Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When Worlds Collide

I haven't really stopped thinking about Anno since his Papa introduced him to me 3 years ago in the Prologue to his 2003 Yale edition of J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. I've often been affected by other people's stories, but this one in particular had me firmly in its grasp from the first reading. Perhaps because my own family has been on the receiving end of that phone call that forever changes your life, the one that tells you a soul you loved deeply has been unexpectedly, and without warning snuffed out - those phone calls do something to you; they become a part of your make-up, shaping who you are and what you think about. forever reminding you of the impermanence of our lives and the deep sadness that learns to co-habit with getting on with one's life. perhaps this is why i have been so taken with the story of Anno, his father, and the inextricable link to j.m.barrie and the real lost boys, the five sons of Arthur and Sylvia LlewellynDavies who Barrie wrote to in the dedication of his work Peter Pan, "I suppose I always knew that I made Peter by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame. That is all Peter is – the spark I got from you." I won't try and condense Andrew Birkin's introduction (you can read it here) because I won't be able to do the story justice but suffice it to say that he felt in part felled by Barrie's curse "may God blast anyone who writes a biography about me" when his son Anno tragically died a month before his 21st birthday, just as the real Michael had 80 years earlier (also before his 21st birthday), both becoming "the boys who never grew old".

All these worlds collided again for me the other night, when after finishing Jim Dale's wonderful audio version of Peter Pan with my own boys, I hopped online to do some research. I really should have guessed from the last name, but Anno happens to be the nephew of Jane Birkin, (it girl of the 60's and 70's. heard of the famed Birkin bag?) and the cousin of Charlotte Gainsbourg (from Jane's relationship with Serge Gainsbourg) and Lou Doillon (Jane's daughter from a later relationship). Those three names are synonomous with everything that's cool in the fashion world. And not just your run of the mill hipster cool, but genuinely artistic and interesting cool in that slightly kooky, upper middle class eccentric British sort of way. The interesting thing about the Birkins," says Andrew's schoolfriend, the actor Simon Williams, "is that all their brilliance and eccentricity seems to stem from an incredibly tight family unit, and however they arrived at being who they are, it all comes from the fact that they absolutely adore each other." The female side of the family has fascinated me for some time, since Jane, Charlotte, and Lou frequently pop up on the fashion/music/cinema radar, and in the course of my night going down the rabbit hole that is the internet, I found this wonderful reading of Anno's poem to his mother by his beautiful-and-beguiling-as-ever aunt Jane. I hope you watch it because it's tremendous.

I'm writing about Anno today, of all days, because today would have been his 29th birthday. And it is also the birthday of his Papa Andrew. I can't help but think about the entire Birkin family and their deep sadness, but also their courage and generosity in sharing their boys' talent with the rest of us who never got to know him.
The following is a poem Anno wrote two years before his death, which can be found in the anthology Who Said the Race is Over? by Anno Birkin

My whole life hangs tonight – like water –
swelling to the final drip.
My grip on nature fumbles – as I
stumble backwards – over rhetoric & rhyme.

The rumble in my heart could uproot heaven,
and all their ghostly judgement is like air –
is naught at all.

The dust that is my body shall be
one dust once – again –
with all things, not soon... not soon enough –
Ring the bells of murder –
Jesus sleeps –– in every one of you.

Wake! Wake sweet prince & sing!

Fill the avenues – with laughter.
Scream your words of
goodness in my ear –
let me hear – what I have done.

I seek just closeness with my fellow man.

R.I.P. Anno Birkin


  1. What a beautiful post. I have never read the full version of Peter Pan and as you know, I am an audiobook fiend, so I will definitely listen to Jim Dale's reading. I would also love to hear Sam's Peter Pan essay! How funny about the Birkin and Gainesbourg connections . . . we are all connected.

  2. Cydney's right this is a beautiful post. Reading this makes me miss you even more...great.