The Luckiest Guy Alive 
by John Cooper Clarke
Hardback £14.99 Picador

The Language of Kindness (A Nurse’s Story) 
by Christie Watson
Paperback £8.99 Vintage

REVIEW BY JOHN CORNELIUS

THE (BAD) LANGUAGE OF POETRY
“A poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness, and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why.” (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

John Cooper Clarke must know he’s really arrived now: complimentary remarks from Sir Paul McCartney on the back cover of this, his new collection, plus a portrait – albeit one of those so slavishly copied from a photograph, you wonder why they didn’t just use the photo – by Sir Peter Blake on the front. More knights than you can shake a stick at, eh? 

As a fan of Sir – sorry, Honorary Doctor – John Cooper Clarke’s early work, it grieves me not a little to report that this is a disappointing collection in so many ways. The poems seem to be about words, albeit a clever juggling of them, rather than using them to say much with any substantive content. None of them hold a candle to his early classics such as “Chicken Town” and “Beasley Street”, although he has made an embarrassingly feeble attempt to reprise the latter in a new poem, “Beasley Boulevard”, which lacks the bite, and, let’s face it, the originality of the original. 

He does seem to anticipate a negative reaction in “Get Back On Drugs You Fat Fuck”, containing the line, “You were good once but I don’t remember it”. I do remember it, which only makes it all the more painful. “I Wrote the Songs” is self-consciously attempting to be clever, as are the titles, “The Hanging Gardens Of Basildon” and “Trouble @ t’Mall” but the verses somehow fail to deliver the promise of the titles. “Live in a Dream” does recall some of the warmth and wit of the pre-punk Liverpool Poets, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten but with punk crudities thrown in. The irony of the book’s title, The Luckiest Guy Alive, is that a cynic might say, yes: powering a continuing lifelong career on such flimsy material does make you a very, very lucky guy…

The Shelley epigram quoted at the head of this review introduces, not John Cooper Clarke’s collection but, unexpectedly, Christie Watson’s memoir, The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story. Unexpected, perhaps, because of the popular view of nurses as immeasurably kind, gentle, selfless but with a tough streak of no-nonsense practicality which leaves no room for any frippery such as poetry. This only goes to show how inaccurate the public perception can be. Ms Watson is a nurse of 20 years’ experience, but, over and above, is a writer of substance and clarity who drifts almost by chance into passages of pure poetry, perhaps unconsciously, as she describes (for example) a typical night in A & E:

“…full of police, shouting relatives, patients lined up with flimsy curtains separating them; an elderly person having a stroke next to an alcoholic…heart attacks, brain aneurisms…kidney stones, burns, assaults and mental health crises…dog-bitten, broken-boned, respiratory failing, seizing, drug overdosing, horse-kicked, mentally ill, impaled, shot and stabbed. Once, a head half sawn off…”

Phew – what a night, eh? Or how about this description of the sounds made by a woman during childbirth:

“The groaning gets louder, more foreign and further away from [the mother’s] natural voice, as if coming from another place. It sounds like a noise belonging to the earth, from long ago and far away…”

This is poetry in anyone’s language. 

If you’re seeking an often clever, edgy but ultimately lightweight chuckle inducer, read John Cooper Clarke. For the real deal, go to Christie Watson.


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