Cbr12bingo Repeat (for Pandemic) BINGO x2: vertical Uncannon to Repeat, horizontal Money to Violet
Over the past seven months of pandemic quarantining, my husband and I have done a lot of mindless TV/video watching, and thanks to the smart TV, we aren’t just limited to regular TV fare but can watch anything that’s on the internet on our big screen. As a result, we seem to have subscribed to, and hence watch, more YouTube channels than anything else. We are big fans of British comedian and actor Greg Davies, and since we have already watched his specials and every TV show he has been in (The Inbetweeners, Cuckoo, Man Down), we started looking for anything featuring him on YouTube, which is how we discovered British ‘people’s poet’ John Cooper Clarke. Clarke and Davies appear regularly on British “panel shows” such as 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and Would I Lie To You? (If you want to go down an absolutely delightful and entertaining rabbit hole, search for British panel shows, and be sure to watch all seasons of The Taskmaster. You’re welcome.) John Cooper Clarke looks like a mix of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood: in black from head to toe, cigarette dangling from his lips, with a hint of “I may have had a drink/toke before the show” about him. Clarke often reads his poetry on these shows, and he is hilarious and thought provoking. So I decided to get a copy of one of his two volumes of poetry.
The Luckiest Guy Alive, published in 2018, is a collection of about 40 poems, some funny, some serious, and all featuring clever word play that needs to be said out loud in order to be fully appreciated. Clarke’s poems remind me a little of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in their cadence, rhyme scheme, and focus on street life. As mentioned above, Clarke is referred to as the ‘people’s poet’ as well as a ‘punk poet’, and the subject matter of his poems bears this out. Some of his works take a gimlet-eyed view of contemporary Britain; others seem more autobiographical, and some are just humorous. In the latter category is a piece called “I Wrote the Songs,” which starts like this:
I wrote the songs that nearly made
The bottom of the hit parade
Almost anthems, shoulda been hits
Songs like Puttin’ off the Ritz
Some enchanted afternoon
Twenty-four hours from Levenshulme
Dancing in the daylight, singing in the smog
You ain’t nothin’ but a hedgehog
“Attack of the 50ft Woman,” “Pies,” and “Bongo’s Trousers,” which is a poem about Bono’s leather pants, cowboy hat and sunglasses being stolen, are also part of this humorous category. “Bongo’s Trousers” also seems to be a fun way to take some digs at Bono’s expense.
Who stole Bongo’s trousers and his ten-gallon Stetson hat
He can’t myther his Holiness the Pope improperly dressed like that
In the self-related category, Clarke writes poems such as “Get Back on Drugs You Fat Fuck,” “I’ve Fallen In Love With My Wife,” and “Psychedelicate.” That latter begins,
(here’s what happened when
somebody drugged my marijuana)
Repulsed by facts I may be sick
I’m leaning on a rubber stick
I can’t drink water it’s just too thick
The poems that hit me hardest were those that seem to be commentary on British society, but I cannot claim to have understood all of the references and criticisms. A number of poems take aim at shallow, arrogant upper class jerks (“Your Metrosexual Ex,” “Egg Head,” “Pity the Plight of Young Fellows”). Others look at the plight of the average working class person dealing with authority or upper class disdain (“The Motorist,” “Pleb Squad,” “Outrage on the Out”). The final poem in the collection, “Beasley Boulevard,” seems to be a poem about what we might call “gentrification” of a working class neighborhood.
Noodle bars, poodle parlours
Studio Bronze and Ask
Somebody saw the Prince of Charles
In an Alfred E. Newman mask
Anything could happen, but it hardly ever does
There’s a pub but the regulars are barred
Nobody there to harsh your buzz
On Beasley Boulevard.
There were a few instances in reading these poems where I wondered if I was missing something, and I’m not exactly sure what Clarke’s politics are. After the Brexit vote, he said that they should just get on with it and implement the policy, not necessarily because he agreed with it (he refused to say what side he supported in the matter) but because in a democracy, you follow through with the results after an election. Clarke uses some charged words that might offend (one poem makes reference to “Spics”). For the most part, though, these are poems that are accessible to the masses and contain great imagery, humor and a provocative point of view.