Last night BBC4 screened a documentary ‘Evidently…John Cooper Clarke’ about the bard of Salford himself – a sweary genius troubadour who does poetry differently. He’s a tour de force. He was inspired by a teacher who introduced him to Henry Newbolt’s ‘Vitai Lampada’, a paean to the horrors of war and the silly futility of patriotism that ends with the exhortation to ‘Play up! Play up! And play the game!’. It made him think differently about what poetry was and could be. And then he did it his way. We should remember that people are inspired by people when we tell our stories to try and raise funds.
Whether it’s music, books, art or whatever (charity marketing?), there’s the canon, the convention – the way it’s done. And then every once in a while someone does something differently. Creates something extraordinary that speaks to you directly and makes you go ‘wow’. The accidental trailblazers, just doing what they do because they can’t help it. John Cooper Clarke does poetry but not as we know it. It makes you think maybe you don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done to really connect and be good and create something wonderful and clever and fun. That just maybe your way of thinking could be those things too. Something you do could be as good as what great people have done despite being different or perhaps precisely because it is different.
We can learn from and be inspired by what’s gone before but we must plough our own furrow and be brave enough to do things differently. What aren’t people doing (yet?). We need to think thoughts that haven’t been thunk before!
“Where the action isn’t, that’s where it is”*
*From ‘Beasley Street’
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