Posted by Gordon in November's Magazine
Breenging through the door first opened by John Cooper Clarke and Patrik Fitzgerald, the Ranters arrived via the alternative Cabaret scene of the early 1980s. Leading the charge was a demure young man with the magnificent moniker of Attila the Stockbroker, others soon followed, Benjamin Zephaniah, Tim Wells, Seething Wells, Porky the Poet and Joolz. For a wee while poetry got very lively indeed and the spirit of Mayakovsky could be found being channelled through not just the underground scene but also breaking in to the mainstream.
Nowadays there’s a positive stampede of wordsmiths coming through, and Luke Wright brought them together at Edinburgh International Book Festival. Representing the old school were Attila and Tim Wells and from the new school Bridget Minamore and Luke Wright who also acted as ringmaster of proceedings. Here was an update of the inadequately described line up that played the Assembly Rooms at the Fringe in 1982 and, like the White Riot tour of 1977, performed to a sparse but appreciative crowd who got value for their £2.50.
Attila explained that in those days acts got 70% of the door take but now ‘promoters/spivs’ charge silly money for a room per hour on the fringe, which is why corporate comedy is so dominant. Spot on sir! He said that lately he has preferred playing the Free Fringe where the spirit of the Fringe he knew from the past still survives and acts prosper purely on their ability and talent not their ubiquity on TV game shows delivering banal aphorisms.
He moved the audience with a reading of his poem Never Too Late about his relationship with his stepfather and showed that he can do pathos along with pithy in his poetry. Arguments Yard his autobiography is worth investing in with football pundit Gordon Smith getting it tight in Smith Must Score and old favourites such as The Night I Slept With Seething Wells being dotted throughout a book that’s full of funny anecdotes as well as a being a cracking history of the alternative scene.
Phill Jupitus (formerly Porky the Poet) says “Tim Wells is exactly the poet for our times – sharp, witty and ultimately unforgiving in all the right places” and he’s right. An authentic East Ender complete with dropped aitches, proven when he read his poem Hoxton Market Forces pronounced ‘oxton. Rather brilliantly he was selling a 7” single of a reading of this backed by his band on his own label.
You can find it in Everything Crash his collection from 2015, again worth seeking out, containing as it does subjects as diverse as gentrification in his culturally diverse East End (The Middle Class In The Launderette As Pandas In The Zoo) and, “The horror of your daughter’s new boyfriend turning up wearing green suede cuban heels.” Both show that Phill Jupitus is not exaggerating. Wells is also behind the excellent Stand Up And Spit website which you should bookmark.
First up for the new wave was Bridget Minamore whose poetry tackles the personal as political. There’s a chance you might have heard her even if you weren’t there to hear her. Adidas commissioned her poem Running as part of their ‘from where I run’ advertising campaign. Check it out on YouTube and you’ll remember it right away. As part of Operation Black Vote her poem Breaking News encouraged voters to take part rather than be ignored. Her poem Zadie Smith’s First Novel Is, which she read, shows that despite only having one published pamphlet, Titanic, hers is a voice that can only bloom.
The helmsman who worked hard to keep Attila in check and give space to the others, including himself, was Luke Wright who caused a sensation last year in Summerhall with his epic poem/book What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, which deals with the earnest idealism of the 1980s and how jaundiced cynicism can force even a ‘seen it all’ music hack to confront the angry working class and his past with the present, in a way that challenges views:
But will I vote for UKIP? Probably not.
But they, at least, address the working class
And challenge Brussels. Why do we accept Brussels?
A fucking super-state that business loves?
Here in one poem is a clue and, given it was written in 2015 and published in 2016 before that referendum vote, a portent, of what happened in the Euro referendum throughout the UK (it suits some to forget that over 1 million voted to leave in Scotland). Catch Luke live if at all possible but if you can’t, buy the book.
Poetry just got interesting again. Both old style and new style have websites, videos and performances that engage the mind, the eyes, the ears and the body. Check it all out for yourself, whether it’s the above or others such as Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest or George the Poet, you will find a voice that resonates. After the success of this year’s National Poetry Day make a pledge to poets and find a new voice, or even go back to an old favourite. n