‘Don’t let the minute spoil the hour’

Ted Joans, poet and artist, died in April. I remember seeing Ted read his poems at ‘Shakespeare and Co.’, the famous bookstore in Paris. My brother was staying in Paris for a month, and I was over to help the artist Cornelia Parker install an exhibition. I was 19, had just moved to Glasgow to go to Art School, and was enjoying my first tastes of fresh air after the stifling gas of suburbia.

We spent a few weeks in Paris drinking with people in bands that Chris had met under the pretences of starting a magazine that never got off the ground. Chris had wanted to show me the bookstore, so we went along one night to hear Ted Joans give a reading. He gave a fantastic performance, drawing out the lines and swooping his body to accentuate the rhythms in his poetry. He closed by urging us all to steal books from chain stores, then invited us to go and join him for drinks in a nearby bar, where he entertained a growing audience with more anecdotes, dirty jokes and poems.

I’m off to Paris in a couple of weeks, for the first time since that trip, so it feels strangely circular to come across news of Ted Joan’s death. Looking back, my trip reads like such a cliche – suburban kid goes to Paris to hear Beat poets, work with an artist and hang out with moody musicians who lived in crumbling 12th arrondissement apartments. But cliches are not cliches when you’re hearing them for the first time. I was lucky enough to work with Cornelia Parker on a couple more exhibitions, in Leipzig, East Berlin and London, and those trips were full of encounters like the one with Ted Joans at Shakespeare and Co. Full of those happenstance moments when you pinch yourself and think ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here, doing this’.

[more on ted here]

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