Shake Keane

Today I finished cataloguing a file on the prize-winning poet and jazz musician Ellsworth McGranahan ‘Shake’ Keane , the correspondence of which surrounded the distribution by New Beacon Books of The Volcano Suite (1979), a collection of poems by Keane. Whilst detailing book deliveries and invoices, the letters also offer a touching insight into Keane’s troubled state of mind and those concerned about him. John La Rose’s description of The Volcano Suite as an “inspired poetic achievement” in a letter to Keane in 1980 prompts Keane to respond that La Rose’s words are an “an inspiration” and a “welcome break of encouragement” from worries of debt and feelings of isolation. In an age of email and effortless internet contact it’s often easy to forget the social importance of letter-writing, lines of communication that were essential to Keane who wrote to La Rose that "I have lost touch with so many important things I had been involved in. Would welcome a letter from you from time to time". A single file in the archive can often contain numerous sets of correspondence spanning decades, some complete others inconclusive. In the case of the Keane file, I’m not sure what happened to him next. A letter to John La Rose in 1981 from Christiane Keane lets him know that Shake is “rather low at the moment and it would be good if you could write to him" with a final letter letting him know that Shake is “not going very well” with an urge to write to him, “it is important to him”.

H Lamara