In the fifth instalment of our Ted Hughes Award ‘How I Did It’ series, Salena Godden explains the creative process behind ‘Can’t Be Bovvered’‘ from her shortlisted work LIVEwire.
‘LIVEwire‘ marks Salena Godden’s first album in nearly a decade, and is a compilation of live and studio recordings, archives and brand new work. It features live material from the 2014 books, her literary childhood memoir ‘Springfield Road’ (Unbound) and ‘Fishing in The Aftermath – Poems 1994-2014’ (Burning Eye).
The LIVEwire collection showcases a broad range of my work. It features live and studio recordings, festival and theatre performances. It includes brand new poetry. Plus live excerpts from my literary childhood memoir Springfield Road (Unbound) and poetry published in Fishing In The Aftermath – Poems 1994-2014 (Burning Eye).There is an exclusive performance of the short live version of Shade published in The Good Immigrant.
I produced the album myself from found recordings and work I had captured on my iPhone. On some of the tracks I added music, soundscape, snippets from the news and radio. Overall I wanted the audience and the atmosphere of the room to be as raw and true as possible. Something magic happens in a room when you share a poem. I rarely read a poem the same way twice. I go off page and add words and emphasis depending on the room and my interaction with the crowd. I improvise and add something that may have happened in the news that day, this way the poems stay fresh and I feel true. Poets cannot do any of this without the kind of kind people that support poetry, that buy tickets and show up to see us read and perform. UK poetry is in rude health and I wanted to make an collection that represents and celebrates this.
On LIVEwire you are transported to the front row, to the comfort of a beautiful theatre or jostling for elbow room in a tent at a festival, sloshing your pint of cider. The atmosphere is everything, the feel of the room, the audience are the music, the beating heart and the orchestra. LIVEwire features my raucous party pieces, rant poetry and political work but also the tender and quieter poems that sometimes get hidden. I produced this album specifically for the vinyl LP format: the Daytrip A-Side is for before the watershed and your headphone moments, and then I invite you to turn it over, turn it up and pour yourself a rum for the Dirty B-Side.
CAN’T BE BOVVERED
Can’t Be Bovvered is an example of one of my rant poems. It’s one of the poems that people often quote when they meet me and parents tell me they have printed off to give to unmotivated teenagers, to stick on their fridges or bedroom walls. I enjoy the rant poem form and was first introduced to it from doing gigs in 1990s London with poets Tim Wells, Jock Scot and John Cooper Clarke. What I like most about this style of poetry is the stream and the flow, and in this case, the undiluted tirade of frustration and idealism.
To the outsider a rant poem looks like the poet on stage is possibly losing it, repeating loops, backtracking phrases, cutting and pasting in real time, but rant poetry involves showmanship, body language and a clean intention. Sometimes when I perform the Can’t Be Bovvered poem it makes me feel a bit like John Cleese, I picture Basil Fawlty hitting his car with a tree branch. Other times I feel like Animal the drummer from the Muppets. But one thing remains, when I perform this poem the reasons I wrote it are the anchor to the ship in the storm, the message is a counterweight to the barrage of weather, of image and language.
This poem is created to look or sound like you are falling down the stairs, almost slapstick comedy, but the poem intentionally hits every step, every beat, like a piece of music, hitting every phrase and nuance, on the way down, banging my head, in time, word by word, image by image, through a stream of conciousness and ideas. Rant poetry has rhythm. It is asking the audience to come with you, you ask your listener or reader to come on the ride, to feel it, to read it as fast as you think it, you are asking: are you with me? do you feel this too?
Rant Poety is a betrayal, in this poem I surrender my sources, physically and literally show the working process, live on stage, my chain of thought, the cogs and working mechanism that link idea to idea, exaggeration to exasperation to amplification to caricature. I had quite a few versions of Can’t Be Bothered to choose from. In the end I chose this bawdy recording from Glasgow. The audience were electric and boozy. The venue was under some arches and you can hear the vibration of trains passing and the vibration of rebellion in the audience.
With rant poetry I tend to begin in the middle. You’ll notice with Can’t Be Bovvered I begin mid attack. You sense that I’ve been boiling this over for a while, pushing it down, minding my manners and now BOOM! From the opening line “Of course its difficult, that’s the whole point” I am answering an imagined question from someone who doubts that this is hard, that this takes work, that this is worth fighting for… I hit the first line of the poem with a slap of action, with gusto and fury.
This poem is a time machine, leaping through monumental moments in our history, examples of great effort, leaps of faith and human intelligence, creation and invention. The intention here is to say that all you have to do today is to do your best. That all you have to do is do being you as best you can, just take the first step. That this ‘thing’ may seem big or difficult but then so is brain surgery, so is being an astronaut, so was the first day of being Shakespeare, Beethoven or Hendrix – everybody has to start somewhere, page one, day one. This poem goes from the absurd to the ridiculous until it ends with the whole audience painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, if they can be bovvered…. and then doing the can-can because you can-can.
My personal war against apathy began at a very early age. I was born with a lot of spice and energy, I play hard and work hard. I think of the life of a poet or writer is like being a baker in a patisserie: You have something in the oven, something cooling on the shelf, something else in the shop window. I am always making new cakes, new work. I get disappointed with things not going fast enough, big enough, loud enough. So, this poem comes from a very genuine place, it comes from years of frustration and my impatience, it comes from constantly being told there is no need to shout or to wait my turn. This poem comes from every time I have bitten my tongue. I think that is the soul of this particular poem, I reckon that’s why people like it, because we all feel that frustration sometimes. I remember I stopped performing this poem for a while because there was a comedian doing the ‘Am I Bovvered’ catchphrase on telly… but the poem came back into my set last summer 2016, what with Brexit and the sorry state of the world right now, this poem tells us anything is possible if we just believe it is.
I don’t remember the exact day when this was first written, maybe 2001 or 2002, but I know that during those years that my life was hard and everything seemed big and impossible to me then, I was itinerant and broke and hungry. You can tell this is one of my earlier poems because of the CAPS LOCK — I used that for stage direction and emphasis a lot in my early writing. Like most of my work, I never perform a poem the same way twice. When I perform this poem I play with it, I go off-page and heckle myself, improvise new verses and new jokes depending on who is in the room or what is happening in the news that week.
It is funny how this poem lasted, this poem has changed and grown with me as the years go by, but the bottom line will never change: YOU CAN, CAN CAN CAN CAN CAN CAN…
Find out more information about Salena Godden and LIVEwire on the Nymphs and Thugs site.
Author of literary memoir Springfield Road and poetry books Fishing In The Aftermath and Under The Pier. Salena Godden is one of Britain’s foremost poets, she is widely anthologised and is a headline act at festivals nationally and internationally. Her live spoken word album LIVEwire has been shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award. The LIVEwire album was written, performed, recorded and produced by Salena Godden. The limited edition double vinyl LP and full-colour print edition will be launched with the N&T ‘Summer of LOVEwire’ UK tour. Please go to www.nymphsandthugs.net for info, tickets and dates. Please visit: www.salenagodden.co.uk