What is ranting?
Senior Lecturer in Writing
I come from a good line of accidental ranters. My granddad from Oldham was famous for his rants (against doctors, politicians, people from Yorkshire and members of the immediate family) and the capacity to get angry and hold forth has been handed on, a jagged, Lancastrian baton. But before I started reading ‘Stand Up and Spit’, I hadn’t thought that much about ranting in its poetic capacity before.
If he’d been sent back in time to the English Revolution, I think my granddad would have made a pretty good Ranter – writing about Abiezer Coppe’s Selected Writings on the blog, Steve Ely described the Ranters as having “a Tourette’s-like commitment to obscenity and swearing”. ‘Commitment’ is the perfect word. I think that’s what used to make some of the family rants so lyrical – you can’t deny there’s poetry in a dedication to swearing, in the repetition of words with guttural sounds. And you can’t deny that – when you look around you – there’s still a lot to rant about, no matter how times change.
Through ‘Stand Up and Spit’, I’ve found out more about the connections between ranting poetry and the striking miners – I’d always known about Sheffield musicians supporting the miners through benefit gigs but I’d never thought about the likes of Attila the Stockbroker and John Cooper Clarke doing the same. Hats off to them. It would have been good to have been a fly on the wall at those nights. My favourite poetry event I’ve done in the past few years (and also my scariest) was reading to a roomful of ex miners at Chesterfield’s Winding Wheel at an event marking 30 years since the strike. There was music, poetry, a very eloquent rant from Dennis Skinner and a song we all joined in with about a policeman hitting a bollard in winter after the pickets had built a snowman round it.
Best of all, ‘Stand up and Spit’ introduced me to the Sleaford Mods and their particular brand of lyrical rant. When I watched the video for ‘Tied Up in Nottz’, I wished the back of the bus to Bolsover had sounded more like that.
Happy Birthday, Stand Up and Spit. I hope the Sleaford Mods jump out of a big cake and surprise you.
Helen Mort, Poet and beer drinker.
The Museum of Alcohol has a lot to learn and the Stand Up and Spit blog has taught us an awful lot about a scene previously undiscovered by our team and audience. Whether you were tea-total or a drunk you were welcome on the ranting poetry scene. All you needed was a filthy attitude and a way with words, this project has both. We can’t wait to read more and hopefully experience something live!
Museum of Alcohol
Stand Up And Spit is doing a great service in placing on record the phenomenon that was ranting poetry. It is enabling us to join the dots between past poetry and today’s spoken word scene. And it is giving us an insight into how that fits with popular culture, working-class life and political protest.
For me, it provoked some thoughts, memories and confidence that helped get me back on the stage.
Janine Booth, the Big J.
What a relief to be able to read about a time when protest was alive and kicking, when it was done through the arts and music and reached ordinary people … people who knew in their guts that things were wrong with British society and felt Ranting poetry touch that chord within them. Growing up in suburban London in the 1970s and 1980s, I hadn’t felt much of a sense of that protest then, beyond enjoying some of the more mainstream bands who made it, such as The Clash, but reading these blogs now and seeing what was happening gives me a sense of hope that poetry can be part of a greater movement again in the fight for social justice and racial equality. These blogs show that poetry doesn’t have to be – shouldn’t be – locked away as some ‘untouchable’ art form high above the cares of the ordinary world, but should be reclaimed by the people for the people. More than ever, Britain in the twenty-first century needs this kind of grassroots creativity as a way of protesting against growing inequality.
Speaking Volumes Live Literature Productions
A few years ago as I was dutifully sitting through another unimaginative panel about ‘protest’ poetry, an audience member asked the gathering of distinguished, prize-winning British poets, where the spirit of revolutionary verse had got to – where were the anti-establishment, angry young voices in poetry? Given that this was a particularly difficult time in Britain’s recent history, directly post-riots and mid-austerity, the question was the right one to ask. But after some vague pontification about the crossover between hip hop and spoken word, the members of the panel didn’t or couldn’t answer the question. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Wells posted about a potential Ranting poetry project and the gloriousness of Stand Up and Spit was born. Celebrating all things filthy, political, sweary, passionate and angry in poetic and musical form both now and through the 80s, he’s more than answered the question the established panel of mainstream poets could not. Growing up in leafy Staffordshire with Thatcher-loving parents and nuns for teachers, much of the political unrest and protest culture of the 80s passed me by and Tim’s blog has pulled together an everything-you-want-to-know about poetry, music and ranting culture at the time. As well as being reminded about the brilliant DIY culture of Zines and the joys of the NME reviews, I’ve discovered artists like the brilliant Sleaford Mods and Emily Harrison. Thanks to Tim and SUS, we no longer have any excuse for ignorance……
Speaking Volumes Live Literature Productions
Hard Left had heard of ranting but had never met an actual ranter, until now. Well-met Tim Wells! One of Hard Left’s basic ideas is that left wing politics and “youth” subcultures have something to do with each other. Stand up and Spit seems to be predicated on the same principle. Who has not, like the imprisoned anarchist in Lena Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties, wanted to drown themselves in shit rather than suffer what capitalism has to offer? Here lies point of connection number one: for however unpolitical subcultures like skinhead have claimed to be (or however often they have sometimes embraced the wrong politics), the refusal at their heart has also fuelled the political movements dedicated to capitalism’s overthrow. From the English Diggers of the 17th Century to the Parisian communards of 1871, from the union militants of the IWW in America to those of the CNT/FAI in Spain, history is not shy of examples of working people recognizing their class interests. And subcultures, too, represent a recognition of class interests, if sometimes only in a seemingly obscure location like the proper fold of a hankerchief in a crombie. And here lies point of connection number two — for both style subcultures and radical political movements are historical projects: it is up to us to know our own history, to document it, and to learn from it.
Tim’s postings of zines and other ephemera are more than fodder for historians and style-antiquarians — they are examples of bottom-up culture made by working class people for working class people. And they parallel the attempt of left-wing radicals to know and work from our collective history. Working class subcultures and working class politics belong together. And here lies connection number three: the only art worth making is an art the recognizes the class struggle. Hard Left can say with assurance that we’re sick of “indie” culture with its non-politics of personal anomie. Too cool for art that serves the people? Get with it, idiots — Tim Wells and Hard Left are coming for you! Look for our first collaboration soon!
I started this blog, in fact I was persuaded to as I’ve always laughed at bloggers. Anyway, I started it to document some spoken word history. Spoken word is in a very healthy state and I thought it about time we looked back to it’s history and roots. The history is pre-interweb, so for many people didn’t exist and unlike many commentators at least I was there.
Over the last year I’ve been suprised at how much we did. We did some pretty big gigs, reached a lot of people and a very diverse audience at that. All without arts organistaions (in fact the Poetry Society, now very spoken word friendly, detested us at the time), literary awards or the YouTubes. The ‘zines on the blog are testament to how handmade much of this was, and while much of it is amateur it also shows that people were passionate about what they were saying and wanted to say it right that moment.
I’m pleased that people who’ve been reading the blog, young writers expecially, tell me they’re looking at spoken word and where it comes from differently as a result. It’s also interesting, though a bit depressing, that the same young people comment that we we’re addressing the same injustices and social issues that they are 30 odd years later. On the positive side many of the new breed have as much spit and fight in them as we did.
Spoken word today has it’s own style, as well it should. Even more excitingly: styles, plural. I’d like to think in our ranty, sweary way we broke down some of the drab edifice that poetry had and encouraged people to get up and out of the rut we’re supposed to be in.