The Luckiest Guy Alive
John Cooper Clarke
“Dr.” John Cooper Clarke is, like our own Sam Hunt, perhaps better known for his voice, for his performances, rather than actual words on the page. Both have published books, been anthologised, and recorded audio – but it’s about the spirit of the performance on the night; the persona so entwined with the poetry. In fact it’s more so the case with Clarke – “the Bard of Salford” – because Hunt’s really upped his game, in terms of publishing, across the last decade.
Clarke continues to turn up. He’s always touring. Always performing. He’s a style icon, a touchstone – and the labels continue to be applied: “Punk Poet”, “Godfather of Pub Poetry” – he has new fans amongst the UK’s latest generation of Distinctly English songwriters (Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys for instance) and so his latest tome, The Luckiest Guy Alive is both new volume and anthology; a sequel of sorts to the wonderful Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt.
As much as Clarke is a poet he’s also a comedian. And Luckiest Guy’s biggest strength is its run of zingers – poems with punchlines, end-lines that have an implied exclamation mark, rhyming couplets that just entice a guffaw (or five or six) – they bloody well expect it!
Here we have sequel poems and poems very nearly the equal of those late-70s/early-80s masterworks.
We have poems about Bono’s trousers (or “Bongo” as he calls him). And if you’ve seen Clarke perform recently – I had my first chance just last year in fact, he did not disappoint – you’ll recognise many of these stories and verse from the show/s.
I remember thinking as he reeled off his smug “ode to Trannys” – Crossing The Floor – that there’d be some unease, some frustration, some disappointment around his phrasing, his language his seeming contempt; the folly. And that seems even more overt on the page – the line about getting “a vagina of sorts” won’t find new fans. But Clarke isn’t writing – or performing – for new fans. He’s hitting the same marks he’s always aimed for. Easy targets. A man out of touch. Silly humour. Blatant thoughtlessness. Dumb jokes. All of the above. Sure. But he’s also a master craftsman in so many ways. The best of his great lines and poems – the rhythm, the rhymes, the fact that you cannot ever rea these without hearing his voice in your head. Easy marks at time. But he’s made his mark. He’s not just been an influence, he continues to inspire. And at 70 he’s not spent.
Barking mad and we’re all the better for it. If you’ve ever loved John Cooper Clarke’s work you need this latest set in your life.