The Liverpool Poets – Roger McGough – Comeclose and Sleepnow

At a recent U3A meeting we looked at ‘The Liverpool Poets’ who were were/are a number of influential 1960s poets from Liverpool, England, influenced by 1950s Beat poetry. They were involved in the 1960s Liverpool scene that gave rise to The Beatles.

Their work is characterised by its directness of expression, simplicity of language, suitability for live performance and concern for contemporary subjects and references. There is often humour, but the full range of human experience and emotion is addressed.

The poets that are most associated with this label are Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. They were featured in a 1967 book The Liverpool Scene edited by Edward Lucie-Smith, with a blurb by Ginsberg and published by Donald Carroll.

The anthology The Mersey Sound was published by Penguin in 1967, containing the poems of Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten, and has remained in print ever since, selling in excess of 500,000 copies. It brought the three poets to “considerable acclaim and critical fame”, and has been widely influential. In 2002 they were given the Freedom of the City of Liverpool.

Consider the following period student piece poem by Roger McGough …

Comeclose and Sleepnow 

it is afterwards 
and you walk on tiptoe 
happy to be part 
of the darkness 
lips becoming limp 
a prelude to tiredness. 
Comeclose and Sleepnow 
for in the morning 
when a policeman 
disguised as the sun 
creeps into the room 
and your mother 
disguised as birds 
calls from the trees 
you will put on a dress of guilt
and shoes with broken high ideals 
and refusing coffee 

Roger McGough (1937 …)

You have to look back to the sixties when the pill was in its infancy – perhaps an unfortunate choice of words and when sex before marriage was frowned on by families for many reasons. And this is a poem about loss of virginity perhaps. And it is about a female partner participating in sex written from a male perspective.

The first six lines set the scene describing the aftermath after being thrown in at the first line. And the ‘happy to be part of the darkness’ sets the mood of female guilt at what has happened.

And then the repeat of the title ‘Comeclose and Sleepnow’. This gives emphasis to the male plea to focus away from the guilt to be together and sleep. And what RM has cleverly done is to create two new joined words that emphasise the demand for being together and sleeping.

But the morning will bring the coverup. Dressed in guilt with broken high ideals.  The sun will show light on what has happened and the birds will be unheard as mother’s voice is all the focus. And refusing coffee is a such a heavy sentence and worse than roast beef in that rush home.

Consider that well known nursery rhyme.

This little piggy went to market, 
This little piggy stayed home, 
This little piggy had roast beef, 
This little piggy had none.

This little piggy went ... 
Wee, wee, wee, 
all the way home!

The modern construction of this poem would imply that it was written as a reflective piece later in life. And on a personal note, I can easily identify with the period relevant to this poem. I spent three years in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the nineteen sixties where I studied for a mathematics and statistics degree at Bradford University.

Roger McGough is a performance poet, broadcaster, children’s author and playwright. He presents the BBC Radio 4 programme Poetry Please, as well as performing his own poetry. McGough was one of the leading members of the Liverpool poets, a group of young poets influenced by Beat poetry and the popular music and culture of 1960s Liverpool. He is an honorary fellow of Liverpool John Moores University, fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and President of the Poetry Society.

Roger McGough on Wikipedia

A link to Poetry Please