'…small town demotic Mantovanis…'
In the summer of 1967, Tony Richardson of Penguin Books took a chance. Then Penguin's poetry editor, he devoted number ten of the highly prestigious Penguin Modern Poets series to three unknown and relatively unpublished young writers from Liverpool. The book, featuring Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten, would have its own generic title, The Mersey Sound, and be something of a leap in the dark. It would also be a big break for the three writers. The print run, as large as 20,000, would guarantee status, and steady sales were expected over the next ten years. Within three months it had sold out. The rest, as they say …
Chronologically, the Mersey Poets' niche among the various cabals that make up twentieth-century British poetry slots between the Londonbased poets known as the Group and the post-Movement poets from Belfast (including the emerging Seamus Heaney). More than any others perhaps they symbolize the 'pop poetry movement of the sixties', to some the leading poets of that fizzy, electrical decade. They were 'irreverent' and 'sardonic', perfectly in touch with the times they echoed. Innovative in both style and form (said Penguin), The Mersey Sound — whose sales now head towards the million mark — became a watershed, widening both the readership and the boundaries of the genre. It brought 'poetry down from the dusty shelf and onto the street'.
Needless to say, the dusty shelf hit back. Writing in Author 1970 about the growing reading circuit, Roy Fuller compared 'mountebank poets to ham tragedians looking for an easy laugh or tear', a view endorsed by John Wain who saw the 'instant' poetry readings as 'genial incontinence' at the expense of concentration and intensity. 'The troubadours of courtly love from Merseyside' were described by David Harsent in The Guardian as a 'fetchingly bittersweet cabaret turn', and were taken apart further by Douglas