The anthology Apples and Snakes: Raw and Biting Cabaret Poetry reviewed in Jamming!, number 21, 1984.
Apples and Snakes: Raw and Biting Cabaret Poetry
(Pluto Press, £1.95)
Following the success of the Apples and Snakes cabaret comes this volume of representative work. ‘Here are the rants, raves, screams, and whispers that are the poetry of today’, proclaims the cover.
The intentions of A&S are creditable enough – a return to the idea of poetry as a means of mass communication/information, rather than safe entertainment for a smug elite – though ultimately they are playing to an equally narrow field as their reactionary precursors.
Take Attila the Stockbroker (please!) who reveals his bootboy mentality in ‘Contributory Negligence’ (concerning the beating up of a judge) – ‘He asked for it! He’s rich and snobbish/right wing, racist sexist too!’ Hardly endearing qualities, though merely a listing of traits he knows his ‘hip’ audience will despise, thus justifying his violence.
The original emphasis, it must be remembered, was on performance, and many of these pieces suffer as words on a page. The contributions from John Hegley – hilarious in his deadpan style – appear curious nonstarters in print.
Also, the poets tend to over-reach themselves, writing what they ‘ought’ to, rather than what they know. The most effective pieces come from deeply-felt emotions on a wide range of topics (those by Marsha Prescod, Rory McLeod, Fran Landesman, for example).
Otherwise we have little more than ‘grown -up’ nursery rhymes – the type of crude lavatory humour that typifies most ‘youth’ poetry, from Seething Wells and John Cooper Clarke through to Pat Condell. Politically there is little genuine concern here – were the country ever run by a humane government (a contradiction like ‘living corpse’, but bear with me) this bunch would be at a loss for subject matter.
What is advertised as ‘raw and biting’ is, at the end of the day, as toothless and ineffectual as its declared enemy.
East End poet Gladys McGee in a 1984 Apples and Snakes gig at the Captains Cabin pub. During the 80s Billy Bragg ran a popular gig there too which many ranters performed at.
This nautical pub was just off the Haymarket. As well as Apples and Snakes gigs, Billy Bragg also ran a night before he made it big. I was his keyboard stand on a few occasions.
There were some great line ups at Apples and Snakes in the early days, this flier from 1985 has Seething Wells, Levi Tafari, Little Brother, Porky the Poet, Nick Toczek, Surfin Dave, the Mad Kiwi Ranter and more.
An Apples and Snakes gig, complete with ‘outraged feminist harangue’, at the Captain’s Cabin reviewed in the Poetry Review, Vol 74 Number 2, from 1984.
In the outrage of the afternoon
The velvet couch smothered the waste paper basket until it was dead
the lamp flex strangled the dining room chairs till they croaked into splinters
The carpet arched its back and tipped over the coffee table, breaking all its legs
The electric fire scorched the potted plants until they withred neatly to nothing
The cushions chomped on smaller cushions and flubbered over the strewn foam plastic
The vacuum cleaner chundled the ironing board
The hairdryer blew all the book out the window
The vegetable slicer shredded th curtains to crimpolene coleslaw
The cheese grater rubbed the wallpaper to confetti
The electric toothbrush burrowed into the heart of a shrieking armchair
The eiderdown suffocated the poodle pyjama-case
The mattress hurled the blankets onto the floor as the bed booted their soft defencelessness
The stereo unit mouthed abuse at the television screen
The drinks cabinet threw sharp-edged wine glasses at the silent ornaments
The coffee percolator spat black spit at the unarmed skirting boards
The ashtray toppled over, murking the gut of a crystal goldfish bowl
And in the midst of it all
In the midst of it all
Was Suzi Dishcloth’s sadness
As deep as midnight
Her one unquestionable power.
With sadness she could mash a city to nothing.
Ann Ziety gigged widely as a poet, particularly with New Variety and Apples and Snakes gigs. This poem appears in the 1992 Apples and Snakes The Popular Front of Contmporary Poetry anthology that celebrated their first decade.
A poster advertising Apples and Snakes regular West End poetry night in 1984.
From Out On The Floor ‘zine, no.3, 1985