Poetry on the Beach

The article I linked to yesterday, about Brighton's Unicorn Bookshop, included some interesting comments, one of which quoted from a September 2nd 1968 Guardian article:

"David Field, another helper in the shop, was arrested while giving his weekly officially-permitted poetry reading on the beach. About 200 people heard him read a Ginsberg poem, and the policeman said some people in the crowd looked upset. The chairman of the magistrates on that occasion was … Mr John Cuttress. Mr Cuttress said there was no evidence of annoyance to the public by the use of a word which was part of a published work by a recognised poet. He dismissed the case."

The poem in question was apparently Allen Ginsberg's America (available online here). For me, the most amazing thing about this article is that 200 people used to attend weekly poetry readings on Brighton beach. The current poetry scene is thriving, but a regular poetry event of that scale sounds incredible.

I'm also surprised that I've not read about these poetry readings, or the Unicorn bookshop, in any of the reading I've done about Brighton. Someone should write a counter-cultural history of the town. There's so much material: beatniks sleeping under the piers, SchNEWS, Mods and Rockers, bands, The Squatters Estate Agency, fortune tellers and black magic. Or maybe the book already exists and I've just not seen it?

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4 thoughts on “Poetry on the Beach”

  1. James,
    I’m pretty sure that the Unicorn bookshop used to be on Duke Street, on the North side just west of where Middle Street joins on the south side of the street.
    It was full of tapes of whalesong and books on the paranormal and all that gubbins. A bit like Glastonbury High Street, but in a single shop.
    To my naive eyes, it was all stuff and nonsense, but it many ways it was the Yin to the the Hungry Years’ Yang.
    I know/knew someone who used to work there, assuming it’s the same place you talk about.
    This suggests it isn’t, and my memory is toast: http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/page_id__5395.aspx

    1. You’re thinking of Gamut. which was open between early 1967 and at least 1969.
      That and the earlier Millie’s Smile Bazaar on the row between the Art College building (Brighton University now) and the bottom of Edward Street were similar multi-stallholder shops.

  2. Quote: “Someone should write a counter-cultural history of the town”
    You’re in luck … my book ‘Poetry, Publications and Prosecutions: Bill Butler and Unicorn Bookshop’ will be published in 2018, and work is well advanced on ‘Alternative Brighton v2’, a follow-up to the Unicorn Bookshop published ‘Alternative Brighton’ (1973) by John Noyce and Francis Jarman. That will cover what happened to all the entries there and much, much more about ‘alternative’ Brighton between the early 1960s and the mid-1970.
    Anyone interested in contacting me about either project is welcome on unicornbookshopproject on gmail.com (just remove the gaps and replace the ‘on’ with ‘@’. Memories and thoughts very welcome.

  3. Wow! Who would have thought it? An “Alternative Brighton” volume two 44 years on! Please keep me briefed on its progress.
    John Noyce and I are both expats. He’s in Australia, writing about mysticism; I’m in Berlin, writing novels and other stuff. You can find our books on Amazon (and elsewhere) if you’re curious.

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