The night of the launch of Vale Royal
by Aidan Andrew Dun
A slap between the shoulders with an ample paw propelled me through a pair of heavy swing-doors onto the darkened stage of the Royal Albert Hall where I found myself advancing towards five-thousand people assembled there for the launch of an epic poem by an unknown, never-published poet: myself. Sure, Allen Ginsberg was on the bill, but this was the night of the launch of Vale Royal. The unreality I will never forget, zombying forward into the footlights to recite from a poem which had taken twenty-three years to write, that had needed a madman, Goldmark, to publish.
About six weeks previously Mike had phoned and said “By the way, forgot to mention, we’ve hired the Albert Hall to launch Vale Royal, I tried to get Dylan to come over — he couldn’t make it — but Allan Ginsberg has agreed to be there. We’ve also got Sorley Maclean and Brendan Kenelly, Paul McCartney’s going to do a jam with Ginsberg, Sinclair’s involved, Benjamin Zephaniah. I have to warn you though this may be the last venture of Britain’s most occasional publisher because the deposit for the Albert Hall is unbelievable!” (He named some astronomical money-figure.) “If we don’t get a big crowd I may lose my shirt!”
Eighteen months earlier a woman-friend, poetry-mad, who’d heard my theories of the psychogeography of Kings Cross, asked me to read her Vale Royal. My manuscript had been gathering dust in various cupboards and stairwells for seven years. In a tiny cottage on a fairy-hill where a ruined chapel overlooks a beautiful river I read her the poem; it took most of the night. At dawn as candles were guttering she said I needed to make a phonecall immediately.
‘Goldmark won’t remember me.’ I replied. ‘True, seven years ago he asked me to Uppingham, took me out to lunch and told me he’d publish my poem. But then he walked me through the small town to a rundown-looking supermarket and explained sheepishly that on his wife’s advice he’d just bought the place as a going concern and now needed time to amass cash for any book.’
“Look, go back to London and write a historical introduction, explain the theory of Kings Cross behind the poem, tell us about the Church of the Pancross. Then come back to me and I’ll have the capital.”
I went back to some squat in Kennington or Stockwell where my rock-band Fleet was based and forgot about Mike Goldmark, I’d been through this movie before. Three years earlier one of the largest publishing houses on the planet had split down the middle over the issue of whether or not to put out Vale Royal. A heroic man named Oliver Caldecott – who had published Castaneda for Penguin but later worked as an editor for this huge multinational imprint – had somehow become a champion of my strange poem. He’d compiled an enormous stack of reader’s letters, including one from the scholar-poet Kathleen Raine, all saying “Publish immediately!” In the end the director of the whole operation intervened saying he himself would take the manuscript home for the weekend and make up his mind. On the Monday he returned and said one word to Caldecott: “Gibberish!” But still Oliver refused to give up. He proposed we pass the manuscript to a celebrated scholar and novelist (who writes mystically-tinged fiction, often London-themed) and agreed that the opinion of this luminary gentleman would be binding.
The manuscript came back with a cruelly dismissive comment.
About ten weeks later I got a phone-call from Oliver Caldecott. He said: ‘I’ve suddenly been taken ill, I’m in a cancer-ward in Bath and I want you to promise me something. You know I’ve always believed in Vale Royal. Well, there’s only one man in England who is capable of publishing this work and his name is Mike Goldmark, he’s a small gallery-owner and art-dealer in Rutland. I want you to promise me you’ll get in touch with him.”
I promised Caldecott I’d contact Goldmark but forgot all about it. I was too crushed by recent experience to want to go anywhere near publishers or publishing. Soon afterwards I heard Oliver was dead.
Several years passed, I concentrated on music, tried to forget the cursed unpublishable epic. Then I got a phonecall in the middle of the night from a stranger, the friend of a friend. He introduced himself as Rupert Benjamin and described himself as an astral policeman. He said that Tony Roberts (author of ‘Sowers of Thunder’) whom I’d recently met in Glastonbury had a message for me. His message, relayed through Benjamin on a midnight phoneline, was: ‘There is only one man in England who can publish your poem and his name is Mike Goldmark, he’s an art-dealer somewhere in Rutland. Get in touch with him.”
Coming from an astral policeman (who went on to become a friend and confidante, someone whose astonishing reserves of gnosis combined with expertise in Shaolin Temple Wing Chung) this advice carried a certain imperative, reverberating from a midnight receiver. I thought of Oliver, dead, his last request to me unfulfilled, yet still did nothing. Then Anthony, too, unexpectedly died and very soon after I heard that dreadful news I finally contacted – I don’t remember how – Mike Goldmark, made the trip to Uppingham, was taken to lunch, shown the disintegrating supermarket.
At dawn in the little cottage on the fairy-hill I recounted all this to my poetry-loving friend and finished by saying “Goldmark won’t remember me, I can’t phone him, it was seven years ago at least, perhaps eight.’
My friend ran a human-rights organization and often in the middle of the night she would phone police-chiefs in South-American cities and lecture them for hours – in her literary Spanish – about their torture-chambers. Sometimes she made them laugh or cry, usually both. She said:
‘I’ll phone him for you.’
She went upstairs and didn’t come down for a good while (but I thought I heard laughter from above, I was listening at the old Elizabethan stairs). Then my friend reappeared, smiling.
‘Mike Goldmark tells me I have just saved him ten-thousand pounds with my phonecall. He says he was on the point of hiring a private-detective to look for a poet called Aidan in the squats of London. He says he has never forgotten you or your poem and he wants to publish it as soon as possible.’
I went out onto the fairy-hill as the sun was struggling up a winter sky and it seemed some gigantic doorway had opened in the mist. I went up to the ruined chapel of St Catherine and I remember getting down on my knees in the dew. I also remember hearing the harmonics of my own voice giving thanks from the best place in my heart, a strange auditory hallucination never experienced before or after that time.
‘Show them the book’ said Mike at the very last minute, in the panic backstage, as we each of us realized we were about to stand alone in front of an audience of quite a few thousand people. (Vale Royal had been set and printed by Martino Mardersteig in Verona at perhaps the finest press in the world.)
‘Then put the damned thing down on the stage in front of you – you know the poem by heart anyway – and play the guitar a little, you’ll be fine.’