A festival of ranting poetry packed with talks, gigs and exhibitions is giving the politcal elite a good left hook, writes JASON KING
RICHARD III isn’t the only thing to have been dug up of late. Ranting verse, a style of immediate, angry, political poetry has also been getting a dusting off, and it’s in better health than limp Dick.
Poet and Well Versed contributor Tim Wells has been exploring the history of this 1980s poetic tirade on his Stand Up and Spit blog, and now a series of gigs, talks and an exhibition is underway.
Readers of our Well Versed column will know that poetry and politics often buy each other a round, and many of the poets will be familiar to our readers: Attila the Stockbroker, John Cooper Clarke, Salena Godden, Tim Wells, Janine Booth and Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ) among many, many others. Attila is still a very active poet, as readers of his regular Morning Star column will be more than aware.
The gigs don’t just features ranters, but also young poets who are railing against injustice and exploitation, just as Seething Wells and the older generation were. As Tim points out: “What we have in common are the same enemies.”
Tim’s blog has interviews, reviews and articles from the music press and zines of the late ’70s and early ’80s and they make it abundantly clear how vibrant the range of working-class protest was under Thatcher.
Poets in the early ’80s were jumping up in between bands, supporting the miners and getting public in pubs.
The poetry was by and for ordinary people, and did some extraordinary things, garnering Sunday supplement features, regular music press features and TV appearances as well as creating DIY zines and gigs.
Stand Up and Spit is also showcasing young writers who actively have something to say — the legacy of ranting verse may well be immediacy and involvement rather than literature. Emily Harrison’s honest poetry about mental health is being particularly well received. The sense of humour and wit in her work boots the “victim” stereotype where it hurts.
May 15 sees Suzanne Moore, Garry Bushell (now that’s a pairing), writer Salena Godden, Tim Wells and historian Prof Matthew Worley discuss ranting’s origins and output at the British Library.
They’ll be looking at how working-class, protesting poets gave themselves a voice through verse, performance and zines.
It’s part of the Magna Carta celebrations — and these poets definitely grabbed the notion of free speech for all and ran with it.
Also on the horizon is a June 18 gig at the Camden Centre in the heart of London’s King’s Cross, with just about every ranter still alive and out of prison on the bill. There’ll be Attila, LKJ, Porky the Poet, Joolz, Little Dave, John Hegley, the Big J and many more. That’s set to be a lively and busy gig.