Robert Zoschke wrote this letter to Emma Russell, Press Officer for the Arts Council, after the London International Poetry and Song Festival in early November. He has kindly agreed to share it with BEATNIK readers. I have removed all the addresses, including Rob's and Emma's, but in all other respects the letter is precisely as Rob sent it. Read the thing in full and you will get a very detailed account of the debacle LIPS became.
Emma AND Richard Deakin, of course, are welcome to send me their own accounts, in the interests of journalistic balance. Rob is my buddy, but I'll give the Other Side airtime if they think they deserve it.
It is with deep sadness that I must write to you. My name is Robert M. Zoschke and I am an American writer. With American poet Ron Whitehead—a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize nominee and winner of the Yeats Club of Oxford’s Prize for Poetry during his studies in England—I co-edited and wrote for a new anthology in honor of Jack Kerouac and his classic work of literature, On the Road. Ron and I, along with other Americans, were invited to be a part of (and perform at) what was billed as the London International Poetry and Song Festival. The festival was produced by Richard Deakin and it was held at the Marquee Club in Soho on November 10, 11, and 12. Richard made it clear that the festival was being supported by the Arts Council, and he also made it clear that the festival would be a grand celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. This London festival was supposed to have taken place last year, with the same Beat Generation/Jack Kerouac/On the Road theme, except Richard Deakin utterly failed to promote, organize, and see the festival to fruition in 2006. Richard’s failure in 2006 (which left some American invitees with plane ticket reservations that were not refundable) had caused many of us to be wary of attending in 2007. What swayed many of us to accept 2007 invitations from Richard was the 2007 support of Arts Council England, which legitimized this festival in our eyes. The fact that Ron and I would be coming to an international festival celebrating the very same work of literature that our international anthology celebrates also assuaged our concerns.
This was not the first time I traveled to England. I stepped off the plane on November 9th with the same feeling, a feeling instilled in me ever since I was a little boy, when I listened with earnestness to my World War II decorated-combat-veteran Uncles revel in their memories of fighting side by side with British soldiers. Two things that my Uncles reiterated time and again left a lifelong impression on me, and they happened to form the thesis of an award-winning school essay I wrote as a boy. Not long before my Uncle Tony died, right before he was taken from the family home to live out his life under doctor’s care in a Veteran’s hospital, he placed his Infantryman’s Silver Star in my boyhood hand and I heard those two things for the last time…there are no atheists in foxholes, and the world has never seen brothers in arms like the Americans and the British. With this in mind, I hope you can understand that I did not feel as if I were entering a foreign land at the onset of my recent stay in England. And I hope you can understand how I felt that I was standing with brothers in arms, during the afternoon when our friends the Shaddicks of Devon led a group of us through the processional of British soldiers and British flags that proudly lined the streets during a parade near the Queen’s residence on Sunday, November 11th. Unfortunately, what should have been a wonderful day—watching a glorious parade before performing at a marvelous festival—was already well on its way to unraveling. The unraveling began before our arrival in England, and the unraveling was due solely to the utter disregard, ineptitude, and xenophobic selfishness of Richard Deakin.
All Americans who came to Richard Deakin’s 2007 LIPS Festival were unable to secure the cheapest plane tickets, due to Richard failing to identify with proper notice when the festival would be taking place. Then, on extremely short notice, Richard changed the dates of the festival, moving it from the end of October to the dates in November. All Americans (traveling to the festival at their own expense) were forced to incur plane ticket change fees in excess of two hundred dollars per person. Richard never even bothered to apologize for these additional incurred expenses, nor did he offer any explanation as to why the dates were changing, nor did he offer any compensation. Certain Americans who had been originally promised that their airfare would be paid in advance by the festival were then told that their airfare would not be paid for (example—Sarah Elizabeth, Kentucky singer/songwriter, and Ron Whitehead). While all of us waited for word on nonexistent promotional activity supporting the festival, some of us (myself included) were swept up in a conundrum of Richard’s concerning lodging. For a period of weeks leading up to the festival, correspondence with Richard kept bringing a different story…we would be provided with a place to stay, somewhere…or we would have hotel rooms secured for us at no cost…until we were told, mere days before leaving for the festival, that we had to fend for ourselves and find somewhere to stay on your own…the only assistance we received from Richard was his suggestion that we look into communal hostels, despite the fact that we would obviously be traveling with musical instruments and consignments of books and CDs. The end result was many of us Americans piling into a hotel room and sleeping on the floor and sharing one bathroom, because, as I am sure you are aware, the exchange rate does not favor the American dollar when staying in proximity to Soho right now.
