Felix Dennis, Eccentric Millionaire Poet – a Man with a Vision for the Future, and Founder of a Great Forest in the Heart of England

In an age of information where we are bombarded with news and facts and false facts and opinions, both genuine and prejudiced,  I find we tend to select our own blind spots, to filter out the onslaught. Felix DennisWhich is why, sometimes, although something and somebody can be publicised hugely in innumerable ways, it’s still possible for some of us to say, “I didn’t know that,” or “Never heard of him.”

It was like that for me with Felix Dennis, whose Garden of Heroes and Villains and Poetry Shard Garden I recently visited in Dorsington, near Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Bronze sculpture in the Garden of Heroes and Villains: Ulysses (also known as Odysseus) tied himself to the mast so he would not be lured by the calls of the sirens

Perhaps it’s unsurprising my subsconscious had blocked Dennis out previously; I would not have been at all interested in his underground publishing activities or magazines called OZ in the late sixties and early seventies, or in the obscenity trial that he was involved in with two colleagues in 1971.

Over the years I’ve been aware of other big creative personalities who have indeed made an impact on me – author Adrian Plass, poet Adrian Henri, artist Graham Clarke and actor Brian Blessed among them – and now, rather late (four years after his death) I’ve discovered Felix Dennis. I bought a book about his 2010 nationwide poetry tour, Did I Mention the Free Wine? by Jason Kersten; and looking at pictures of him, I can see his physical appearance in later years reminds me of all of those four. And not least he reminds me of Sir John Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 & 2. A man with a gift and an instinct and an appetite for making money, he amassed millions and when he died in 2014 he ultimately bequeathed them to the creation of a forest.

What an amazing and wonderful legacy, a legacy for the future of humankind. And I also discovered his poetry, beginning with those poems that were engraved on shards of glass in his poetry garden.

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Bronze sculpture of Bruce Lee in the Garden of Heroes and Villains

One of them,written not long before his death, particularly struck me:

I’ve plucked all the cherries Chance would allow, Take them, and welcome – I’m done with them now.

His bluntness and honesty, expressed in poetry, immediately appealed to me, as it has to so many who enjoy the gallows humour in his rhyming couplets. But the poems contain much more than gallows humour: sharp observations on life expressed in unpretentious, witty poetry that lends itself beautifully to live performance. Being a fan of live performance poetry, I can only wish that I’d found out about Felix years ago, and actually attended his poetry performance in the Bridgehouse Theatre, Warwick in 2010.

Tribute to Felix Dennis on the Founder's Rock, Arboretum, Dorsington
Founder’s Rock in new woodland, Heart of England Forest

I am enjoying the book Did I Mention the Free Wine? – it is the most fascinating account of how to organise a book promotion tour on a grand scale, among many other things – and watch out for my review of it on Amazon and Goodreads! Meanwhile I shall be deepening my new-found interest in his forest, his garden and his poetry. Somehow, discovering him after his death has a poetic irony which he himself would probably have enjoyed greatly…

 

 

 

 

My Reflections on ‘In Love With Greece’

The Temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece
The Temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece

On BBC Radio 4 on 26 July I heard Peter Aspden give his Point of View on Greece, especially in relation to the current financial crisis and the question that has been hanging over Greece’s continued EU membership.

As I listened I found myself tuning in to the heart of what he was saying. I realised he was articulating what I feel about Greece, which has been running along in the background of my thoughts as I’ve listened to the agonising saga of the recent months’ negotiations between Greece and Germany.

Peter Aspden spoke about “the fun-loving spirited” character of Greece, “contemptuous of material things”. He referred to the Greek people’s most prized quality of hospitality, and their most self-defeating weakness of tax evasion. And by contrast, he characterised the Nordic mind-set as “the way of rigour, high discipline and control.” These two world-views must necessarily conflict, and I can vouch for this from my own life, in many different areas.

I listened carefully as I realised that in describing the symbolic power of Greece in our hearts and minds, he was expressing something that I find profoundly relevant to my own sense of identity, my own personal story. And why despite all the words that have been expended over this terrible financial dilemma, I have in my heart of hearts remained mystified that such a situation could have arisen for a country which has given such riches to the world in terms of wisdom, romance, poetry, history and many, many other joyous, life-affirming things. I speak as one who has visited Greece and some of its islands and for whom Greek music, dancing, food, ambience, culture, philosophy, mythology and literature all hold an enormous romantic and idealistic power.

My first (unpublished) novel (the manuscript of which currently lies in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet) centres around a Classics Professor who really believed in the ancient Greek gods, and I had great fun – and considerable empathy for him – as I worked this belief of his into the way he handled conflicts in his personal life.

I studied Ancient Greek tragedies and comedies at university, and once attended a performance of ‘Agamemnon’ at the outdoor theatre below the Acropolis Mount in Athens. Peter Aspden speaks about a performance of an ancient Greek comedy which he attended at the theatre in Epidauros. He notes the contempt of politicians and those in authority which is evident in the humour of Aristophanes, and is part of the Greek national consciousness. All this I could affirm from my personal experience of Greek people, of Greece itself, and from my studies of ancient Greek history and philosophy.

I could say much more of my feelings for Greece and all it represents in my own heart, but suffice it to say here that I believe Greece’s unpayable debts should be cancelled. This country has given far more to the world than any monetary value can match.