POETRY FOR THE YOB CULTURE


Boys' Night Out In The Afternoon
by Tim Wells
Stranded In Sub-Atomica
by Tim Turnbull
[each 10, Donut Press, PO Box 45093, London N4 1UZ]


Indistinguishable from each other, both these slim volumes have been shortlisted for this year's Forward Prize for Best First Collection. It is just as well that they are so alike because the prize can only go to one of them. So what are they like? They are, strictly speaking, poems for the Yob Culture: their immediate spiritual model - mentioned in one of the collections - being Simon Armitage. All lightweight stuff, their level of intelligence never rises above the belly button, save for the odd poetic heart attack. I never knowingly wish to sound snobbish but, for any critic worth his or her salt, it is a charge (along with sour grapes, etc.) they are open to. However, I did enjoy both books, for they provided pleasure to the reader (something John Kinsella, writing in a recent Poetry Review would not approve). But, like I say, given the intelligence they display, it is a waste of time to seek for anything from the poems that is profound either by way of feeling or thought. Nor is there anything innovatory or different in language use in either  book. Raymond Chandler made the deliberately slick style popular, and Hemingway raised it to 'literature'. Tim Turnbull is embedded in Armitage; Tim Wells can't keep Papa Hemingay (nor to a lesser extent Scott Fitzgerald) out of his poems at nearly every turn. As for politics, they scarcely appear in either book. One of the few political hints is in Turnbull's 'Stranded In Sub-Atomica' where he refers to Rosa Luxemburg and 'assorted tracts from the WRP' and, given the particular poem, with the usual hint that left-wing is always associated with squalor. But that's just a beef of mine, the way the Left and the working class is always portrayed as mired in dirt, whereas, in fact, generations of the working class were clean-living, hard-working people far removed from bohemia or yobbery. It was a Tory aristo, I believe, who dubbed the working class 'the great unwashed': a tag that seems to have stuck, being helpfully perpetuated by generations of left-wing poets. Of the two poets, Turnbull is the more literary; he has a very good parody of Larkin's 'Whitsun Weddings' which contains one of the best lines in either book; describing how the wedding Hens and Stags travelling on the same train view each other, Turnbull says of the Stags, 'the bolder souls went up the coach to flirt/ with Hens they hoped  might easily be conned/ by pettifogging princes of disorder'. Like Frank O'Hara's poetry all those American years ago, this work is all-too-easy to identify its meaning and, for those many deeply commodified by the contemporary, to identify with. If ever the phrase 'contemporary relevance' meant something, it definitely does here. I am sorry to have to say this: but the level of cliched thought in these books is rather high. Definitely prize-winning material!

           William Oxley 2006