A look back at the political pop music of the year, overshadowed by the miner’s strike, from Marxism Today, December 1985.
Michelene Wandor’s article on the Poet Laureateship sets of a pre-facebook flame war, though obviously a much slower paced one. Firstly from Marxism Today, August, 1984.
THE THING ITSELF
Michelene Wandor expresses the attitude of MT when she writes (MT July 84): “In left-wing journalism poetry is feared or dismissed as bourgeois individualism and discounted by radical publishers as ‘not selling’.” Her articles are the closest thing to poetry it prints. With few outlets for ‘political’ poetry in the UK, radical journals frequently declare their commitment to it as a resource for the Left, yet only publish prose. This country’s tradition of political verse stretches back past Milton, yet left-wing journalists direct our attention to those writers who achived success through and after Punk. That many of these have revived some of the most banal poetic forms recieves no comment.
Many poets show ‘streetwise verbal richness’ (Adrian Mitchell, Roy Fisher, Tom Pickard, Geraldine Monk, Barry MacSweeny, Duncan Bush) but are interested in more than streetsense. These and other writers are attempting to deconstruct the realities of capitalism with language, and to construct new modes of thought and relationship which will hasten the material advance of Socialism. Yet, Mitchell excepted, no interest is shown in their work by those ostensibly devoted to all forms of radicalism.
What of the radicalisation of language?
If poetry is a valid tool for the Left, why do those who could facilitate its publication reject it ‘because it takes up too much space’? Space is given to those poets popular among London’s radical chic: is success therefore the definitive measure of value? Success in a publishing system obsessed with profitability, despite ‘radical’ publishing. That poetry should be subject to constraints applied to no other form of language: that it be as selfexplanatory as a cartoon and as lucrative as a pop-song; shows an immaturity in the perception of poetry that magazines like MT should attempt to change by publishing not articles about poetry but the thing itself.
The following month in Marxism Today, September, 1984, Ranter Dino the Frog champions the Doc Martened poets.
Comrade Jafrate’s alleged taste in poetry certainly contradicts his desire to hear ‘streetwise’ oriented poetry (MT Aug 84). I assume by streetwise he means ‘by the working class, for the working class’, yet how many of these people does he see at poetry events?
The truth is that these events are poorly attended, the reason being that, as Adrian Mitchell said: ‘Most people ignore poetry because poetry ignores people’.
I am one of the punk/post-punk poets (though I’d rather be called a Ranter) he dismisses as being a revivalist of banalism. If I, and others such as Swift Nick, Attila The Stockbroker, Little Brother,
Seething Wells and Peter Campbell, are reviving banalism, then so be it, but we’re getting across to a big audience and attracting many people who never imagined they’d ever like poetry. We exist because of our fellow human beings, not in spite of them. We’re not in the business of dumping the listener in a verbal maze in mid-performance (and we are essentially live performers) and aurally torturing them as is the usual practice of the ME generation poets, but kicking poetry off its hallowed pedestal and taking it back to the people, spreading the word of unity and having a good laugh at the same time.
MT readers can learn more by sending 40p and a sae to Tirane Thrash, 161 Spencers Croft, Harlow, Essex.
Dino the Frog,
The first anthology from Apples and Snakes gets a review in Jamming!, number 21, October, 1984. Funnily enough it’s an anthology that at times when Salena Godden and I are drunk we get the book of the shelf and play “Where are they now?”
Also reviewed are books by Adrian Mitchell and an anthology of West Indian poetry edited by James Berry. There’re a few poems from readers too.
There’s a lot of talk about how mainstream poetry is nowadays, but back in the 80s we were covered in national music papers, to a predominantly non-poetry audience. It seems to me, that whilst we are in a healthy place with spoken word, we’re still reaching to niche audiences. Who’s to blame? I leave that for you to decide.
The NME, 5 May, 1984 reviews that years Poetry International.
Sunburn: Ouch! Insect bites: 6 Poetry mug: Overflowing.
Latitude was the festival that really got poetry stages working, and popular at festivals. This year was no exception. There was a fine line up of established poets such as Don Patterson and Elaine Feinstein, as well as spoken word regulars Mark Gwynne Jones and Attila the Stockbroker alongside up and comers such as Emily Harrison and Bridget Minamore.
For the poets it’s as much an AGM as a chance to lounge in the sun with a beer and a chance to wander about listening to bands and posh people. The only bands I knew anything about this year were Squeeze, who were excellent, and New Order, who were never my cup of tea. I did get several people believing that John Barnes was gonna do his rap on World In Motion, so they at least gave me some comic potential.
