Larry and the other guy.

Me, much younger, poeting

Back when I used to be a poet – when I had yet to realise that it was an artform almost entirely annexed by frumps – I used to go to the poetry slam in Brighton every month. It was good, back then. It was hard. It wasn’t like the poetry slams you get now where a man sits in a corner funded by the arts council to tap on a bongo and every last poet gets 8 or 9 out of 10. It wasn’t just bad MCs doing boring, demagogue-y blather about how they like drugs – people used to fail there, they’d get zero out of ten, people would pelt them with bottlecaps. It meant that people tried – people were good, they had to be. It wasn’t self-help.

Anyway, back then, I had a friend called Larry. He was old – I don’t know how old, but old enough to be rheumy eyed and to look like he might have a barnacle problem somewhere about his person. He was mad, too, in a brilliantly creative way. He had a thousand poems in his flat in a filing cabinet and each one had been typed out, decorated with whatever attractive litter he’d picked up – the wire top from a champagne bottle, clippings, detritus – and then photocopied. Once he came up to me in the street to ask me if I’d stand behind him at a poetry night while he recited verse wearing an army helmet upon which I could play a drum beat. He was mad like that. He was also brilliant. There wasn’t a hint of greetings card mawk in his poetry, it was Brut, sure, but he had a genuine ear and an incisve turn of phrase and he could write poems that arrested you and cut you to the quick. I thought he was awesome.

At the poetry slams, Larry would always compete. He had a few crowd pleasers that he could pull out if he was worried that the audience weren’t up for anything serious – as time went on he pulled them out more than he needed to – and they would see him succeed. He’d get through to finals and people would laugh and clap and that pleased him.

But then there was this other guy. Also old, though younger than Larry. Also mad, though not interestingly so. He would turn up in a filthy jumper and look weird. His poems weren’t brilliant – they were mumbled inaudibly and what got through was rubbish not worth hearing.

The thing was, Larry hated this other guy. If you were sat with Larry and this other guy walked in, Larry would roll his eyes and fidget and let out audible sighs. See, when the other guy got up to shitly read his shit poems the crowd reacted exactly the same as they did to Larry. To them, there was an old mad guy and wasn’t that charming and look there’s another mad old guy and he’s charming too, hurrah! To the audience – who didn’t care that much because they were just out for a fun, slightly edgy, slightly offbeat evening – there was no difference between Larry and this other guy – they were just the two mad old men who did the mad old man thing. Mad old man one and mad old man two. The mad old men.

Larry knew that it didn’t matter to anyone else, he was self-aware enough to know that the audience were just temporal, amorphous sources of laughter and applause behind the lights. They had different, alien concerns. But it offended him. It was offensive that someone could use the same skin to gain the rewards that were owed to his innards. They looked alike but they were not alike; and people should have known better.

I heard Larry died. I don’t know what happened to his filing cabinet.

Anyway, that was that, I don’t know what made me think of it.

1 Comment

  • Tim Smith says:

    Larry was a legend. He was ambitious about his poetry and wanted to perform a 40 hour performance of all his work.
    You’re right about his odd crowd pleasers (one of his songs was Pull Your Plonker). Sad to hear of his passing. He’ll missed by a select few.

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