Well Done Bryan!

To the British Library on Friday evening for B.S. Johnson: His Life and Legacy. The event, marking the 80th anniversary of B.S. Johnson‘s birth, also tied in with the publication of a new collection of his prose and drama, Well Done God!, edited by Jonathan Coe, Philip Tew and Julia Jordan. The evening began with some short readings, notably B.S. Johnson’s son Steve reading a passage from Street Children, and his widow Virginia reading a powerful and moving poem by Barry Cole, written about B.S. Johnson after his death. Then Sam Dunn, from the BFI, spoke briefly about the DVD collection of short films, You’re Human Like the Rest of Them, scheduled for release in April, which will bring together six years’ worth of film-making by Johnson, much of it not seen for decades. This sounds like an important and exciting aspect of his work. Two short films were screened on Friday, the extraordinary Paradigm, and a visual cut-up Poem, based around a 4 line Beckett poem. In the panel discussion that followed, Michael Bakewell from MBA Literary Agency, who worked with Johnson in the last few years of his life, talked about how relaxed he was making films such as Fat Man on the Beach, contrary to his reputation for being difficult and combative. Philip Pacey’s contribution was, for me, the most illuminating, as he spoke warmly about meeting B.S. Johnson, and his generosity in inviting Pacey and his wife to stay with the Johnson family when he was artist in residence at Gregynog; his commitment to truth, which Pacey found so liberating for his own writing; the importance of Wales to B.S. Johnson, and his sympathy with Welsh nationalists, which was perhaps another expression of his rebellion against authority; and Pacey referred to Johnson’s ‘infectious creativity’, how every time he reads some of B.S. Johnson’s work, he is spurred on to write, create, something new. Fittingly, he read a new, as yet untitled, poem inspired by the great man, witty, affectionate, with a heart-stopping last line.
We came away with a hot-off-the-press copy of Well Done God! and a new sense of the breadth and prolificness of B.S. Johnson’s work. A continuing inspiration.

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