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Three British poets

This month I would like to tell you about three British poets, who are quite different from each other. These talented individuals who have added rich colour to the British literary scene are: Dr John Cooper Clarke, who started doing gigs in folk clubs in the early 1970s and became known as a punk poet; Pam Ayres MBE, who first appeared on a TV show in 1975 and is well known for her poems about everyday matters; and Lemn Sissay MBE, who released his first book of poetry in 1988 and was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics.

So, first off, do these words ring a bell with you?

I wanna be your vacuum cleaner
Breathing in your dust
I wanna be your Ford CortinaI
will never rust
If you like your coffee hot
Let me be your coffee pot
You call the shots
I wanna be yours

If you are an Artic Monkeys fan, you will probably know these lyrics from the song “I wanna be yours”. The original comes from a poem by Dr. John Cooper Clarke who was quoted as saying “I can’t thank them (Artic Monkeys) enough” as they introduced his work to a whole new generation. However, Clarke’s poems are already pretty familiar with Generation Z as his work has been included in the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) syllabus. GCSEs are exams taken by students aged 15-16 years old in the UK.

Equipped with a pen, a notebook and idleness over the years, John’s gift with words has resulted in classics such as “Salome Maloney”, which starts:

“I was walking down Oxford road
Dressed in what they call the mode
I could hear them spinning all their smash hits
At the mecca of the modern dance, the Ritz
My feet foxtrotted
My shoulders did the shimmy
The bouncer on the door said “a gimme, gimme, gimme”
I gave ’em the tickets, they gave me the shits
No healthy arguments… in the Ritz…
Standing by the cig’ machine, who did I see
In lurex and terylene, she hypnotised me
I asked her name, she said it’s…
“Salome Maloney, queen of the Ritz….”

John is originally from Salford, Greater Manchester and “The Ritz” he refers to in the poem is the oldest nightclub in Manchester. So, what do you think Salome Maloney looks like? To find out the rest of the poem, have a look at this link: The “Bard of Salford”, as he is often called, is now 70 years old and is still touring round the world wowing his audiences with his poem recitals.

Next up is 72-year-old Pam Ayres from Stanford in the Vale, a village in Southeast England. Her accent is noticeable from this region and is very different from Dr. John Cooper Clarke’s. Ayres said in a BBC Radio 4 interview that when she was young she liked writing, she liked the idea of making people laugh and she loved performing, so she knitted them all together and became a poet.

Here is the beginning of one of Ayre’s famous poems called “The Puppy”

I bought myself a puppy
And I hoped in time he might
Become my friend and ward off
Things that go bump in the night
So I put him in a shoe box
And at home I took him out
And then began to learn
What owning puppies is about…”

The last verse of the poem is

One day I drove him over
And gave him to my Dad
Who welcomed him and trained him
But it left me very sad
So I thought I’d let you know
In case a pup’s in store for you
That it’s very wise indeed
To have a Dad who likes dogs too.”

Intrigued about what happened in the middle? Have a look here

Finally, Lemn Sissay had an upbringing living with foster parents and in children’s homes in the UK. In his teenagehood, he began to write poems and self-published his first book when he was 17 years old. When he left the care system, he was given his birth certificate, which showed that his mother was originally from Ethiopia. He reunited with her when he was 21 years old.

Lemn has written many poetry collections, plays and programmes for radio and TV. He also set up “Culture World”, the first black writers’ workshop.

Here is a love poem by Lemn Sissay

You remind me
define me
incline me
If you died

How would you finish this poem? Or would you just leave it be?
If you are interested in Sissay’s work, have a look.

If you are an English teacher, why not introduce your students to some poetry and discuss the cultural issues behinds these geniuses’ works!

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