Sir Paul McCartney painter, composer and songwriter (even the Queen taps her feet to "Penny Lane") has been steadily writing poetry along with the lyrics memorized by much of the world. British political poet and satirist Adrian Mitchell (who is well-known over there, and best represented by Heart on the Left: Selected Poems 1953-1984 over here) worked as a Daily Mail pop critic in 1963 and published the first national interview with the Beatles, remaining friends with McCartney since. In consultation with Sir Paul, he has selected from among McCartney's works. There are the grand and expected songs, such as "Hey Jude," "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby"; ditties like "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" and surreal oddities like "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window"; elegies for McCartney's wife, Linda Eastman McCartney, and for friend Ivan Vaughan; and a variety of verse, such as "To Find the Joy": "Seagulls spiral whirl/ Against the sullen oak/ No scientific thought informs/ Their madcap tribal swirl." As Mitchell writes: "Clean out your head. Wash out the name and the fame. Read these clear words and listen to them decide for yourself." (Apr. 23) Forecast: While McCartney is of a completely different cast than Bob Dylan, his appeal may be even greater than that of the latter great poet/songwriter. Expect strong and steady sales after a solid showing on bestseller lists. Mitchell's latest collection, All Shook Up: Poems 1997-2000, is due this month and includes "Gourmet Architecture, Troy, New York": "It might take a year or two/ But, with its cherry-red perfect bricks/ United by vanilla ice cement/ I could eat the Marine Midland Bank." (Bloodaxe [Dufour, dist.], $19.95 paper 128p ISBN 1-85224-513-1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Mitchell, now in his late 60s, is something of a father figure and cult idol among the poetic Left in England. As he notes in his acknowledgments, his recent work has centered on theater writing for children, and that pastime has left its mark on his writingif this collection is any evidence. There has always been a tendency in Mitchell's verse towards the simplistic, the propagandistic, and the disposable, but those vices have usually been leavened by a genuine wit and warmth. Here, the personal warmth is undiminished, but most of the poems are not much better than greeting-card rhymes. Indeed, some of the occasional poetry here, marking such events as friends' birthdays and the arrival of new babies, might well have come straight off the Hallmark shelf. Three notable exceptions serve as a reminder of what Mitchell is capable of. "I'm on the Train" is a snatch of overheard cell-phone blather, acutely observed and devastatingly funny. Mitchell's parody of Larkin's "This Be the Verse" (inspired by some poor soul who thought that the original said that Mum and Dad "tuck you up") is a witty rejoinder to Larkin's brutal misanthropy. And "Memo to an Architect," the longest poem in the collection, is an expansive vision of the idyllic home, nestled in a continuum of several decades of the poet's life. As for the rest, the subtitle accompanying the title poem says it all: "Adrian Mitchell has left the building." A pity.