Dave Cook
from Cento Magazine

Ed Dorn at Essex: A personal recollection


In January 2000 I was in hospital in Meschede a town in Germany on the Ruhr, about an hour's drive east from Dortmund, when I found out about Ed's death. While I was lying there, with nothing much to do day in day out, I thought about the time and space I'd known Ed at Essex University and I wrote a letter to Herbie Butterfield my tutor at Essex and, since then, an old friend. It is an edited version of this letter that forms the basis of this recollection.

15th Jan. 2000

It was so sad to read of Ed's death in the Guardian Weekly. I'd missed James Campbell's obituary when I first received the paper before Christmas and only read it glancing through the newspaper on my return from the Millenium celebrations in London. A very good obituary I thought. A column to the side of a picture of and a four column piece on Joseph Heller--ah well, what the hell.

I liked Ed a lot. It was hard not to. Chatting in the bar about Richard Brautigan and Ed saying women taking the pill made men lose their mind. One day me and Kim, so this was later, invited him up to one of the rooms in the University towers for a smoke. He came with Jenny and along with smoking the joints we all had some fruit cake, except Ed I think. We had a good time talking with Ed making the jokes. On one occasion I visited their house out in the styx, I can't remember where, a few miles away from Colchester. We drove up in his car and he talked about the good looking girls in Colchester. When he showed me round the house he said the fire was one of the gods he had to tend to, and he said to Jenny that I'd noticed how early the spring was, the buds on the trees appearing in February, maybe '69 or '70, can't remember exactly which year. Then one weekend all of us, Kim and me, Ed and Jenny went up to Balcombe, near Southwold, to stay with Mike Lofthouse in his big old mansion, on the side of the marshes. It was a grand old place I thought they may like to see. I remember when we decided to play Mahjong, Ed said he didn't play games. Jenny played and Ed sat there in a big old armchair reading one of Simon's books.

Another time me and Johnny Etheridge and some other student who played the zither, whose name I can't remember, were playing as a trio at Norwich University--me on bongos, Johnny on guitar. Jenny and Ed walked around the town with us. Ed was carrying the baby (Kidd?) who was crying. Ed said to me, "Play those damn things, will ya."

Before the reunion in '90, I'd only heard Ed read once. It was a fairly small gathering-twenty or so people in an upstairs room in the Literature Department. He read and postured, his body language clinching the satire as much as the words. I guess this was from a part of "Gunslinger" he'd been writing. I didn't hear him at any of the great readings in the Newcastle Tower.

* * *

Later in 1971, before our finals, Kim and I lived in the literature department building--I think it was for a few weeks, maybe a month or so. We used to kip on the floor. Ed had his office there, a few books on shelves, a table, whatever, some chairs. And we used to sleep there at night, pack up our stuff into suitcases in the morning and get outta there before anyone arrived. On telling Ed about this he said "I thought it looked like the waiting room of a station in there," but he never did anything to get us chucked out. Years later when I was moving from Manchester to Iver I found a book of his in amongst mine, Amiri Baraka's (then Leroi Jones) Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note--with, in handwriting, "To Ed from Leroi" on the title page. Eventually in the mid-nineties ('95 was it?) I sent it to him. He and Jenny had moved to Denver and he wrote a postcard thanking me for the "blast from the past."

He was a truly, very, very bright star. I guess his light will remain for years.