Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Trocchi and the Vietnamese Pig Incident

In 1965 a bunch of weird beards gathered at the Park Hotel, Cardiff. Most of them weren't even wearing ties. A poetry conference was taking place in the city as part of the Commonwealth Arts Festival. Amongst the stellar line-up of bards were cult writer Alexander Trocchi (see pic), Michael X, George Macbeth, Adrian Henri, Mike Horovitz, Dan Richter (Kubrick/Lennon collaborator), Brian Patten and future Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka.

The poetry conference turned out to be a turbulent affair. There were bust-ups, walk-outs, accusations of hooliganism, and an incident involving a Vietnamese pig.

It was decided early on at the conference (by Michael X) that a cable in the form of a poem should be sent to "fellow poet" Mao Zedong urging him to use poems not guns in China's border dispute with India. Even this act of benevolence caused a ruckus. A breakaway group of poets decided to draft a petition to the queen instead, which they believed would be more effective.

Over the following days poetry readings and discussions were held at the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre, curated by Trocchi. He was also behind the "happenings". When it was announced that happenings would definitely be taking place two Cardiff girls volunteered to dance naked at the events. Trocchi turned them down saying: "We're not out to shock for shock's sake." He went on: "It's impossible to say what will happen in advance. A happening after all, isn't meant to be a solidified hunk of reality. This thing has been building up even before last weekend - we must do something."

On the last night of the conference a black Vietnamese pig was prevented from entering the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre where a poetry reading was already underway. Poets struggled with theatre officials as the black 200lb pig, hired from a zoo, squealed noisily. The officials were already fed up with the poets who, they claimed, had turned the place into a pigsty by grinding cigarettes into the carpet and putting their feet on chairs! According to Trocchi the appearance of the pig was intended as a lament for the Vietnam war.

Later that night the poets decamped to the Jackson Hall for the happening. There was discordant music; poets screamed and bellowed on stage; a New York composer scraped domestic utensils across a microphone; a girl in a transparent gown did something involving paint and feathers; someone scrawled "God, Gin and Gasworks" across the walls; there was performance art and audience participation. In short, everyone was having a great time. When the happening ended, legend has it that the audience, poets and artists made their way in a Bacchanalian procession down to a nightclub in Butetown (Tiger Bay) to continue the fun.

But that wasn't the end of it. A Sunday newspaper claimed that riotous behaviour instigated by poets took place at the Park Hotel. It was alleged that certain poets annoyed other guests with their late night revelry and pranks. Shoes left outside rooms for cleaning were stolen, leaving irate guests with no option but to appear at breakfast in their socks. New footwear had to be purchased by the Park Hotel. It was also claimed that sheets were dumped into a bath; and a "disgusting suggestion" made to a hotel telephone operator. Obscenities were also scrawled across a notice board. Apparently the high jinks got so bad that hotel staff threatened to go on strike. All of which was later denied by the poetry conference organisers.

Sounds incredible. The Park Hotel (now the Thistle Hotel) ought to put up a plaque.