Finally, merely days before boarding planes to come over, we were told of a website promoting the festival. The website’s festival schedule was chock full of to-be-determined designations, which I found particularly bizarre. Richard had agreed that this festival would include the official international release party for the Kerouac tribute anthology that Ron and I put together (a book which happens to include many Americans and Europeans who were invited to the festival), yet there was no mention of the book whatsoever and plenty of calendar space on the website taken up by three nights of mainly to-be-determined activities. Ron and Sarah Elizabeth happened to be listed as headlining featured performers for significant blocks of time on each night of the festival, a Kerouac-inspired American band (Shinerunners) was listed as a featured musical performer the first night and last night, and David Amram was listed as a headlining performer (and make no mistake, the only reason David Amram agreed to attend was due to the diligence and persistence of Ron Whitehead assuring him the festival would be run properly despite none of us receiving any customary information regarding organization and promotion prior to such a festival). So, we held out hope that we would arrive and find things in place for a successful festival with our brothers in arms from England, supported by Arts Council England.
On the first night of the festival, Ron Whitehead, Sarah Elizabeth, and I arrived at the Marquee Club two and a half hours before show time. We entered the club in disbelief, as we had been told by Richard earlier in the day that Ron and Sarah’s opening night performance would either be eliminated or curtailed significantly, that the Shinerunners had been eliminated from the opening night schedule, and that there were no scheduled plans for even a mention of the Kerouac anthology book, let alone any plans for anything resembling an international book release party. Furthermore, Richard made it clear that he did not want any performers on stage to even mention the Kerouac book, or talk about it in the lower level of the club where the performance stage was, because that would be “pandering” according to him. I must admit that I do not know anything about the ideology, respectful international inclusiveness, and standards of professionalism regarding accommodations and published schedules of events that Arts Council England expects promoters like Richard Deakin to adhere to—when Arts Council England provides support to a festival—but I cannot comprehend that what I have told you so far is part of sanctioned Arts Council England behavior. Unfortunately, what I have told you so far is just the tip of the iceberg in abhorrent treatment dished out to Americans (and non-British European invitees) by Richard Deakin, the producer of what we were learning would not be anything resembling a London International Poetry and Song Festival.
Upon entering the Marquee Club on the first night, we saw one festival poster taped to the entrance door. It had a large photo of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady and a cheery headline proclaiming the festival to be honoring the 50th anniversary of On the Road. There was no schedule of events for the three nights on the poster, but there were verbose paragraphs offering lavish praise for Festival Producer Richard Deakin, followed by the the logo stamp of Arts Council England. Throughout our entire stay in London, that poster was the only poster promoting the festival that we ever saw, anywhere. At six-thirty (a half-hour before scheduled show time) I stood in the empty Marquee Club, next to the manager of the club who was as queasy about the event as I was. I pointed to the one poster affixed to the door and asked the club manager if any flyers had been brought over to the club in advance to distribute to customers. The manager sullenly shook his head, no, adding that the one poster had been taped to the door without announcement a couple days beforehand. The club manager also rued the fact that Richard had demanded the club to bulk up the bartending staff, yet Richard never showed the courtesy to inform the manager in a timely manner of the change in festival dates from October to November. Then Richard had insisted that the manager have a large staff of bartenders on duty starting at six o’clock on the first night, November 10th. At six-thirty on November 10th, there I stood next to the club manager in the empty club full of bartenders, and Richard had yet to appear, a half-hour before curtain on HIS international festival.
