13 Days Remaining

Saturday 15th
posted by Morning Star in Arts

Tim Wells: Stand up and spit

“TIM WELLS is made of reggae, lager top, pie and mash and Leyton Orient FC.”

That’s my biog. I’ve long held that a biog is a list of apologies. When I read ’em in magazines and hear ’em at readings I just hear a litany of: “I’m sorry I went to school at… I’m sorry I’ve been published in… I’m sorry I was listed for…”

Even the Morning Star’s own, frequently sparkling, Well Versed column has occasionally lost its fizz by publishing a biog that’s longer than the accompanying poem.

Just how insecure are these writers? “You’re not Brigitte Bardot/I’m not Jack Palance/I’m not Shirley Temple/On any circumstance…” let the music play, Ian Dury.

I recently went to a reading chaired by US academic Peter Kahn. It was for an anthology — published by a US looniversity press and selling for thirty quid — a bloody carpet!

It was notable that a couple of the US poets, and some of the British ones, clung to the position that academia and awards gave them. It wasn’t their poetry talking, it was their doctorates and swipecards, their position and validation that were cherished.

I’ve noticed that many Americans see education as building blocks to a better future while English people like myself have experienced it as a wall keeping us in our place.

I couldn’t wait to leave school and did so at 15. My life as a poet brings me into contact with edumacation far more often than I’m comfortable with and I still see it as a way of keeping working- class people down.

Thanks to student fees it’s got even more so for younger generations. Even my leftie Labour MP is solidly Oxbridge and prefers private school to the ones good enough for her constituents.

In 1905, Jan Machajski wrote: “As absolutism was destroyed or limited and along with it the sway of the crudest and most ignorant magnates, the learned people of Western Europe increasingly secured and multiplied the fat incomes of masters, both in state service and in the whole capitalist economy.

“From the socialist enemy of the capitalists the intelligentsia turned into their best friend, a learned counsellor, the director of bourgeois life. This unchanging history of the intelligentsia has been repeated in all the Western European countries in turn: a rosy socialist youth and then, once it has received a sufficient salary for a parasitic existence, a full and equal bourgeois life.”

I don’t trust the academic poets who purposely avoid talking about class by trumpeting — but not doing — liberal politics. I’d much rather read Salena Godden, Fred Voss, Dean Wilson and the like, who shore up their book learning with lived poetry red in tooth and claw.

Howard Kirk — before you write an essay, there are fine poets in education doing good work and also educating. I’m very pro-learning, it’s exclusion and the old school tie I spit on.

Poetry slams started as a bit of fun and are now mirroring capitalism with competition. We’ve even had slammers crossing picket lines to do gigs at Hackney Picturehouse. I score that down.

But then, creatives are so much more important than people who actually work, right? Artistic voices have to be heard, even if means silencing genuine struggle. I may not be that well-schooled but I know not to cross a picket line.

OK, Howard Kirk, I’ve put some Blockheads on the Dansette, all together now: “We’re as common as muck, bonne chance, viel gluck, good luck. Where bold is beautiful we don’t give a damn, love a duck we’re as common as muck.”