Brian Patten (born 1946)

Life size white sculpture of a man's head, wearing real sunglasses. The hair is made of thin curly strips of black paper with white writing on

'Plaster cast of Brian Patten's head' by Jilly Sutton.
Accession number MMM.2003.273

Nationally recognised sculptor Jilly Sutton donated this distinctive plaster cast head of Brian Patten to the museum's collections. It is on display in the Wondrous Place gallery.

This unusual sculpture was half carved and half cast from Brian's face, a process he did not enjoy! One of Brian's poems 'Burning Genius', which he wrote in the early 1970s, forms his hair. Jilly chose this poem "as it had long lines - so the writing went the length of the curl".

The sculpture represents the role which Brian played in Liverpool's cultural explosion of the 1960s, and the impact this continues to have today.

Liverpool poet

Poet and performer Brian Patten first made his name in the 1960s as one of the Liverpool Poets, along with Adrian Henri and Roger McGough. Their aim was to make poetry accessible and to bring it to new audiences.

Their popular anthology The Mersey Sound published in 1967 has sold over 250,000 copies to date.

Brian was born in Liverpool in 1946. He began writing poetry at Sefton Park Secondary School and at fifteen worked as a cub-reporter on The Bootle Times. He then went on to produce and edit his own poetry magazine Underdog, which helped give a platform to Liverpool's underground poets.

In 2002 Brian was awarded The Cholmondeley Award for services to poetry, and together with Roger McGough and the late Adrian Henri, he was awarded The Freedom of the City of Liverpool.

'Burning Genius' by Brian Patten

He fell in love with a lady violinist,
It was absurd the lengths he went to to win her affection.
He gave up his job in the Civil Service.
He followed her from concert hall to concert hall,
bought every available biography of Beethoven,
learnt German fluently,
brooded over the exact nature of inhuman suffering,
but all to no avail -

Day and night she sat in her attic room,
she sat playing day and night,
oblivious of him,
and of even the sparrows that perched on her skylight mistaking her music for food.

To impress her, he began to study music in earnest.
Soon he was dismissing Vivaldi and praising Wagner.
He wrote concertos in his spare time,
wrote operas about doomed astronauts and about monsters who, when kissed,
became even more furious and ugly.
He wrote eight symphonies taking care to leave several unfinished,

It was exhausting.
And he found no time to return to that attic room.

In fact, he grew old and utterly famous.

And when asked to what he owed
his burning genius,
he shrugged and said little,

but his mind gaped back until he saw before him
the image of the tiny room,
and perched on the skylight the timid
skeletons of sparrows still listened on.

Portrait photo of a man with curly hair
Brian Patten. Photo courtesy of Steve Bond

Further information

Brian Patten's website