Shortly after flying straight through the night from America to reach the club in time for their first scheduled performance, the Shinerunners band, being the professionals that they are, made it to the club at 6:30 PM. Richard finally showed up a few minutes later, upon which he abruptly confirmed he was eliminating the Shinerunners from the schedule. Then he informed Ron and Sarah that he might be able to squeeze them in for seven minutes of stage time (during a four-hour event in which they had originally been “scheduled” for forty-five minutes). I asked Richard when I would have stage time to read from the Kerouac anthology and he said “you’ve got to be kidding” then he waltzed away. Richard then spun around and walked back to us, asking us where Didi de Paris was. (Didi is a poet from Belgium who had been initially promised varying degrees of travel expenses, only to have that changed by Richard, at which point Didi agreed to pay his own way because it was important to him to perform with Ron and Sarah and to help launch the Kerouac Anthology book his work was featured in, all he ever asked Richard for in the end was directions on how to get to the Marquee Club. Didi doesn’t speak English very well, but he is a professional, and he had rehearsed his impending performance with a translator. Richard never showed the courtesy to reply to Didi’s repeated requests for directions to the Marquee Club once he arrived at Heathrow, so he didn’t come). Then Richard stood close enough to us Americans that we could hear him busily calling people on his cell phone, telling them the show would start at eight o’clock instead of seven, and that they should get to the club by eight. We Americans took the initiative to discuss with the club manager what we had been told the festival would be, and the manager allotted a table in the upstairs lounge for us to set up our various books and CDs.
Shortly thereafter, representatives from two UK book distributors arrived, one representing Carolyn Cassady and her autobiography and another representing the Beat Generation anthology BEAT. The UK distributors expressed bewilderment that they had been unable to obtain any information from Producer Richard regarding this festival that their companies had agreed to participate in. We Americans helped them set up alongside us. Then David Amram and Carolyn Cassady arrived, much later than they had planned to, without any time to prepare for their scheduled involvement in the opening evening, because Richard had promised both of them he would pick them up at their hotel and bring them to the club. Not only did Richard fail to pick them up as he had promised them, he also failed to send anyone to pick them up, and he never showed the courtesy to call the hotel and tell them he couldn’t pick them up. Richard had not even extended them the courtesy of knowing they happened to be staying in the same hotel, so they had come to the club on their own, separately.
What caused all the Americans to be treated like dirt? Apparently Richard’s personal plans for a festival carried out by his own whim and fancy. What was the artistic height of Richard’s impromptu customization of the opening evening that was supported by Arts Council England? Two young women who entered the club in mini-skirts and sleeveless tops, dressed as if they were looking for a disco where a Dress Like Madonna Competition was taking place. They were given seemingly endless prime time on stage despite the fact that neither of them had ever read at such a gathering before, and one of them actually read from her handwritten diary. At that point, much of the crowd downstairs evacuated the stage area as if a fire drill were in progress. The prime time inclusion of these two neophytes in such an event was so unbecoming that representatives from the UK book distributors approached the two mini-skirt women, regarding how and why they were part of the festival. They told the distributors that Richard had called them a couple hours beforehand and told them to come and read. I wish I could tell you that we Americans getting our noses rubbed in the dirt in such a manner ended right then and there, but such is not the case. We wondered why the two young women were prancing about the upstairs lounge area for some time after finally getting off the stage downstairs. Then finally Richard appeared, beaming with pride, lavishing praise on them. He had the entire first floor club area where he could have found an alcove to ensconce himself with those two apples of his eye, yet he had to lead them right up to the table where we Americans were sitting with our books and CDs. Then he took out a checkbook of sorts, with receipt vouchers in back (perhaps some funding booklet from Arts Council England?) and he proceeded to write very generous payment checks to these scantily clad diary-readers. Then he made a flashy display of kissing one of them on the lips while we Americans were attempting to answer questions about the books people were looking through. Then Richard spread out his arms to embrace and kiss the second of the two diary-readers, at which point he carelessly knocked a full beer out of the hand of a paying customer who was looking at the books that one of the UK distributors had on display. The beer spilled all over Sarah Elizabeth’s CDs, and I looked on in shock as Richard merely looked down at the mess he had caused and said nothing before walking away with his arms around the two diary-readers, leaving me to clean up his mess and try and salvage the CDs he had soaked with beer, a beer he made no effort to replace for the festival customer who had purchased it.
