Monday, July 4, 2011

Street-centered poetry from a tough part of town

I’ve read enough about Hull, England, to know that it has gone through some rough times, has some mean streets and probably more than a fair share of drugs and too much booze to lubricate and sooth the experience, and has experienced a creative renaissance since the arrival of poet Philip Larkin some years ago. As his publisher says, Mike Watts writes poetry that “looks like Hull, it sounds like Hull and it smells like Hull, a place we are all proud to come from, even if we don't always enjoy the experience of being there at the time.” I can think of any number of cities in the U.S. and elsewhere that fit this description. Though I’ve never lived in one, from reading Mike Watts’ fine book, I can imagine what it's like.

There are some gritty poems in this book, like Cider Barry, “Two Things”, “Chaos Magnet” or “Me”. in Cider Barry, “My mate’s a boozer,/ Always smashed on cider,/ Always lost in space,/ Wind milling/ All over the place./ And it troubles me./ It’s horrible./ … He’s no different from me;/ Good home,/ Good family,/ No trauma,/ No tragedy.” Puts a fellow in an awful dilemma. “Come on just a fiver/ You know I’d do the same for you.”/ I know I shouldn’t,/ But tell me,/ What would you do?”

In “Me”, “I’m afraid of change,/ I’m afraid to change,/ I can’t explain why./ Perhaps this life will do./ Perhaps this life will have to do.” “You want to see angry?” he asks in “Chaos Magnet”; “I’ll show you angry./ Try spending a day in the life of me,/ Try fighting chaos constantly.”

Did I say “gritty”? Gritty and hopeless when faced with a life that looks dead-ended in a dead-end kind of place. But is life limited to that? No, but circumstances can make it seem as though it is, especially when booze and drugs are stirred into the mix.

Mike Watts is one of the leaders of the ThisisUll stable of poets, writers and musicians in Hull, England. You can check them out at

Five stars for this one.

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