BERNARD KOPS (1926 - 2024



This is a personal response and not an obituary, and I’m not claiming that I could count Bernard Kops as a friend. I read with him at a Tribune poetry reading in Regent’s Park Library in London in 1969 and met him again in 2000 when we shared a platform with Adrian Mitchell, Michael Horovitz and the composer David Bedford in a tribute to Kenneth Patchen at Tate Modern. Kops talked about discovering Patchen’s work in the late-1940s and meeting Charles Wrey Gardiner who published him in Britain. Apart from those two occasions I knew Kops through his plays, poems and prose works, in particular his memoir, The World is a Wedding, originally published by MacGibbon & Kee in 1963 and now on my shelves in the form of a 1966 paperback edition from Mayflower-Dell.

It tells the story of a young boy growing up in a working-class Jewish family in the East End of London, experiencing it as limiting in what it had to offer in terms of the imagination, and later finding his way to Soho and the company of “Art students, artists, models and layabouts, all misfits like myself”.  It was Kops’ entry into the bohemian world of the period, and it brought him into contact with characters like “Ironfoot” Jack (he also appears in Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho) and Iris Orton, described by Kops as “A strange girl with a cloak who was a beautiful poet.....in her wild cloak she went from cellar to cellar reading apocalyptical verse to a new group of restless kids who had been spawned in war”. 

There’s a lot more in The World is a Wedding, including trips to Spain and Tangier, bookselling from a barrow in a side-street off Cambridge Circus, drugs, a breakdown (Kops told the doctors about his catechism: “Long live Wilhelm Reich, Anarchy, Buddhism, and the poetry of Lorca  and William Blake”), and occasional returns to the family fold. I’ve just picked out one or two things, admittedly about the Soho scene of the late-1940s and early-1950s. He went on to produce many plays, poems, novels, and memoirs.

The World is a Wedding was reprinted by Five Leaves Books in 2007. I mentioned “Ironfoot” Jack Neave and Iris Orton and it may be worth referring to Neave’s The Surrender of Silence : The Memoirs of Ironfoot Jack; King of the Bohemians (Strange Attractor Press, 2018) and Orton’s A Man Singing (Scorpion Press, 1962). Orton was an early practitioner of poetry-and-jazz performances. I recall seeing some of her poems in Jazz Monthly but that would have been in the 1960s when I was writing for the magazine.  And there is Wrey Gardiner whose The Dark Thorn (Grey Walls Press, 1946) and The Flowering Moment (Grey Walls Press, 1949) catch the mood of the moment when a writer like Kenneth Patchen appealed to someone like Bernard Kops.  

 Jim Burns