A scruffy young man approaches us and our body language tightens up involuntarily, awaiting the pitch. Perhaps he needs money for a hostel, or is simply 20p short of the bus fare to Lawrence Weston. Maybe he’s one of those recklessly honest people who will ask for money for a drink.
“If you give me a bit of money, I can give you some street poetry….?”
- “I’ll give you some money to not.” I say to the aspiring poet, handing him a £2 coin.
“Cheers mate, thanks.”
He seems happy enough with the snub; most people have been ignoring him completely, it seems.
We invent characters and dialogue in order to get these things out – things that might be funny in theory (or on TV) but are fucking awful things to say to a real person in real life. (Like every Ricky Gervais character). Because we don’t really want to deal with the consequences of being a dick to people in real life (like Ricky Gervais.) Because if those people are vulnerable, complex, desperate….it’s not funny anymore. And everyone is all of those things, at least some of the time.
On this occasion, what with the beer muscles and all, I just came out and said it. It wasn’t honest, not really. It was cheap honesty – it was candid, being the first thing that came to mind, but it wasn’t truthful.
If I was honest, I’d say: “I’m desperately lonely and terminally unhappy and I am surrounded by people, some of whom I really like, and that’s not helping and I don’t know why, and I don’t know what else to try. And, in all honesty, I just don’t feel like hearing your poetry because I don’t like poetry all that much, and it might me feel even worse – even if it’s good. Especially if it’s good, in fact. Especially if it’s really fucking good.”
If I was honest, I’d say that all the above is true – and yet, here you are asking me for help.
Because you need help from me, just to live.
I feel like Withnail, in the park with & I, saying, in answer to the rhetorical, leading question “You know what we should do…?”
“How could I possibly know what we should do? What should we do?”
I’m above you, somehow, you are reliant on me. And that is (paradoxically) the saddest thing of all. (Not for you, of course, but for me it is.) That’s the thing that really stings; I feel awful, all the time, and you are much worse off than me.
That’s why I can insult and disrespect you, and your poetry, even while my friends indulge my own ridiculous artistic pretensions….that’s why I’ve got time to worry about all this shit.
On the school bus one time, as I talked loudly, making jokes, an older lad on the bus piped up: “I find people who swear tend to swear because they’ve got nothing better to say…”
And I replied (loudly): “And I find that people who say “people swear because they’ve got nothing better to say…” say that because they’re fucking twats!”
It got a big laugh.
I wasn’t honest. I was quick-witted, a bit arrogant – precocious, even. (It was pretty funny, mind. An opportunity that I couldn’t bear to miss.)
If I was honest, I wouldn’t do things I know I’ll regret. I took risks with other people’s feelings, just to be the centre of attention, or get a laugh. At someone else. Forgivable in a child, I suppose, but now…? In this day and age?
“This is a poem from the streets. It’s called ‘Poetry Is For Wankers’.”
As I hear this line on leaving the pub, I immediately recognise the voice. He is performing this poem to others as we walk by. I catch his eye as he says the first line…
“POETRY IS FOR WANKERS.
What is ART?
Baby don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
I smile. And as I walk past, grinning sheepishly at the poet, I think to myself:
That’s really fucking good.