The Artist / Just an Average Guy Born into Poetry by Andy Carrington – book review
The Artist / Just an Average Guy Born into Poetry
By Andy Carrington
Paperback / Digital Download
Andy Carrington is an ordinary guy from Bradford, England, who just happens to write poetry. His most recent collection is two books in one: The Artist and Just An Average Guy Born Into Poetry. Andy is also a Louder Than War contributor but this is no act of nepotism – his work is genuinely worthy of being shouted about and should, we think, be read by everyone. David Linehan, lead vocalist and guitarist of Hooligan Dublin, has supplied the following, in depth review of Andy’s recent collection.
In contrast with his previous collection, ANTIFA, which explores the prevalence of fascism and racism in twenty-first century Britain, these are more “personal” works. The Artist is concerned with a love affair that goes sour, eventually falling apart and the second book addresses the nitty gritty of ordinary, everyday life from the point of view of someone who makes his observations from the corner of his local boozer.
Carrington’s language is direct and to the point – he writes about life as many of us know it; not about life how it appears in the sensitive, upper / middle class settings of pastoral English poetry (where no one is short of money or trying to get by on the minimum wage.) The themes sexuality, anger, loss and betrayal are played out against the backdrop of British class divisions, fast food joints and north-versus-south dichotomy.
The themes sexuality, anger, loss and betrayal are played out against the backdrop of a Britain of class divisions, fast food joints and the north-versus-south dichotomy.
The theme of sexuality is at the forefront of The Artist, and ‘Fresher’s Night’ sets the appropriate tone:
“I was never the type to play it subtle, I just liked to go with it. On stage getting jiggy to Fresh Prince, whirling my top around my head, I hauled her arse towards me and began grinding vigorously.”
This theme is continued in the tongue-in-cheek ‘For John – an ode to the poet’s own sexual prowess:
“I’m sat in bed nursing a semi knowing full well that I’m not quite ready to go again … we woke the next morning to find our clothes covered in fluids … and I recall falling asleep with my dick in her mouth after getting sucked off for nearly an hour.”
The splendidly titled ‘Chicken Burger Scumbags’ harks back to more carefree times when the poet and his beloved were content to sit in one another’s company and partake in a late night fast-food binge after a drunken night on the town. A time when they:
“Didn’t think about consequences, or fret over where our lives were going …. and we certainly weren’t about to substitute our chicken for some expensive lobster at the other end of town.”
However by ‘Beds, Meds and Toilets (Creative Differences II)’ the cracks have started to appear and the poet’s relationship with his partner begins to unravel at a frantic pace. Carrington -now hospitalised- recounts of how he learns of his lovers infidelity in dramatic circumstances:
“Ill, with Crohn’s, my skin was pale and my bones were shaking … hearing the words come from afar that said she had fucked him amidst some poxy art do in the northern quarter of Manchester.”
‘Gutless’ is also characterised by a profound sense of betrayal and helplessness:
“They told me the bitch fucked him ’cause his penis was bigger than my intestine.”
The tone in both of these poems is urgent, the language sharp and the words cut like a knife. Rejection and emotional pain provide the fuel for some of the strongest poems in this collection.
Even such moments of despair aren’t entirely lacking in humour (albeit perhaps unintentional):
“It’s a sad state of affairs that becomes even sadder”,
…the invalided poet tells us, when he is reduced to writing out his frustrations on sheets of toilet paper and then shoving the said sheets up his arse:
“as far as they’ll go”.
Unlike traditional poetry, these poems offer little in the way of redemption or transcendence, but simply tell it how it is. No doubt, Carrington intends at times to shock the reader; and titles like ‘The Rotting Stench Of Your Cunt Still Invades My Nostrils’ won’t win over either the pc brigade or the faint hearted.
However, Carrington’s poems are far from one-dimensional and the inspired use of place names and localities in these poems adds a sense of texture. In ‘A Few Spare Moments to Write a Poem About Life’, he mentions,
“I’m going to climb Penglais Hill and do the Rocky cheer at the very top”;
…and in ‘Creative Differences’, the poet ventures deeper into the couple’s developing relationship during their time at Aberystwyth University:
“We fell somewhere close to love in Aberystwyth
where I spent many of my nights
wrapped in her bed sheets,
taking kisses on the neck
and my inner thighs,
feeling unfaithful to the women
of my future that I was yet to meet.”
Carrington excels in his use of ordinary speech and imagery from everyday life. In ‘Geek Wars’, he talks about playing video games with his partner: (
“It took nights and nights of playing Halo and Legend of Zelda for me to finally realise that she was as Geeky as me”
…and later contemplates their differences on an eight-hour bus trip from his partner’s place in Cornwall:
“I never realised how much class was an issue till I sat on that Mega Bus for eight hours listening to punk rock and watching it all go by” (‘Just Some Writing That Came To Me’).
The sense of the modern is carried over into the second book in this collection, Just An Average Guy Born Into Poetry, with Carrington substituting the Mega Bus for other contemporary settings such as McDonald’s and Gregg’s.
Similarly to The Artist, Average Guy is not without its tragi-comic moments:
“The night ended with me fleeing from a hooker and waking up clutching an empty bottle of rum”,
…he says in ‘Life After Selena’ and we are left guessing as to whether he is telling us this in earnest or merely trying to highlight the ridiculousness of it all. Likewise his account of the pressure of his (former) mates to “fit in” and partake in a night on the town:
“WHAT THE FUCK?… GET A LIFE … COME OUT WITH US, MAN, WE’RE ALL GONNA GET LAID!” (‘Many People Don’t Know Anything Outside Their Own Circles of Popularity’)
… conjuring up the well known image of the poet as outsider, a lone figure excluded from some of the ordinary rites of passage.
Relationships also feature heavily in Average Guy:
“One day I dug deep into her old shoebox and pulled out those elaborate love poems, set them on fire, then wrote here a text saying “BITCH WE’RE DONE!” (‘To Hell with the Emo Poet’).
On the whole, though, the tone is far more restrained in Average Guy and Carrington seems to be more at ease with his surroundings than he does in, say, the poem, ‘Art Exhibition’ in the earlier book.
‘Off t’Oakwell’ deals with the weekend ritual of setting out to support the local football team. One gets the sense of the importance of tradition and pride of place, via the persona of the poet’s father:
“Toby Tyke will go on a run and score a goal, then the lads will line up and the crowd will clap and cheer….This goes back to the days of Butler, Redfearn, Payton”.
It might be interesting to further explore this type of subject matter in a future collection.
Carrington’s Dad also gets a mention in one of the last poems in the book, the quirkily titled, ‘My Dad’s Got Food and Other Stuff if You’re Interested’. Here he speaks of cupboards in the family home and there:
“…never-ending supply of toothpaste, cheese and beer … and random shit like full chickens covered in brine” (working at Asda has its perks, apparently).
The final poem – the eponymously titled ‘Just An Average Guy Born Into Poetry’ — charts Carrington’s own poetic development, from the point of view of “a working-class grub” moving from initially feeling intimidated by:
“…those poets with their pens and their pads”
…to the realisation that his own world could form the basis for poetry.
The Artist and Just An Average Guy Born Into Poetry are refreshingly honest and do not require any special knowledge to understand. The poems are informed by the same type of consciousness that you will find in the writings of Tony Harrison, Charles Bukowski or in the music of Public Enemy – representing some of the influences that Carrington references throughout the book. Andy Carrington may be an average guy, but he’s no average poet.