Sunday 10 February 2013

Almost Talking Green

The picture features just a part of the crowd at Housmans last night for the joint launch of Five Leaves' Talking Green by the late Colin Ward and Autonomy by Dan Poyner, a book on the graphic design of Colin Ward's old Anarchy magazine. The audience stretched right to the door of the shop and behind the speakers to the back of the shop. Front centre with her arms folded is Harriet Ward. I was touched when some of the young people came up to say they had only just discovered Colin's work as they were squatters and found that everything they read on squatting refers to Colin's books on that subject.
I found it a difficult evening, in part because it was so like the last time Colin had a book launch there - his last public appearance which was the last time I met him, though the mood of course was celebratory. Since Colin's death there has been a special issue of Anarchist Studies, a Colin Ward reader, a short memorial volume Remembering Colin Ward, a conference on his ideas about education (the papers will be published) and now these two books. But the main reason I found it difficult was that I had overdosed on drugs to keep a cold away and was completely exhausted as well as having a head made of cotton-wool. I could not make much sense of my notes and when one person asked for more information on Talking Green I could hardly remember anything about the book. Worse, the basic rule of launching a book is to refer to it from time to time, read teasers from the book... so I chose to read something from a long out of print book published by Penguin and a longer piece from Colin's Anarchy in Action published by Freedom Press. Naturally those were the books that people wanted to buy - one unavailable and one only there in small quantities which sold out immediately! Despite my efforts we did shift a few Talking Green.
More coherent were Ken Worpole, talking about Colin's aesthetics and Dan Poyner and Richard Hollis on the graphic art of Anarchy. It was a shame that Rufus Segar - the main Anarchy designer is now too old to travel in London but Dan and I both remarked on his extraordinary correspondence - letters with 44 penny stamps on the envelope, sometimes just containing a series of visual and written puns. Dan's beautiful book Autonomy sold in good numbers.
I was particularly pleased that the architect and writer Tom Woolley, visiting from Ireland, spoke from the floor. Tom's first published piece had been in Anarchy and his contact with Colin brought him on immensely, with their shared interest in Walter Segal's ideas of self-build housing. Tom is now working on houses built out of hemp (and no, you can't smoke them). Another floor speaker remarked how excited he was each time his sub copy of Anarchy came through as every cover was different and each issue would have a set of serious articles about issues that he had not thought about before. There are few magazines that closed over forty years ago that are still loved and remembered, and reintroduced to new generations of readers.
Colin was one of a generation of productive anarchists from different backgrounds - Vernon Richards and Marie Louise Berneri, both with a family background of Italian anti-fascism, the doctor John Hewitson, the secularist Nicolas Walter, Philip Sampson and others, all now passed away but whose work in making anarchism relevant to everyday life remains important.
I'll end this piece with the last two sentences of Anarchy in Action - which I managed to read twice last night - which, as much as one can in a couple of sentences - sums up Colin's world view: "Anarchism in all its guises is an assertion of human dignity and responsibility. It is not a programme for political change but an act of social self-determination."


Jonangus Mackay said...

Just noticed some bright spark is lifting Rufus Segar's covers & selling them on Amazon as 'tote bags' & iPad covers—the bags at £6.99 plus £4.50 postage. Fitting tribute? Spreading the word? 60s nostalgia? Recuperationist scum? Not sure, really.

Many thanks, though, Ross, for a truly excellent evening; the friends with me thought the same. Both volumes deserve to sell in handsome quantities—between us we seem to have bought several copies of each.

Ross Bradshaw said...

Thanks for this. I'll explore this - Segar's designs are of course in copyright. I don't know if he would mind the images being used by others but it would be nice at least if they gave some royalties to Freedom. Best wishes, glad you came.