Rant Or Be Damned!
Third Poetry Olympics
Young Vic London
NME, 11th December, 1982
‘Poetry’ as a social force is no nearer the mainstream of rock, TV, football and politics than it ever was before.
The immortal bard C S Murray after the first Poetry Olympics NME Oct 4th, 1980
And so another year, another Poetry Olympics. The Michael Horovitz circus has come to town, or to be precise, the Young Vic – a precious outpost of alien, middlebrow culture landed somewhere behind Waterloo station.
The Horowitz groupies are here once more and so too Horovitz, “a man whose name is often mentioned,” (as CSM noted two years back) “when the question ‘Who is the worst poet in Britain?’ is asked.”
It is schlock-Horovitz – resplendent in cream waistcoat, green shirt and matching voice – who directs the proceedings, interrupting the flow to announce each poet with rambling excess.
Michael Smith lopes on oblivious, tam askew, to recite some cool verse. Skinny in casual trousers, stooped and stepping lightly to gentle rhythms, he has a slight humour and a narrow outlook.
Lacking the anger and snap-rhythm of LKJ, Smith spends too much time muttering about “the oppressed and the dispossessed” (Bah! A muttering black nationalist is a poet without rhyme or reason) But, at his best, he strews pert one-liners and clever declamations and, anyway, ‘Mi Cyaan Believe It’ has a truly great chorus.
Kevin Coyne came on twice, warbling warmly and ending his final reprise with a quote from Frank Randle, that hardest of comics. Others, like Elizabeth Shepherd, whine more miserably and quote the wrong people.
It takes Benjamin Zephaniah to shake up the flaccid banality of it all, the only poet to use words (to brutal effect) – the only poet who wasn’t a poet at all but a ranter.
The Olympics’ first PERFORMER., Zephaniah was magnificent. He flails his hands and heavy locks and shakes in a fit. Crashing thru’ lively monologues and linking sweetly, he talks to his audience, pulls them in and cracks them up.
A rare force, a class-conscious internationalist black writer, Zephaniah combines a taut, percussive vocal rhythm with a wicked political intelligence. If rant always meant rock, TV, football and politics, then now it means dreadlocks as well . . .
Roger McGough, lapsed king of beat alliteration, came back in a grey Mao suit to finish off the event.
He’s some fine moments as a writer, ‘struth, but though he pulled some laughs and laughed himself he sounds too tired, too best-years-gone.
Rant took the day and ‘poetry’ is still deluding itself. When the metre runs out, it’s time to go . . .
Second half of the Poetry Olympics saw organiser Michael ‘Thatcher is a fascist dictator’ Horowitz introduce an assorted bunch.
Before the evening started I thought poetry was compositions in verse. Something I found impossible to squeeze from my school pen. Alvaro Pena Rojas (the Chilean with the singing nose) was the first of many to prove me wrong. He frantically chanted mainly incomprehensible lines – with the occasional four-letter word giving the impression of an asthmatic pervert.
Adrian Mitchell, a camp, beat poet was very funny – reliving schoolday bullying in ‘Playground Blues’ and advising us not to bind down our limbs with mortgages – maybe poets can never afford houses.
Heathcote Williams could be the epitomy of modern middle-class poets. A jumble clad pseudo tramp, with carefully placed holes in his jeans, who likes to shock his audience with swearing and references to Jesus’ sex life. The girls at the back tittered and blushed. Give me Benny Hill or Frankie Howard anyday.
The token black for the evening was Michael Archangel. A Lenny Henry dread who was serious and the all-white audience loved him. Preaching to the converted will not help.
Richard Jobson spat out his words with passion and fire. Acting out an account of growing up in Scotland, he convincingly played the various roles of priest, father and son. Like a radio play concerning hard drinking and religion, a Jobson ‘poem’ illustrates his intention of trying to establish himself as a serious actor. Maybe he should leave the 1930’s and join us in the 1980’s. That’s definitely where Attila The Stockbroker is.
Attila is relevant and understandable, not introspective and self-indulgent. Music is introduced, as Red Ruth (flute) and Lynn (squeezebox) helped Attila with his punk/folk/reggae/rap ‘Punky Civil War’. Highlight of the event was the Pythonesque monologue ‘Albanian Football’.
A breath of fresh air to finish off a very ‘alternative’ evening . . .