It was also bizarre to witness customers being charged 12 pounds admission at the door, unless they said they were from the Arts Council. Richard kept hammering the club employee working the door to “let anyone in for free if they say they’re from the Arts Council, but charge everyone else 12 pounds.” Please allow me to make clear that I have no disagreement with a policy of “12 pounds at the door unless they say they are from Arts Council England, in which case they get in for free.” If that is how Arts Council England handles admissions to events they support, so be it, I do not disrespect that policy. However, I would think Arts Council England would not want to be known as a supporter of a festival where paying customers are continually wondering why they had to pay 12 pounds and someone standing next to them in line tucked their money away and got in for free because they said they were from Arts Council England. Surely there shouldn’t be any shame in clarifying publicly that Arts Council England members get in to an event for free. The way Richard Deakin handled it, by continually leaning into the club employee’s ear and hammering it home in such a clandestine manner, offended many paying customers.
By the end of the first night, the UK book distributors had already expressed remorse and regret that what was billed as an International Festival celebrating the Beat Generation and the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was instead a totally unorganized, mishandled, and misrepresented fiasco. One of the distributors never returned and the other left immediately after Carolyn Cassady’s reading at the start of the second night. I would like to tell you things improved, but they did not. I do not want to bore you with further explanation, I think you get the point by now, but I must point out a couple other things. During Richard’s own personal commandeering of the stage night after night, he took it upon himself to decree to the crowd: “I met David Amram in New York and David inducted me into the Beat Generation Mafia.” This incomprehensible claim by Richard Deakin brought David Amram out of the crowd to take the microphone away and clarify: “there is no Beat Generation Mafia and nobody was ever inducted into such a thing.” During another occasion of Richard’s nightly self-praising pontifications on stage, when he couldn’t think up any other baloney to tie himself to the Beat Generation in his own mind, he monopolized the stage with a lengthy reading from The Odyssey. If anyone at Arts Council England has the propensity to inform me what relation The Odyssey has to a celebration of Jack Kerouac and the classic book of literature On the Road, I would welcome the enlightenment.
I wish I could tell you the second night saw improvement in organization and adherence to at least the half-ass mostly-to-be-determined schedule that had appeared. Lo and behold, the second night was more of Richard’s shenanigans, with most of us Americans continually getting jostled around or told before taking the stage that the time we had quickly been granted was being curtailed. I asked Richard when I would be on stage and all he said was “not tonight.” At the end of the second night of the Fiasco Formerly Known as the London International Poetry and Song Festival, Richard came up to me and said “tomorrow night we’ll give a proper launch to your Kerouac anthology.” Richard’s idea of a “proper launch” via “an international book release party” on the final night of the festival was to initially say I would have ten minutes of stage time to talk about the book and read from it, which was then curtailed to five minutes, which was then incorporated into Ron, Sarah Elizabeth, the Shinerunners band, Colin Shaddick from Devon, and myself, mixed up in a hodgepodge combination lasting forty-five minutes. That forty-five minutes of time, incidentally, had originally been posted on the festival website as headliner time for Ron and Sarah.
The forty-five minutes for all of us mixed together hodgepodge was then curtailed because Richard couldn’t keep himself from more of his proclamations of self-love as he commandeered the stage, during which he droned on and on to the crowd about the one stage play he has ever written in his life, produced in 1991. Is it a standard Arts Council England operational procedure—during an international festival including many current creative works just being released—for an Arts Council Endorsed Producer to continually cast aside and ignore current creative works just being released, so that the Arts Council Endorsed Producer can continually praise a work of his own that is almost twenty years removed from being before the public eye? When Richard finally ended that lengthy stage soliloquy praising himself, he hardly ended it with a professional introduction to the Americans he was finally allowing onto the stage. He solely stated, “I don’t know how they’re gonna work it out, but we’ve got a Kentucky contingency taking the stage now.”
