Poet and letterpress artist Dennis Gould began the early 1960s in Stafford Prison. Serving with the Royal Engineers during the 1950s, he later took up the cause of the Committee of 100, the direct-action wing of the anti-nuclear movement, carrying out acts of non-violent civil disobedience for which he was detained at her Majesty’s pleasure.
In 1965 Dennis helped to organise an anarchist fringe festival of poetry at the Octagon in Bath. He continued to campaign and work with Peace News and then in 1967-1968 ‘travelled the land, reading poems in schools and colleges, folk clubs and pubs, CND demonstrations and Quaker meetings, festivals and prisons’. Later in 1968 he moved to Redruth where he ran a community bookshop and edited and published the poetry of Kenneth Patchen, reflecting his lifelong love of the beat poets.
He moved to Bristol, where, in 1970, he founded the performance group, the ‘Riff Raff Poets’ together with Jeff Cloves and Pat van Twest which continued until the latter’s death in 2008. They were a lively presence at Glastonbury Festivals, Green Gatherings and protest camps where they provided many a barbed riposte to the barbed-wire outposts of the industrial-military complex.
Dennis and co-editor Jeff Cloves also worked closely with illustrator Clifford Harper to design Visions of Poesy: An Anthology of Anarchist Poetry, published by Freedom Press in 1994. Favourites again included the beat poets – he has forged a long acquaintance with Lawrence Ferlinghetti – the Romantics and of course Gloucestershire’s own beloved Laurie Lee.
More than a quarter of a century ago, Dennis was given the opportunity to try letterpress to produce some of his work. Enthralled by the experience, he also realised that control over the process ensured more autonomy in the production of his work. Since at least the time of William Tyndale, rebels – and nervous authorities – have realised that control of printing and the written word means the control of information and power. The development of cheap offset lithography advanced a revolution in people’s radical media in the 1960s, bringing the capacity for cheaper printing within the means of local groups.
In Dennis Gould’s hands letterpress is radical technology in the field of art and design. He uses bespoke fonts for to make his own highly distinctive posters and cards. He is both the composer and compositor of poetry. Both versifying and printing require the careful selection of the right elements for the right place. Dennis’s use of letterpress enables him to combine the abstract and aesthetic qualities of poetry with tactile physical materials. He prints onto high-quality handmade papers and recycled textiles, maps and even playing cards. Other ingredients that go into his art are good quality inks, jazz, anarchy, football, bicycles, protest, images of the natural world as well as generous amounts of skill, concentration and patience. The distinctive letter press posters, postcards and leaflets that result can be seen throughout Gloucestershire and in numerous anti-war and anarchist publications.
Today Dennis is an elder no-statesman among West Country anarchists. He is also a pamphleteer, cyclist, habitué of The Woolpack in the Slad Valley (once Laurie Lee’s local) allotment gardener, former football referee and still loves to recite poetry. He is a familiar face in Stroud where he runs a Saturday street stall to distribute his prints, produced in his workshop in the town centre at the Star Anise Café.