How did you know Michael? people ask each other as we exchange quiet pleasantries in the necessary shade of poplar and planes trees at Kensal Green cemetery. I knew Michael a little as I am friends with his son, Adam. He was always very kind to me when we met, encouraging the writing of poetry.
Others have written at length on Michael's achievements as a poet and father of the UK's counter-culture. I shall not repeat these tributes here, rather I want to capture something of the afternoon of both celebration and grief. Funerals are awful things - those in deep sorrow trying hard to maintain their poise is too much for society to expect, but everyone grieves in their own way, I suppose.
On then to a sun-baked plot at the west gate where Michael's simple wooden coffin lies waiting for us. The lady rabbi leads the graveside ceremony with prayer and psalms, some in English, some in Hebrew. Those who share Michael's faith join in. Others of us remain attentively silent and respectful. Others we can't see watch on the Zoom live-fed. Psalm 23 I know and can recite in its old version, this modern translation trips me up with the substitution of unexpected words. No matter.
There are kind words spoken and poems read. John Agard animates his poem to Michael magnificently. Niall McDevitt recalls tales of Michael and reads from his beloved Blake, quite rightly ignoring the heckles of 'enough', which ushured in an appropriate degree of chaos to the proceedings. Adam's eulogy is a beautifully written piece touching on each aspect of Michael's life as writer, poet, artist, poetry promoter, husband/partner, and father. It is emotional, jubilant and heart-touching. And, if it's not bad taste to say so for a eulogy, a tour de force.
Draped in one of Vanessa Vie's shawls and topped with one of Michael's colourful flat caps, the coffin is lowered deep into the London clay. The Kaddish is said. Vanessa carefully unwraps Michael's kazoo - the anglo-saxaphone - and plays. A greater expression of grief I have never heard. It is heart-stopping.
And then it is over. We talk a little amoung ourselves - I seek out the half-dozen of my friends who are there - and move out of the oppressive thirty-degree sun, back through the shaded walk, and out into the Harrow Road and the waiting world.
[No photos, I thought it poor form to take any]