The Royal Albert Hall has always been a keen promoter of poetry but on 11 June 1965, when the Hall hosted the International Poetry Incarnation, it found itself at the forefront of a cultural revolution.

The International Poetry Incarnation is now recognised as one of the first British ‘Happening’, where beatnik poets met emerging hippie culture, and a landmark event of the the 1960s countercultural revolution.

Allen Ginsberg at the International Poetry Incarnation photograph, 11 June 1965)

An audience of 7,000 packed out the Hall to watch and hear readings by seventeen mainly American and British poets including Adrian Mitchell, Michael Horovitz and Beat guru Allen Ginsberg.

The poets were not given any running order and the evening ran with seemingly little structure. Adrian Mitchell read his popular poem, a rant against the Vietnam War – To Whom it May Concern to huge enthusiasm. Allen Ginsberg read New York Bird by Russian poet Andrei Vosnesensky; the poet was present but forbidden to perform by the Russian authorities. To round off the evening Ginsberg read two 2 of his long poems – The Change and Who Be Kind To.

The audience were handed flowers as they entered the arena which, full of a heavy-drinking crowd, quickly became filled with a marijuana smoke, flying paper darts and foliage.

The International Poetry Incarnation encouraged a lurking underground movement to the surface of British culture, exposing the British public for the first time to the power of poetry as performance and as a vehicle for expressing political and social concerns. The event was formative in developing what would later become the UK underground scene.

‘…the Underground was suddenly there on the surface’
Jeff Nuttall, author

‘All these people recognised each other and they all realised they were part of the same scene.’
Barry Miles, author

Fifty years after 1967’s Summer of Love, explore the Royal Albert Hall’s role in this fascinating era of London’s cultural history as part of a major new season of events. Summer of Love: Revisited celebrates the counterculture movement with specially-selected talks, gigs and screenings about the music, poetry and politics of the period.