more familiar material, and it is Blue Coffee that holds Mitchell's latest work. Once again he acquaints us with the array of talents at his disposal. Anger with politicians and their violent "final solutions" comes to the fore with "Blood and Oil," a passionate denunciation of the Allied invasion of Iraq, which Mitchell read live on British television at the height of the Persian Gulf conflict. The same emotions fire "The Boy Who Danced with a Tank," in which the poet applauds the courage of the doomed young protestors in Tiananmen Square and condemns the brutal force brought against them.
These poems, however, show only one of many moods. Mitchell casts a comic eye over his first sexual awakenings in "A Puppy Called Puberty," indulges a penchant for scatological humor in "A Warning to Those Who Fly," and finds a new and amusing way of looking at his own craft of words: ("Every morning down the poetry pit / Cut a few tons from the verseface.") "Night Thoughts in Treorchy" contains the ultimate put-down for those tedious "write about what you know" literary commissars: "Shakespeare should have stayed in Stratford upon Avon / and written about Warwickshire / not Italian teenagers up to no good / or alien lovers in imaginary woods / or a black soldier having a hard time in the army / or a Danish prince gradually going barmy." The core of this collection is found in Mitchell's memories of childhood and his tributes to family and friends. From hatred of playground bullying and glamorous fantasies of warfare as shown in "Spitfire Daydream" he charts his awareness of war's true horror through its effect on his beloved parents. Mitchell celebrates the lives of father, wife, and children in such poems as "Celia's Flower" and "A Late Tribute to Jock Mitchell." Most poignant of all the poems in Blue Coffee are those in memory of his adopted daughter, the gifted and tragically short-lived artist Boty Goodwin. Mitchell's verses in "For Boty" and "Every Day" bring home the feeling of loss and grief and at the same time an awareness of her continued presence for those whose lives she touched so profoundly: "Every day we're going to listen to your Voice / and you Laughter like a Trumpet Break."
In the end it is not Mitchell's righteous anger against tyranny, or even his wit or humor, that impresses us most, but the warmth and humanity that come through so constantly in his poetry. These, and his many other qualities, will continue to win him an audience in years to come.