God’s Waiting Room
The Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington was no castle, believe me, it was more like God’s waiting room. Apparitional husks doused in liquor, wailing from bar to bar, trying to resolve their afflictions. It stunk to high heaven. I was surprised that they didn’t use sawdust to mop up the piss and beer, but it was the agreed destination to meet the skinhead scribe, Tim Wells. I arrived early and decided that having a drink was a good idea. And the rest of the occupants of the bar thought this was also a good idea, even though they were there seven hours prior to my decision. I stood at the bar chatting to the only sweet looking thing in there, everyone else was yellow with alcohol abuse, orange stained cigarette fingers to match and bitter tongues. Don’t get me wrong I was born in a pub; but I still have a little life left in me and I don’t claim for disability allowance, yet.
But as I sipped from my glass an old degenerate started shouting and screaming about some minor default with the horse he was betting on, spilling beer over an African English pimp dressed in his best terracotta suit. From there on in everything was explosive, God’s waiting room simply erupted, fists flying, beer and spirits flying – the only thing that wasn’t flying was my spirits, as Mr. Wells hadn’t arrived yet. (one certain flight path was the spit from the old man’s mouth, into the face of the bar staff, but that’s another story.) But I was talking to the editor of N16 magazine (that was Stoke Newington’s local magazine) and they featured Tim regularly. They told me that he wouldn’t do the interview for me, which I was fine about as I’d done my homework and was ready for him. So five o’clock came and he was dead on time, despite my doubts.
I bought him a pint out of courtesy and he returned the favour, this was how it went for the rest of the night. I asked him what he had been doing recently and to my surprise he explained that he was writing a poem about a perfume, which was to be completed for April. I guessed that this wasn’t his normal agenda, it was very “high prices, so not quite consumer culture.” This seemed odd to me, that he might have been promoting something as fickle and unnecessary as a perfume, he explained that he thought it was a “little bit different and quite interesting,” and it was more of an “event” rather than a superficial advert with his name on it. As we sipped down a couple more glugs of the amber nectar a random crazy lady appeared from nowhere, “It’s the sexiest man in Stoke Newington!” she garbled, “hello I was going to come and see you,” “I’ll be back in a minute, yeah, just got to see somebody else,” she replied and buzzed off in the direction of the so called beer garden, which was a patio the size of a small pantry, cluttered with throw away table and chairs. “So you’re a ladies man then,” I said, “well I’ve been doing a lot of that,” and we laughed with beer foaming from our jug like mouths. He informed me of his agenda for the next couple of months, he said he had a few magazine launches coming up that he had been writing for and also a couple of books just coming out, anthologies he had been working on, “there’s one about different forms of writing and another, poems about films and TV.”
One of the main reasons for this interview was to get a point of view from somebody who had experience performing and writing in London about how popular poetry was becoming and why it was so popular, for me, I believed this was due to the fact that class barriers were becoming blurry and people really have something to say about our political, sociological and economic situation, but then again; hadn’t that always been the case with poetry. Tim explained that he “thinks it’s more visible.” During this statement random crazy lady returned and Tim spoke to her with hints of cockney rhyming slang, for Tim was the archetype London skinhead, “So last words on the month, if I don’t hear from the geezer tomorrow I’m going to knock it on the head because I can’t be chasing people around, I’ll be dropping in. I’m gigging, I’ve got two gigs Saturday but that’s Saint Paddy’s day so I’m gonna [sic] have a beer, so yeah ill see you soon.” And with that she disappeared. He carried on explaining what he thought about the popularity of poetry today, “I think for a long time a lot of people in poetry got worked up that people didn’t deal with poetry seriously and I don’t think that did poetry any favours;” he digressed “what I think is a lot better is, young people now, they’re happy seeing a good poet in the same way they’re happy seeing a good band, they’re happy seeing a good comedian, they’re happy seeing a good stripper, whatever as long as it’s entertaining, it’s engaging, it’s saying something.”
