Further Lines of Communication – Anna Mendelssohn

£5.00

Poetry pamphlet produced for Anna Mendelssohn: Speak, Poetess exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery London

Selection by Sara Crangle

“In 1974, Anna Mendelssohn won a drawing competition initiated by the Arthur Koestler Trust, entering a sketch of a tree in the HM [Holloway] prison yard. Her prize was an afternoon’s furlough, which she chose to spend at the Tate to see Blake’s drawings.”

– Sara Crangle, “Introduction”, I’m Working Here: The Collected Poems of Anna Mendelssohn (2020)

Paperback, 17 pages

 

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An avant-garde author, artist, and activist, Anna Mendelssohn was born in Stockport in Northern England in 1948. From the 1980s she studied and resided in Cambridge, publishing 15 poetry collections and contributing to landmark contemporary anthologies, among them, Denise Riley’s Poets on Writing (1992) and Iain Sinclair’s Conductors of Chaos (1996).

In 1972, Mendelssohn was a defendant at the Stoke Newington Eight criminal trial of 1972, then the lengthiest trial in British legal history. As a student radical at the University of Essex, Mendelssohn appeared in Jean-Luc Godard’s polemical British Sounds (1969) before joining The Angry Brigade, Britain’s contribution to a late-1960s transnational wave of urban guerrilla groups. Still lacking the comprehensive histories devoted to their counterparts – America’s Weatherman, Germany’s Red Army Faction – The Angry Brigade shared their anti-imperialism and less lethal methods, prioritising Irish reunification, social equality, and autonomism.

Pleading innocent, Mendelssohn was sentenced to ten years for conspiracy to cause explosions. A literacy tutor in prison, she was paroled in 1976. In the 1980s, she changed her name to Grace Lake, had three children, and began an English degree at the University of Cambridge. While she never completed her degree, she became a well-regarded if peripheral member of a movement often labelled the British Poetry Revival. A consummate artist and writer, when Mendelssohn died in 2009, her home – an off-grid garden shed – was filled with her paintings, letters, books, thousands of sheets of looseleaf drawings and writings, and 800 notebooks.

In 2010, Mendelssohn’s children generously donated her vast archive to Special Collections at the University of Sussex. In 2020, I’m Working Here: The Collected Poems of Anna Mendelssohn was released by Shearsman Books; in from October 2023 to January 2024, an exhibition of her work, Anna Mendelssohn: Speak, Poetess, was held at Whitechapel Gallery. This pamphlet was edited and designed for sale at the Mendelssohn exhibition at Whitechapel. It is an introduction to her poetry that is also a fundraiser for Koestler Arts.

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