Tag Archives: Seething Wells

Tug O’ War

Michael Horovitz in Sounds, 13 March 1982, puts in a watercolour of a letter after an article on that years Poetry Olympics.
Comrade Paul Butterfield gets a mention, who was often at the Orient with his dad.

Bushell’s rampage with Attila the Stockbroker (Sounds February 27) sabotages the credibility of its promotion of Attila by being so scornful of everything and everyone else spat on in passing. Just seven examples for the record:-
1: To kill a few myths before rumour becomes ‘fact’: by Attila’s own definition of the ‘gig-crash’ – “jumping on stage uninvited and having a go, invariably half-cut”, he and Seething Wells most certainly did not “crash the Poetry Olympics at the Young Vic ‘for a crack'”.
If you ask Attila I’m sure, being an honest lad, he’ll confirm that the two of them (hitherto completely unknown to me) came up and asked if they could do a short spot. As this would be cutting into the advertised poets’ time, but not wishing to reject two apparently serious young contenders out of hand, I in turn asked McGough, Paul Weller & the rest, each of whom was gracious enough to agree.
2: It wasn’t “the blubber mountain Nuttall” over whom comrade Butterfield hurled his booze, but me. Since this anorexic seizure of the stage was merely prolonging the delay before my introduction of Bushell’s hero & mine, Attila (else why would I be presenting him at prime-time on my show?), it’s hard to see how Butterfield’s veritable gig-crash can be blown up to the stature of “the prole v-sign to the whole farcical event” Bushell’s account suggests.
And the yells of “Shame! Stinker! Lout! Off! Off!” he correctly reports came from “the offended portion of the crowd” who disliked the look of Butterfield or felt his contribution to be a crashing bore much as Bushell himself did most of the others. I found Pierre’s little vision of the Thames full of shit quite a laugh myself. But the argument against unscheduled additions is they rob the punters of their due from the performers they’ve actually come to hear.
3: Attila’s notion of busting “the gates of the Poetry Establishment with a pen in one hand and an axe in the other” is unworthy of him, and the last thing that’s going to fan “the smouldering embers of a working class poetry explosion” in Britain. The image of embers implies there’s been something of a conflagration – which there has. But if the pen is to prove mightier than Maggie’s iron-thatched farm, let alone the international capitalist military-industrial complex, it’ll be because the entrenched bully-boy Divide-&-Rule policies of the guvnors and owners are overwhelmed by the enduring power of the living ideas & voices of its opponents.
You can bet your life if it comes down to a clash of brawn, the axes that prevail will be those ground by yer ruling classes & swung by their hirelings, the brainwashed mercenaries worldwide. if the giant steps taken against that continuing direction by the likes of Joan Littlewood (Mother Courage of Stratford East), Tom Pickard, McGough, Patten, Weller & the rest are themselves assailed as The Enemy or The Establishment by would-be new wavers, the net result is surely that all true poetry & revolutionary aspiration gets that much more easily wiped out by the Tory Philistinism & economic demoralisation virtually all the oral poets are continuing to fight.
4: I chose the Young Vic & Stratford theatres for these Poetry Olympics shows exactly because they’re two of the most working class & multiracial (& least sectarian or class-ridden) venues in London. So far from representing a “bourgeois, snobby, out of touch… alien world of dirty looks” the Theatre Royal’s a deliberately community orientated anti-racist youth centre, built up over the years with the bare hands & heads of Littlewood, Brendan Behan, Shelagh Delaney, Frank Norman & loads more. This tradition of a people’s theatre was extended the night your reporter looked in & left again with his Bushell of prejudices intact – extended by Attila, but also by the black/alternative/racial/rock communicators James Berry, Jeff Nuttall, Adrian Mitchell, Pete Brown, Patrik Fitzgerald & several others.
5: OK, none of us is getting any younger, but for Bushell to assume that because a few of the above may be around their middle years, we’re necessarily also “middle-class, smug, self-satisfied, & stiflingly self-congratulatory” when he admits he only started to listen the fourth time he left the bar for the auditorium, to Butterfield and Attila, leaves him hoist by his own petard his presumed ‘radicalism’ too is gonna be ’emasculated’ if he pays attention to no-one but his mates. At risk to their self-approbation, he & his might pause to consider the possibility that to be a poet or revolutionary at 20 is to be 20, to be them at 40 is to be a poet & revolutionary – as Mitchell, Nuttall, Heathcote Williams (who didn’t get a hearing at Stratford cos of the time waste of all the aggro & interruptions) still turn out to be.
6: Bushell applauds Attila for standing at the mike “in leather jacket, football scarf & DMs, spouting forth about there here and now. If he’d been in the theatre for the others, as distinct from reacting against their clothes, he’d have been able to tell your paper what each of them read & sang about present day realities too. Why should a conformist of one kind mean more than any other – more than that it’s wearer’s mentality or desired public might be uniform – propaganda for proper geese? I wear cords cos they cost £2 on Portobello Road, whereas leather gear’s pricey these days, being chic, I’ve also written quite a lot of soccer poetry, but that doesn’t mean I wear soccer clothes to perform it in, or want to spout it to soccer fans only.
7: The Stockbroker’s claim that JCC made his forerunners “redundant in ’77” by showing that “poetry should be for the people and could be put across to anyone” is unhistorical to say the least. Coops drew on the spadework of the Beats & Dylan & Henri & all of us concerned (like Attila) with “making the audience part of it” – just as we ourselves had benefited from the pathfinding inroads of blues shouters & Dylan Thomas & the Russian revolutionary bards. No real poet is ever made redundant by any other – it’s what makes poetry more like music than say, machine-part assembly. Lennon’s Working Class Hero didn’t replace Ginsberg’s Howl any more than Elvis Costello does Presley. What’s real in art is always contemporary – though the mass of what’s contemporary is not, alas, always real.

