Phil Baker on a recent review of it published by "Times Literary Suppliment", the most prestigious literary newspaper in England: "One of the best minds of a generation destroyed by madness, Harry Fainlight was also the finest poet to emerge from the 1960s underground scene in Britain, transcending it and being much admired by Ted Hughes as well as Allen Ginsberg. For the present, however, he seems doomed to be remembered largely for his performance at the International Poetry Incarnation, a poetry happening with Ginsberg that packed the Albert Hall in 1965. It was filmed as Wholly Communion, in which Fainlight can be seen reading poetry that is too serious for his audience and becoming distressed when they begin to heckle. It was a characteristically troubled moment in a life spent in and out of psychiatric hospitals; at one point Faber and Faber offered to publish him, at Ted Hughes’s suggestion, and he responded by putting a petrol-soaked rag through the firm’s letterbox".
"In 2008, twenty-years after Fainlight's dead in a field from hypothermia, a suitcase was found in a Welsh barn that contained writings in his hand, notably the unfinished drafts of two poems, "City I" and "City II". Difficult to decipher, they are preserved in Fragments of a Lost Voice, in which twenty-two poets attempt to offer transcriptions and write short pieces of their own in response. The writers, all of whom have some personal link with Fainlight, are mostly unknown...
The poems are concerned with air and earth: a warm evening (planes descending like "brinking brain seeds") and the underground ("thro' the transparent mirror/prehistoric strata flicker"). Fainlight is one of the few poet who could make "ripe overcooked radios" something more than word salad, and amid the unresolved ambiguities the peculiar finesse of his work shines through, with its distinctive spatial qualities and co-extention of mind and environment.
The transcriptions, with their many variants, have the fascination of Chinese whispers ("the first delicate weight" or "the first deluxe night"?) and the form of this little book is probably unique. It has been admirably put together by Dave Tomlin, who describes himself not as "editor" but "curator", reflecting the "archaelogical" nature of the project".
Between the 26 poets, apart the same Tomlin, give their contribution also Steve Pank, Ursula Smith and Allen Samuel, as we know very involved into TEB's story.
A great underrated visionary poet, Harry Fainlight, I have to admit it. Enough to read this fragment, taken from "From the notebooks", a transcription of a 1979 reading edited in 2006 by Tomlin:
This is about cemeteries and death... about the philosophy of death as it presents itself today:
The miniature housing estates of nothing but tiny stone doors; as if everyone’s relatives had done some kind of Alice on them that nobody had ever really written up, and there was nothing else to show for it but these funny little stone doors indicating somewhere they had gone. For certainly the vast majority of the population had now gone over to the ‘little stone door theory’, and the cross idea had become some kind of minority cult. To adopt the cockney saying: ‘Put your religion where your monument is’, something with which any respectable archaeologist would concur; or were we only entitled to adopt the viewpoint of archaeology having reached the final means of these nowhere doors."
London, early June, 1965. In town for International Poetry Congress at Royal Albert Hall. Poets sit on steps of Albert Memorial. Top Left: Barbara Rubiin. Back row L-R: Adrian Mitchell, Anselm Hollo, Marcus Field, Michael Horovitz, Ernst Jandl. Front row: Harry Fainlight, Alex Troicchi, Allen Ginsberg, John Esam, Dan Richter (photo: John 'Hoppy' Hopkins).