Obviously, then, we dig John Cooper Clarke. He’s brilliant, a great wordsmith. We must have seen him perhaps four times in those days (he was, of course, just an occasional visitor to Australia) and we had his book of poetry and all his albums. Born in Salford near Manchester in 1949, Clarke was known as the punk, or people’s, poet because he emerged during that wild and fertile period in the UK in the late 1970s, performing as a support act at live shows by the Sex Pistols, The Fall, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Buzzcocks, Rockpile, Joy Division and others. He read out his ferociously funny poems in his broad Manchester dialect, with a rapier wit.

Clarke, a former laboratory technician who became known as the "Bard of Salford", gifted us tremendous humour and word-play such as "I married a monster from outer space" ("in a cybernetic fit of rage, she pissed off to another age, she lives in 1999, with her new boyfriend a blob of slime, each time I see a translucent face, I remember the monster from outer space"). There was "health fanatic" ("beans greens and tangerines and low cholesterol margarines ... he’s a health fanatic he makes you sick") or how about "a love story in reverse" ("like a recently disinfected shithouse you’re clean round the bend ... you put the cunt in scunthorpe you put the pain in spain ... they can’t find a good word for you but I can – twat").

Not to forget such gems as "you never see a nipple in the daily express", "readers’ wives" (in honour of a regular section in a publication where men sent in photos of their wives in suggestive poses: "cold flesh the colour of potatoes, in an instamatic sitting room of sin, all the required apparatus, too bad they couldn’t get her head in") and the ultra-romantic "I wanna be yours" ("let me be your vacuum cleaner breathing in your dust, let me be your ford cortina I will never rust").

Clarke was big, in a cultish way, but all this was way back then. All these poems and many more were published in a book called "ten years in an open necked shirt" in 1983. Clarke spent much of that decade mired in heroin addiction, of which he said: "It was a feral existence. I was on drugs. It was hand to mouth." He didn't write for at least 10 years. No records, no books and no money.

He recovered and returned to live performance in the 1990s and gradually began to attain status as a national treasure, Britain’s alternative Poet Laureate. There were a couple of documentaries, three of his poems were added to the General Certificate of Secondary Education syllabus in the UK, he made guest appearances on television, radio and others’ records, gigged a lot (including Glastonbury in 2015), played himself in "Control" (a film about Joy Division) and appeared in a breakfast cereal advertisement.

In 2007 an episode of "The Sopranos" featured his "evidently chicken town" ("the fucking pies are fucking old, the fucking chips are fucking cold, the fucking beer is fucking flat, the fucking flats have fucking rats, the fucking clocks are fucking wrong, the fucking days are fucking long, it fucking gets you fucking down, evidently chicken town"), although the touchy Americans eased the joyful profanity by substituting the word "bloody".

And these days Clarke likes to call himself "Doctor John Cooper Clarke" – slightly tongue in cheek of course – after receiving an honorary doctorate of arts from the University of Salford in 2013, in "acknowledgement of a career which has spanned five decades, bringing poetry to non-traditional audiences and influencing musicians and comedians". Upon receipt, Clarke commented: "Now I'm a doctor, finally my dream of opening a cosmetic surgery business can become a reality."

Which brings us to "The Luckiest Guy Alive", his first new collection of poetry since that 1983 book. For us, we find it a bit of a let-down after so long. It goes from the clever to the seemingly pointless. Of the former, there is "I Wrote the Songs" (a vamp on the song of the same title written by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys in 1975 and made famous by Barry Manilow), described by Clarke in a video as "a list of all those songs I’ve written over the years where somebody has come along and changed one word of the title and had a world-wide mega smash with it. It’s a kind of occupational hazard".

Some examples from "I Wrote the Songs": "Puttin’ off the Ritz, Some enchanted afternoon, Twenty-four hours from Levenshulme, I’d like to get you on a speedboat to China, Brand new leopard-skin pill-box glove, twist and whisper" and so on. There’s also "You ain’t nothin but a hedgehog", which Clarke singles out as proof that there are actual tunes to go with these titles, and offers the lyrics: "You ain’t nothin but a hedgehog, Foraging all the time, You ain’t nothin but a hedgehog, Foraging all the time, You ain’t never pricked a predator, You ain’t no porcupine".

His famous haiku is here, slightly changed: "To freeze the moment/In seventeen syllables /Is very diffic". Five other new haikus also appear but the original remains the best (it began: "To convey one’s mood ... ).

Two of the first three poems share a similar theme of a banana skin around the corner: "The Luckiest Guy Alive" pours on the positives in each of its four verses but they all conclude, "Just waiting for the trouble to arrive", and the more negative "Bed Blocker Blues" likewise warns that "Things are gonna get worse".

His early classic "Beasley Street" was inspired by life in Greater Manchester’s run-down Lower Broughton: "Belladonna is your flower / Manslaughter your meat / Spend a year in a couple of hours / On the edge of Beasley Street." In the new book Clarke mutates "Beasley Street" into a rejuvenated "Beasley Boulevard", a place on the better side of the tracks with "A Garden of Eden in every yard, A phone box clear of hookers’ cards", but there’s an undercurrent of dissatisfaction all the same.

We like the witty "Bongo’s Trousers", reflecting on an incident when some U2 memorabilia became the subject of a legal dispute between the band and a stylist who worked with them. "Hire Car" and "Get Back on Drugs You Fat Fuck" are also among the better efforts.

"Attack of the 50ft Women" is mildly amusing but basically inconsequential. "The Motorist" has a light message of some sort, "The Paperboy’s Wife" is nonsensical and not funny, and we find "Egg Head" confused, leaving us mystified as to what Clarke is trying to say.

Then there’s "The Man Who Didn’t Love Elvis". What’s that about, guv? We haven’t got a clue. Unless it’s Elvis who doesn’t like Elvis; what he’s become. That would make a bit more sense. "Death of a Gentleman Farmer" and "Kamarad Klaak" are other puzzles.

The poet has lost some potency but we still love him. Check YouTube to see why.


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