I’m on a mission to reveal that poetry is moving away from the stiffness and rigidness of the middle class and when I asked Tim this, the interviewee became the interviewer; he retorted “are you saying there’s something wrong with being stiff and rigid?” “Well it depends if you’re dead or not” I relayed back and with wit and venom he replied, “it depends on who you’re talking about.” The dulcet tones of the pub were violently perpetrated by the harsh shouts from the drunks in the corner, interrupting my interview. I turned back to Tim and told him that I meant that poetry was moving away from the traditional and classical forms, he explained that “has always been there to a certain extent and that will always be there and it’s good that it is, give people like me something to kick in the nuts,” I couldn’t of agreed more. We chatted briefly about the civil war at The Poetry Society last year between the director Judith Palmer and the editor of The Poetry Review Fiona Simpson, “it’s just posh kids fighting” and then we quickly reverted back to spoken word. “One thing with spoken word is that it has actually built its own place in the market, wanting for better words, but we’ve built our own audiences and media, we’ve built our own reputation and none of that came from established poetry. There are people in established poetry who are very helpful and are very supportive so I’m not going to say bad things about them because they deserve recognition for that, but there were also a lot of people who weren’t helpful.” I asked him if he ever had any help on the circuit in the late 70’s, early 80’s, he said the only help was “doing poetry in between bands, we were doing a lot of reggae shows and a lot of punk shows.” However he did say that The Poetry Society would seem “very much the enemy, I have to say that these days it’s quite helpful and they’re quite interested in spoken word” and that it was down to the “sheer number of bums on seats” that they have to start taking the spoken word poets seriously. My next question came down to class, working class as a matter of fact, “I wouldn’t say that spoken word is working class, I’d very much like it to be,” he revealed to me that there are a lot of posh kids doing hip-hop and spoken word, we both agreed on that.
If you read any of Tim Wells’ poetry, you will notice that the semantics of the writing could be found in your mom’s cupboard, brown sauce and sausages, that kind of thing. He’s interested in “poetry looking at the everyday” and not too bothered about “myths and phoenixes” adding that he is very interested in “people on buses and crying girls, flowers on lamp posts,” he reminded me that those kind of things tell a story, they’re “humdrum” and there is a lot to be said about that. I’m tired of reading about topics that have no concern to me, I want the now, I want the stray dog’s that cant find their way home because of the rain washing their scent away, I want the old paddy in the bar to tell me how much he hates his wife.
There are a lot of musical references in Tim Wells’ poetry, as you can imagine. “Just reggae and soul?” I said, “Yeah I hated punk,” he replied. He explained to me that a lot of moments in his life “focus on a particular songs; who I was with when I heard it, the kind of places we go to that would play that kind of music,” which is a thing called mimesis (if you ever wondered) and he explained also that “much in the way that hip-hop uses samples, it creates a mood and a memory straight way, it’s similar how I use musical references in poems.” I’d like to note at this time that my speech was starting to slur, I hadn’t realised until I started transcribing from my dictaphone how drunk I actually was, and how stone cold sober Tim stayed all night. My next question involved kidgloves; I asked if his poetry was a form of protest. There was a direct “no” and then he broke down that he “grumbled” a lot and then got to the good stuff. To be a voice of a generation is quite the burden to carry, “certainly not my generation and as much as I hate people like Diane Abbott they are at least elected which any voice of a generation isn’t.”
I asked him about his performance, as he is still in the city gigging regularly. He explained that “good writing underlays good gigs”
and the “writing has to come first and is crucial,” most traditional poets will work to an iambic pentameter, however Tim spaces and phrases his work to his own speech and explained that gigging helped with that. He felt that while in the marrow of his mind, it “sometimes clunks a bit until you read it live in front of an audience.” He also shed light on the idea that humour is a good tool for impact and that “you can make serious points with laughter” explaining that not everything he writes “is funny or meant to be funny.” We agreed that writing humour is very difficult. He admitted that he liked to “split audiences,” claiming that “some people really love it and some people really hate it,” adding that he liked “driving those little wedges” between the audience. Another trick he likes to involve in his performance is chatting which I guess would definitely grab your audiences attention, adding that it is pretty dull to read “poem after poem” and that chatting in between is also another attention grabber. He also revealed that offending people was “an easy trick, you can just be crude,” which I guess is as lower form of wit than any, insisting that his topical choice is about “gentrification and class, thing that aren’t spoken very often” and that when “it’s coming home to roost, they’re quite twitchy,” which made me smile.
A major part of Tim Wells’ legacy is Rising, his poetry zine based on music which started in 1993 and can be attained from the Clerkenwell Tales bookshop. As well as this, Donut Press have also published three other collections: A Man Can Be a Drunk sometimes But a Drink Can’t Be a Man (2001); If You Can Read This, You’re Too Close (2003) and Boys Night Out in the Afternoon (2005). He explained that he made a hundred of the first issue and sold them at a poetry night called Hard Edge, he added that “in actual fact there was six people actually writing in it and we just used loads of names, so we made loads people up and it was kind of going to be a joke and we sold it within two weeks.” He said that there was quite a large cross section of poets in the zine, from established names such as Todd Moore to those who have never wrote a thing before. When featuring poets Tim looks for a bit of “swagger and tenderness” as well as “humanity” and rejoined “unashamed humanity in actual fact.” He concluded that his big plans for the future was to end his life like young Mr. Grace in Are You Being Served? Very old, rich, stingy and surrounded by attractive young women, well I guess you can’t have everything Tim.
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