Thursday, 17 May 2012

Hard Lines

This is a collection of poetry and prose and drawings by unpublished authors with an introduction by Ian Dury. Although there are no author's biographies, there are pictures of the contributors on the inside cover. They all look to be in their late teens/early twenties and this is reflected in many of the compiled pieces. They represent a look at life from a young person’s perspective. There is a lot of interest in sex and in relationships and less interest in wider society or in the macro-economic environment or in the nuts and bolts of the day to day world, like what are people’s jobs and how do the bills get paid.

Many of the pieces are interesting in what they are not about rather than what they do describe. Taking it as given that the authors could write about whatever they like in whatever style they like, there is a uniformity of a somewhat downbeat tone to the proceedings. There is not much of a whiff of a Jeeves and Wooster here, nor an Evelyn Waugh. The strain is more that of George Orwell or George Gissing or Alan Sillitoe.

The settings, where these are identified, for the pieces and pictures include the bedroom, the kitchen, the canal, the dance hall. There is a focus on the humdrum and the mundane with no room for grand sentiments.

Among the pieces that made the strongest impression on me are “Teenage Poems Crumpled at the Back of My Drawer”, the title of which gives the gist, and “Death at the Dog and Duck” which is a nice arrangement of short phrases spread over the page in separate columns.

I do not know what happened to all of the contributors. Andrew Darlington, Anne Clark and Claire Dowie I have heard of subsequently. I do know very well what happened to one of the contributors because it is me. My piece closes the book, like “The Dead” closes Dubliners. That is a flippant analogy but there is a very pronounced James Joyce influence in my piece. I do not know if the other contributors got to choose what could be included but mine was an extract from a longer set of pieces and not one I would have chosen myself given the chance.

My wife pointed out to me that this book is very much of its time (it was published in 1983, although my piece dates from at least a couple of years earlier). Think Thatcher, recession, unemployment, the music of Joy Division. That is the cultural background to these pieces.

What this book also represents is something that I feel is missing from today’s generations which is a desire to actively engage in the culture. The contributors, I believe, did not see themselves as passive consumers or as distant observers of the culture. They had the desire and the means (usually in the form of photocopied fanzines) to engage in the cultural conversation and this book is just the tip of the iceberg. When you add in non-fiction fanzines and the creation of music, this type of engagement was taking place on a massive scale.

It is as a reminder of times when young people saw themselves as the creators and the curators of the culture rather than its passive consumers that this book has (small) significance. Young people wanted to be involved directly either through the creation of the work or through a critique of the results rather than through a “Wow. Cool” type post on Twitter or Facebook. This could mean that sometimes the overall quality of the pieces created could be sacrificed for the sake of immediacy of impact or for the power of verisimilitude. “I want poetry that is real” writes Andrew Darlington in his poem Manifesto. Ultimately, this book is too true to be good.