‘Living, loving, fighting’ – Bernard Kops on his latest book
West Hampstead-based writer set to celebrate his 90th birthday
28 November, 2016 — By Dan Carrier
Erica and Bernard Kops
HE is one of the last of a generation of poets and writers, a group of Jewish East Enders such as Arnold Wesker and Emanuel Litvinoff who lived through the turmoil of the 1930s and spoke eloquently of lessons learned and how to build a better world.
West Hampstead-based Bernard Kops celebrates his 90th birthday next week and is still writing poetry. Known as a playwright, author, essayist and poet, his latest book – Songs For A Lost God – is out early next year and he will be reading from it on Sunday at a birthday celebration for him at the Jewish Museum in Albert Street, Camden Town. The event includes a screening of The Hamlet of Canfield Gardens, a documentary about his work directed by Jill Campbell.
“The years have flashed past me – I am still the same person I was when I was 21,” he says.
And as for the latest tome, he says he has drawn greatly on the one thing that continues to be dominant – the importance of family, both in terms of blood relatives and the larger idea of the glue that holds societies together.
“It is a story of survival, of living, loving, fighting – and then everything always returns to the family,” he says.
He speaks of his life-long love of his wife Erica. The pair have been together now for 62 years and she is his muse and his editor.
“We go walking every afternoon, and that is the secret of keeping going – walking and talking. You need your family to say to you: ‘Never sleep. Keep going.’”
He witnessed first-hand the racism and anti-semitism that gripped Britain and Europe during his youth, and fears a return to such dark days.
“The idea of rejecting Europe feels strange to me,” he says. “There is the idea that it is about getting to know other people, and understanding that they are as human as us, as poor as us, as well-off as us – and that is the great tragedy.
“Every day I meet people from all around the world and that brings to our nation a richness we can’t afford to lose. Life would be so much the poorer not to have such experiences.”
And, for a wordsmith, he also laments the decline of the great British orator, people on the left who can hold the attention of thousands, succinctly put forward an argument and invigorate the fight against fascism.
“I grew up in an age of great political orators – we loved listening to Shinwell, to Foot, to Bevan,” he recalls.
“The strength of what they were saying was such that they painted a vision for you and I am afraid they just do not exist any more. Foot was simply a brilliant, brilliant orator. Foot was marvellous and then when you met him, he was just so soft, so gentle, sweet and incredibly intelligent.”
• My Life and Work: Bernard Kops at 90. Talk at Jewish Museum London, Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert Street, NW1 7NB. November 27, 4.30-6.15pm. Free a with museum entry (£7.50/£6.50), 020 7284 7384, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.jewishmuseum.org.uk
Songs for a Lost God
Fate came fishing out of that place called nowhere
and let me off its hook
and hurled me down into this world called life
and there was the sun
and there was the moon
and stars that drank from my dreams.
Suddenly I was alive in somewhere
and I heard laughter from a girl singing
and dancing out of a crowd of clouds
and you were there and I was there and found and founded a family in a place called living.
It was a time of loving and growing and life was forever with laughing apricots
with laughing strangers
children and children’s children
Space and age was our destiny
Oh I remember that pleasant past
and the meaning of that house of joy
then just as it was – it wasn’t
and one day in the middle of the night
we noticed how our birds had flown
so we stood up and laughed and sung music songs for a lost God.