14th April 2011, 7:30 Arnolfini Reading Room.
James Bainbridge and Phil Owen.
A.S.J. Tessimond: The Unnoticeable Man
We speak to a few of you now, but to many later,
And more still after both you and we have gone,
And we, through you have left our devious traces:
Ciphers in caves or under a marked stone waiting
For a finder one day to decode, and show to his friends.We have dealt too much in ciphers; sat in corners,
Out of the wind, talking in undertones
With private signs, drawing too close together,
Drawing the blind.
In May 1962, the caretaker of a house in Chelsea forced open the door to the basement flat. There on the floor, stretched between the bed and the telephone, lay the body of the poet A.S.J. Tessimond. He had been dead for three days.
Apart from the body and a few pieces of basic furniture, the flat was empty. The walls, which a year previously had all been painted white, were dotted with nails – but there were no pictures in the flat. There were no personal belongings at all, save for a large African mask propped up against the fireplace. It seemed as if the room had been stripped of the man’s identity.
Tessimond had been a highly regarded English poet. In 1932 his work had appeared in the anthology New Signatures, alongside W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and C. Day Lewis. He was part of the new wave of writers in the 1930s, considered by Ronald Fuller as ‘among the more sane and promising’ of the modernists.
Yet by 1962, it seemed as if all trace of the man had disappeared. Two large inheritances were spent – half on nightclub hostesses, half on psychotherapists; his memory of his own life was lost through successive treatments of electro convulsive therapy. He had taken the form of a figure from his poetry: ‘the unnoticed, the unnoticeable man.’
Since 2007, Dr James Bainbridge has been working to uncover the details of this disappearing life story. Through the poetry, lost documents, the poet’s journals and letters, he will describe the processes involved in writing about the life of a largely unknown poet.
‘Where is this voice coming from, and who am I when I can hear it?’
Exploring the idea of the appropriated voice, via the revival of archaic song traditions in eastern Europe.
Phil received an MA in Advanced Musical Studies from the University of Bristol in 2005 and is currently employed as Research Assistant at Arnolfini. Together with Megan Wakefield, he founded Tertulia in April 2010.