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Resolution of Sound @ Stained Glass Centre 3rd June 2017

ADAM Festival @ Acomb Library 15th June 2017

Say Owt Slam Clash of Champions III @ The Basement 2nd July 2017

Deer Shed Festival 22nd July 2017

Nerd Punks 3-D @ Edinburgh Fringe, Banshee Labyrinth 20-27th 21.50-22.50


Thursday, 1 December 2016

20.16 Blog #27: Art of Punk Talk

Below is the talk I gave for the Art Of Punk symposium on 25th Nov at Northampton University

Leeds Town Hall, packed with pupils from across all Yorkshire to attend the GSCE poetry live event, featuring some of the greatest poets the establishment deems worth of being on the English syllabus.  Towards the end of the day, a rake-thin figure makes his way onto stage, hair a frothy mess, eyes hidden behind deep black shades.  He holds up a glass of water and bemoans in a thick Salford accent:  “I wanted a whiskey, but they gave me a water.  Why would you want to drink something fish screw in”.  The assemblance of pupils is amused, perhaps bemused.  He proceeds to read I Married A Monster From Outer Space.  He is, of course, John Cooper Clarke and in the audience is a young Henry Raby, on a day out from Oakland Secondary School for a taste of live poetry.

I grew up in an era dominated by American pop-punk, the Blink-182s, the Offspring and Green Day.  These bands never appealed to me, it was only when I was 16 and bought a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks from a car boot sale did I find a joy for punk rock music.

I come from a theatre background, arguably the most punk rock theatre sector:  The Youth Theatre sector.  And in the amphitheatre of the Big Youth Theatre Festival, surrounded by other young people from across the UK I rambled out my first poem which began with the phrase ‘I’m A Post-Nietzsche Creature’, a direct reference to Cooper Clarke’s line in Post-War Glamour Girls.

From then on, I identified as a ‘punk poet’ by virtue of the fact I liked punk, and I did poetry.

Thanks:

BUT WAIT

1.  Does punk poetry come influenced by the dominant music we associate with that term?
2.  Does the virtue of being a punk make your poetry automatically punk, can a punk write non-punk poetry?
3.  What are the literary qualities of the genre, in other words, what the fuck is Punk Poetry?