I must admit I don’t know anything about the types of events Arts Council England wishes to put its logo stamp of approval on. And I don’t know anything about the types of events Arts Council England wishes to subsidize with its money. And I don’t know anything about Arts Council England operational standards concerning respectful treatment of international performers at your sanctioned events. However, I find it impossible to comprehend that Arts Council England supports the unprofessional, disrespectful behavior that Producer Richard Deakin continually heaped on all Americans at the London International Poetry and Song Festival. And I must ask you very clearly, Emma, if you and your coworkers and your board members of Arts Council England knew that a festival you were supporting included an American Poet such as Ron Whitehead, who is a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize nominee and also a winner of multiple scholar awards at Oxford as well as the Yeats Club of Oxford’s Prize for Poetry, would you want his originally scheduled stage time to be eliminated in favor of young women reading from handwritten diaries and kissing your Producer on the lips for payment checks, as if it were a kissing booth and not an international stage-show festival? Would you and your board members want an Arts Council England Supported Kissing Booth For Payment Checks to replace what was originally agreed to be an international book release party for an international anthology honoring the purported theme of the festival? Would you and your board members want to see Americans mistreated for two nights running, only to finally be allotted minimal stage time, which included a totally disrespectful and unprofessional introduction from your Arts Council Supported Producer? Does Arts Council England stress to its sanctioned Producers that Americans such as Nobel and Pulitzer Prize nominees and Americans who have won multiple awards from Oxford must be introduced by saying, “I don’t know how they’re going to work it out, but we’ve got a contingency taking the stage now”…???
And finally, regarding that one promotional poster that existed related to this event…on the afternoon of the final night of the festival, I went to booksellers row on Charing Cross Road. At the Red Snapper, the one famous Beat Generation bookstore in London, the proprietor was aghast when I mentioned why I was in town. The proprietor had not heard of the festival and they could not believe that a London Producer of an international festival set up to honor the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road had never sent anyone over with flyers for the Red Snapper to distribute to their customers. That is not to say flyers for the festival didn’t exist. A stack of about a dozen small flyers appeared next to some ashtrays on a ledge near the bar of the Marquee Club, on the final night of the festival. There was a big picture of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady on the front, above the logo stamp of the Arts Council England, and the back of the flyer was full of lavish praise for Promoter Richard Deakin. Apparently Richard wanted those flyers to be finally out, so as to signal that he would be commandeering the stage again on the final night. A fabulous band from northern England, T. Mandrake, had arrived on time at the start of the evening only to be told they would not be playing until 11:20 that evening. At midnight, I had had enough of Richard’s shenanigans, and I told Richard he better let them get on stage. They are as fine a band as I have ever heard yet Richard couldn’t keep from more soliloquy instead of giving them a fair amount of stage time. Finally he acquiesced but they were only afforded two songs instead of the full-hour set they had been promised. Maybe Richard thought they were Americans.
On behalf of all the mistreated Americans, the courtesy of your reply is requested. I will share any thoughts of yours with my fellow countrymen, and hopefully the next time I go to England, if there is a next time, I will feel like your countrymen and mine are still brothers in arms.
With Heartfelt Sincerity,
Robert M. Zoschke—
Co-Editor, Reflections Upon the 50th Anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road
Published in Heaven Books, Louisville, Kentucky, 2007.
cc: Althea Efunshile, Keith Harrison, Gus Casely-Hayford, Peter Hewitt, Sarah Weir, Andrew Whyte
Published in Heaven Books is the publisher belonging to the Global Literary Renaissance, a non-profit organization founded by Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize nominee Ron Whitehead. Published in Heaven Books has published works by many international figures, including His Holiness The Dalai Lama, President Jimmy Carter, and Bono.