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    Punk Poet's Laureate's Popularity Persists

    Published on 27/10/2014 by David Birkett

    John Cooper Clarke honouredMilton Keynes may seem an unlikely destination for a pilgrimage, but it seemed to be that kind of journey when I recently visited the city to see the poet John Cooper Clarke.  Cooper Clarke’s verbal offerings made a significant impact on my developing awareness of words and poetry when he first rose to fame in the late 1970s.  I was intoxicated by the poems’ adroit use of rhythm and rhyme, and their juxtaposition of wit and agile expression with a sense of social and political outrage, not to mention the energetic and unapologetic use of profanity (viz ‘Evidently Chickentown’).  There was also the sheer exuberance and delight in language which was evident in the content and delivery of the poems, a feature perhaps more immediately in evidence in ‘performance’ poetry than in some of the genre’s more literary manifestations:

    A black belt karate cop opened up the door
    Demanding information about the stiff on the floor
    He looked like an extra from Yang Shang Po
    He said “What’s all this then?
    Ah so, ah so, ah so.”
    He wore a bamboo mask
    He was gen’ned on zen
    He finished his devotions and he beat me up again.

    (from Kung Fu International).


    JCC’s physical presence was equally strong – a long, emaciated body, inevitably shrink-wrapped in a black suit, erupting in a gaunt face and tall, jagged arrangement of black hair, made him look like a lower-case i, the dot of which had suddenly exploded.

    It is always with a little trepidation that you meet your idols in the flesh, albeit in a far-from-private setting, but the evening failed to disappoint.  The overture was provided in two parts by Mike Garry and Luke Wright, each of whom showcased interesting and different styles of modern spoken word delivery and content.  Garry blends his recitations with snatches of song and acting elements, while Wright expertly delivers (usually) comic, very well-crafted observations on society, culture and politics.  The stand-out pieces for me from this duo were Garry’s lovely, wistful elegy to the late Mancunian music and culture icon Tony Wilson, Saint Anthony, and Wright’s comic tour-de-force celebrating the prodigious (in all senses) charms of a formidable woman, Bloody Hell, it’s Barbara.

    Cooper Clarke, now styling himself ‘Doctor’ since receiving an Honory Doctorate from the University of Salford, took the stage in the second half of the evening, and wove stand-up joke-telling (some of which fell into the extremely shaggy dog category) and droll but intelligent musings on how to best get through this life business, into recitations of old and new poems.  He is a little mellower than I remember, and it was a pleasure to see and hear at first-hand how skilfully he works an audience.  The biggest ovation of his performance was reserved for the poem I Wanna be Yours, an ironic tribute to the pop love song, which was given a new lease of life by The Arctic Monkeys in 2013, and in which the good Doctor declares:

    I wanna be your vacuum cleaner

    breathing in your dust

    I wanna be your Ford Cortina

    I will never rust.


    Cooper Clarke’s subject matter was as varied as ever, taking in politics, love, haiku and even necrophilia.  We were treated to not only his best-known polemic Beasley Street (which paints a bitterly bleak picture of life and death in an impoverished Salford neighbourhood), but also its ironically updated descendant, Beasley Boulevard, in which we learn that vapid gentrification has transformed the slum into a bourgeois nightmare.


    Whether you consider yourself a poetry lover or not, if you want to be exposed to witty, sometimes subversive and very entertaining uses of the form which comment on modern life, make you see that life in different lights and cause you to frequently (as they say) lol, you could do worse than catch one of the remaining gigs.



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