I upset a fellow in my friends’s band, by saying his other band were not punk, or to be specific, not folk-punk.  They played folk, acoustic rock, bluesy music, but it wasn’t folk.  It was DIY (which we’ll get to later) but it was not punk.  Maybe punk-y.
I’m going to start by saying punk is not a music genre, but it is a genre.
Punk is defined by three things:
Anti-authority, to the point of questioning the world
Anti-commodity, to the point of being DIY
Ugly.
The 1960s were about free love, progression, liberation and freedom.  Peace, man.
So punk celebrated the death of this redundant idea, this fakeness, this lie.
I wanna destroy passer-by, I wanna be sedated, hate & war, I am a poser, love will tear us apart etc.
Now, that’s fine for punk rock music to play with this disgusting behaviour, but poetry is something different.  Poetry is meant to be beautiful,
And punk poetry acts acts came in a wave.  The Medway Poets, Mark Mi Murduz and John Cooper Clarke and Seething Wells and Porky The Poet.  You could catch stand-up comics, and ranters and jugglers and theatre-makers amongst the bands.
So how do we define punk poetry?
Let’s look at anti-authority:
God Save The Queen, She Ain’t No Human Being.
Punk certainly has a healthy distrust for power structures, which is why with a few examples, it usually hovers towards the anarchist wing of politics.  Even the punx (with an x) who enjoy a good few cans of cider and listen to The Casualties with a handy pot of glue hate the authority that would stop them getting smashed, even if by their own admission “politics is bullshit, fucks communists blah blah blah”.  They just wanna do what they wanna do.
And punk poetry is the same that it defines the structures of publishing.
Let’s look at examples of punk poetry from the 1970s and 80s.  Joolz Denby, Bradford-born-and-based poet always found it difficult to get published, or rather publishers found it difficult to deal with her and her frankness.  Attila the Stockbroker regularly rails against the intuitions of bankers, bosses and businesses.  And fascists.  A committed Marxist.  His poetry has always been taking power.
Of course, this politicised life has not been without threat, Joolz talks about being attacked for the way she dressed and acted by men disgusted by her individualism, and Attila about being targeted by the far right.
More modern punk poets include Pete The Temp, who has dedicated his life to supporting squatting activism, and more recently occupations.  Pete comes across as a gentle soul but has been dedicated to rethinking and reclaiming space in an increasingly gentrified London.  Jenn Hart is committed to supporting feminist causes, putting on feminist gigs and acts and writing intense poetry about modern women’s issues.
Here are three chords, now start a band
Punk rock and DIY are not synonymous, but they are often on the same bill DIY.  Metal, Goth, Hip-Hop, cosplay, computer gaming, comic book publishing all have these elements of DIY
I define DIY as making art using whatever materials you have to hand in the most low-fi manner, which can also mean cheapest, way possible to reject capitalist and commodification of that framework.  Very different to entrepeunirliamism, which uses materials to hand but for the end result to actually make money and work within a capitalist framework.
Some bands and promoters come to DIY by necessity, with the lack of support from mainstream promoters or structures, but others choose the DIY life in order to reject a world of money-making.
Punk poetry often employs this form of DIY through the publishing of zines, current zine Paper & Ink and excellent example by Martin Appleby down in Brighton or Zach Roddis who made his own cassettes and poetry books.  Poetry zines can be traced to riot grrrl scenes linked to person zines (perzines).  No one else with publish your work due to your gender, sexuality, race or content of the work (or at least, without editing) so stay the master of your work.
So punk poetry isn’t waiting for publishers to respond, waiting for those deals to come to you.  It’s neither about waiting for gigs, it’s making them happen yourself.  It’s putting on poetry gigs in pubs and small spaces.  We’re putting on Harry Baker in a Church next week.  Rethinking space is increasingly harder, but also increasingly more necessary.
But wait Henry.  This all sounds very familiar.
Political poetry that challenging structures and hierarchies is not unusual.  Look at Adrian Mitchell in the decade before.  Certainly poets from Black communities, like Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zepahniah have always been critical of racist institutions.  Modern black poets, like Inua Ellams and Vanessa Kisuule also tell their own stories.  Jess Green went viral for her attack on Gove, Hollie McNish’s mathematics was a nice summery of the problems with racism, Kate Tempest has been looking at the underside of society, Sophia Walker and Jackie Hagan have told their stories of being queer.
Poets regularly make their own zines and booklets, regularly make event happen on a shoestring.  Kirsten Luckins from Apples & Snakes talks about the ecology of spoken word, like it’s a nature reserve and we artists are the wildlife.
So it’s not just punk poets challenging mainstream thoughts and right-wing politics.
It’s not just punk poets being DIY, either.
So maybe there’s something in the ugliness.
(note ugly =/= not sexy.  Punk can be very sexy, and ugly, at the same time)
Ugly.  Messy.  Weird.  Raw.  Flawed. Homely.  Home.
From the sound effects of vomit on Chumawbawamba tracks, skinheads tattooing their faces to Poly Styrene shaving off her hair and the gobbing.  Lemmy’s looks, the mud the Slits caked themselves in, Joe Strummer’s missing teeth, Johnny Rotten’s Richard III crawl.  Even the word has a root meaning in being worthless.  Make my day, punk.
In commedia del arte, we see the figure of the harlequin, the trickster, who is allowed to get away with mischief.  This character exists today in the gender-blurring lines of the Panto Dame.
Look at Rick Mayall’s character of Rik, and his stand-up where he faffs, sneers and gushes from his greasy face.  He’s parodying a punk poet, he’s subverting subversion.
I would argue punk poetry’s recurring theme is a sense of the ugly, the bizarre, the strange, the dirty.  Whether that’s in the form and the verse, or the topic.
Punk is everywhere under the surface.  It’s in the poetry gigs in pubs and in the politics and in the publishing.  We built that network, and we kept it alive, we united with other genres and scenes.
But punk is when you get sweaty, when your voice is hoarse, when you’re nodding vigorously.  When you feel alive.
So that’s why I’m trying to do nowadays.  Bring the poets to perform at the punk gigs, bring the punk energy to the poetry gigs.  Which is why I run slams.  I want to drag the punk element into spoken word and make it vibrant and noisy and messy.  Similarly, I always try and get a poet to Say Some Words before punk bands to get them out of the comfort zone, introduce new audiences to poetry and also up the ante for the context of poetry.

And that is the role of punks in poetry and punk poetry.  To be the subversive voice inside existing scenes, to keep playing, agitating and twisting.  Being ugly.

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