I didn’t get there ’til satuday lunchtime so missed a fair bit, but the first turn I saw was the amiable Martin Newell. The Essex lad is a solid performer and brought humour and charm to his set, and the day’s best outfit.
Martin Newell and Tim Wells
Tim Wells did both a sober set and a drunk set on Saturday, and is gonna get a good review ‘cos he’s the one writing this.
Emily Harrison followed Tim and showed why she was best Spoken Word Performer of 2016. She gave us a set of poignant poems that were funny, engaging and the crowd warmed to. Her poetry about experiences in mental health wards are written in a way that invite the audience ito her life and see her as just another person rather than scream “I am a victim!” It’s this care over meaning that makes her so good. Emily’s Quinoa Is Only Spelt Like That To Out The Working Class was perhaps my favourite Latitude poem. Great writing, and the right audience. Politics can dress well and have a sense of humour. Pulling the rug from under someone whilst you smile is a far better political tactic than just stamping your muddy trainer all over their rug.
There was a great moment when Attila the Stockbroker exclaimed “So that’s how you pronounce quinoa!”
The lad himself turned in an hour long set and kept the pace frenetic. As you’d expect no shortage of political opinions there, and no shortage of humour either. Great to see him gigging as ever.
Tim Wells, Bridget Minamore, Attila the Stockbroker
Bridget Minamore is another fine young poet, and one who’s been doing a few Stand Up and Spit gigs too. She’s also direct and has a sense of humour.
Holly McNish read from her diary as well as doing some poems about motherhood from her recent collection Nobody Told Me. She had people in the crowd crying, as so many people recognised their own experiences in her sensitive, and human, work.
I managed down an ample supply of lager, the boss of the poetry backstage, Lisa, was an absolute star who kept everything running smoothly and was both helpful and a good laugh. Big up Stephanie on the gate too.
I shared a few jokes with a woman called Jack and she took me for salt beef beigels. Predictably the beigels were spelt bagels and were in fact just bread rolls with an ‘ole and the mustard was Dijon. But still better than quinoa.
It was also good to have a chat with Robin Ince and Josie Long, and to share a few beers with the ever-theatrical Alan Cox over at the Literature tent. Back to Poetry and Henry Normal sat down at the edge of the stage and did a lovely reading of his work. I know he’s a busy lad, but I wish he’d gig more.
Beer, beer, beer and back to the tent. The tent next to mine was I think the best of the festival.
Sunday was one hot day, and the poetry matched up. Helen Mort was the first act I caught of the day, and she’s always a joy. The audience liked her and she was a great start to my poetry day.
Jenny Lindsay is also someone who’s put in the poetry graft, she’s organised so much poetry in Scotland as well as campaigning for Scottish independence. Both feature in her hour long set, one that she’s having to frequently re-wrtie as the political events of the UK (it is at the moment!) unravel ever faster and ever more threadbare.
Chimene Suleyman took part in a panel reading from the anthology The Good Immigrant. She read an interesting peice about her name, it’s various mispellings and different way it’s used. Chimene always writes emotionally but always brings an objective view and a sense of humour.
After a chat with the charming Isy Suttie it was back to Poetry, with a share of Literature beer, half of those pwopah authors just don’t drink. Don Patterson had a bottle of whiskey and wasn’t sure how much to cane it before this reading. I suggested half sober/half drunk and keep the dramatic tension. His reading was quality and he, rightly, shifted plenty of copies of his Sonnets.
I caught Lisa Luxx in full flow and then there was a run of the grime type acts. Some of these just let the label do all the work for them, whilst others really delivered. Yomi ‘GREEdS’ Soli in particular was a lot of fun, nice bloke too, and a great set from him.
Special mention to Michelle Madsen, Rosy Carrick and Johnny Fluffypunk for some excellent hosting, never intrusive they built the atmosphere and kept the poetry flowing. Not to forget the rabbit who visited us several times backstage.
Latitude is famous for it’s brightly coloured sheep, which myself and Kyra went to find. They seemed bemused by their new pinkness, but bright pink they were indeed.
John Osbourne wore an expression of wasted bemusement all weekend, and fair play to him.
Beers with Jemima Foxtrot
John Hegley wound up the poetry with a textbook set. He involved the whole crowd who sang along and danced. He’s the most loveable grumpy teacher I know. Thereafter we managed a few beers and were delighted to meet Adrian Mitchell’s grand-daughter. The last time I’d seen Adrian was at latitude where we shared a portacabin. I as checking my flies before going onstage and, reading after me, he was checking his false teeth were in firmly. “Always be prepared, Tim” he told me. He’s a sad loss to both Latitude and Poetry but Poetry marches ever on. Based on the bill curated by Luke Wright it’s in good health.