JEFF KEEN TRIBUTE: IAN HEAMES

Jeff Keen

Jeff’s friends, fans and collaborators offer their memories and recollections of Jeff and his films. Originally published in Film Panic Magazine, issue 1, June 2013 

I first met Jeff and Jackie Keen in the summer of 2011, in Brighton, at their flat on Seven Dials. I’d corresponded with Jackie about some books of Jeff’s for sale on his website, and she kindly suggested I visit in person if I was ever in town. The generosity and openness of this invitation has been characteristic of all my subsequent meetings with the Keens.

Not long after that first speculative email to which Jackie responded, I was in Brighton for the Sussex Poetry Festival and called in at Vernon Terrace. It was a great honour not just to meet Jeff and Jackie that day but to be welcomed into their home. The kindness and sensitivity of the artist cast a new light on the heroic intensity of his life’s work. Jeff was still actively writing and drawing, and the evidence was everywhere to be seen. Pens and sketch pads were close to hand, with many more in drawers and boxes. Artefacts reminiscent of his films were visible around the room. I picked up an envelope from the floor and on the back was a stunning poem, casually put to one side and unseen by the world:

OMO
ZAP
SLYY
HORSE
RISES
REFULGENT […]

The script wavered in places and was hard to decipher, but the poem somehow drew power from the secrecy of its text, harnessing its direct link to the poet’s arm and hand. It ended:

    MY LAST
POEM WITH GOSHAWK
WINGS

That Jeff Keen’s self-proclaimed ‘last poem’ should lie neglected on the floor of his Brighton flat, penned on the back of a bill envelope with a plastic window, struck me as a poignant emblem of the ethic of the artist. His total involvement in the work in the moment of its making, without a thought for later exposure or reward, is a singular example of creative fidelity and commitment. How many other artists would leave such a work discarded, face down on the floor?

I suggested making a facsimile print of the envelope poem and Jeff was happy to agree: the bigger the better. A while later, Jeff’s daughter Stella sent me another poem of his to make up into a print. This new work looked and felt different, bolder in phrase and line:

DONT THROW
YR GOLD PLATED
GUNS
IN THE DIRT
Mr GUNSLINGER
YR STILL THE
FASTEST GUN
ALIVE
FASTER THAN
WYATT EARP
FASTER THAN
BILLY THE KID

The poem ended with a hand-drawn flourish that, like all Jeff’s calligraphy, defies transcription.

Ian Heames is a poet and publisher at ©_© Press