Adrian Mitchell  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Adrian Mitchell (24 October 193220 December 2008) was an English poet, novelist and playwright, best-known for his poem To Whom It May Concern.

Career

Mitchell gave frequent public readings, particularly for left-wing causes. Satire was his speciality. Commissioned to write a poem about Prince Charles and his special relationship as Prince of Wales with the people of Wales, his measured response was short and to the point: "Royalty is a neurosis. Get well soon."

Mitchell was in the habit of stipulating in his collections: "None of the work in this book is to be used in connection with any examination whatsoever". On one occasion, nonetheless, one of his poems somehow came to be used in a GCSE examination. Mitchell agreed, on reflection, to let it go—provided he himself was allowed to sit the exam in question anonymously. He failed.

His best-known poem was To Whom It May Concern, a bitterly sarcastic response to the horrors of the Vietnam War, first read in Trafalgar Square in 1964. He performed a revised version to include the Iraq War at The Royal Albert Hall in September 2005.

Fellow writers were on occasion effusive in their tributes. Angela Carter said he was a "joyous, acrid and demotic tumbling lyricist Pied Piper, determinedly singing us away from catastrophe." John Berger wrote that, "Against the present British state he opposes a kind of revolutionary populism, bawdiness, wit and the tenderness sometimes to be found between animals." "In the world of verse for children," said Ted Hughes, "nobody has produced more surprising verse or more genuinely inspired fun than Adrian Mitchell."

Mitchell died at the age of 76 in a North London hospital from a suspected heart attack. For two months he had been suffering from pneumonia. Two days earlier he had completed what turned out to be his last poem, My Literary Career So Far. He intended it as a Christmas gift to “all the friends, family and animals he loved."

"Adrian," said fellow-poet Michael Rosen, "was a socialist and a pacifist who believed, like William Blake, that everything human was holy. That's to say he celebrated a love of life with the same fervour that he attacked those who crushed life. He did this through his poetry, his plays, his song lyrics and his own performances. Through this huge body of work, he was able to raise the spirits of his audiences, in turn exciting, inspiring, saddening and enthusing them . . . He has sung, chanted, whispered and shouted his poems in every kind of place imaginable, urging us to love our lives, love our minds and bodies and to fight against tyranny, oppression and exploitation." --socialistworker.co.uk





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