Michael Horovitz, Poetry Olympics, Piedmont, Bisley, Stroud, Glos.

Happy New Year

I wish everyone a happy 2021. It’s been a tough 2020. In poetry terms there’ve been hardly any gigs whilst technology has proved friendly and facilitated a plethora of bedroom gigs. Some better, some worse, than those we’ve had on the drunken morning after.
Small presses are still producing new work, and that’s been heartening. Whilst the big presses stress the little guys can move in. A new leaf for the year and for readers.
The blog primarily looks back at the history of working class poetry and spoken word. Primarily from the ranting poets of the early 80s. There’s also a lot of music and politics to give context.
This year the blog will be 7. I’ll be continuing to trawl through zines, music papers and the like for insights and poetry. There’s more interest in the history of spoken work in Britain now. As with the Brexit view of Britain this spoken word historicising frequently comes with a dollop of mythology sauce and a squeezing of todays politics into yesterdays bottles. Class politics and identity politics are often antagonistic. Personally I’m for the the antagony.
Much of the poetry posted here isn’t particularly good as poetry. What is of interest is what people felt was important in their lives to strike as poetry. I’ve heard the blog called ‘a record of outside voices’, and to some extent that’s true but the inside of academia and the safety of arts nepotism is outside most of our experience.
Poetry is more diverse now, definitely a good thing and certainly something we fought for when we were ranters. It’s also noticeable that as it becomes more and more visible it’s becoming increasingly written by ‘the perfumed pen in the velvet glove’, as Seething Wells had it.
When publishers trumpet their new found commitment to diversity it’s for their benefit, not ours. When arts organisations herald their involvement with ‘new voices’ it’s them that gets the funding. There are publishers and arts organisations that do excellent work, and more power to them, but it’s always puzzled me why poets crave acceptance from the very people that have ignored, belittled, and hobbled us for years. We can build our own work, audience, and media. We do it well. So well, every time we’re successful the posh kids take it from us and tell us it’s for our own benefit.
There have been some excellent zines seeing me through lockdown: Hellebore, Rituals & Declarations. both bringing the ‘orror, the always sharply turned out Subbaculture for the yoof cultures, but not much on the poetry. Zines and gigs go hand in hand so hopefully that’ll get sorted once we’re all vaccinated and scaring people in pubs again.
Anyway: the future. 2021 is gonna be hard. The conversation with an audience that makes so much of a live gig for me probably won’t be seen. All that poetry about middle class concerns and worries (and all that stuff I like about reggae, bar fights, and insults) just won’t seem important any more. The new poems will likely be quieter and more internal. I for one look forward to the awfulness of the next Edinburgh Festival (whenever that may be) and the extensive bill of ‘My Lockdown’ shows. The quietness encompasses reflection, and looking back to where our poetry has come from, really come from – where it speaks for itself in our own ‘orrible accents and not the plums Oxbridge has in the icebox and saves for breakfast – is as valuable as writing the poetry that says we’re alive. We’re alive because we’re fighting and writing.

Ranters Tour Holland

Back in 1985 several ranting poets toured Holland. In proper form they toured with punk bands.
Cheers to Nick Toczek for digging this out. Nick writes: “Me and Swells over in Holland same time as Instigators. I’d been in touch with Rob Berends at Paperclip Agency to set this up. He’d previously got me to put together a ranting package for a huge international poetry festival in Amsterdam – six of us did it – me, Swells, Attila, Little Brother, Belinda Blanchard and Dave Reeves – last two then went home, rest of us did more gigs and loads of press and radio stuff.”