First night: What's he worth on paper?

In the run-up to National Poetry Day on Thursday, editors assess the newly published efforts of Murray Lachlan Young (pictured right), a performance poet who has penned very little save for his signature on a few lucrative contracts.

Any graduate of the world's first degree course in media performance (said to be available exclusively from University College, Salford), would know that timing is all. And therefore Bantam Books is quite right to publish Casual Sex and Other Verse, the much-hyped first book by the performance poet Murray Lachlan Young, at the beginning of a week when the media's attention will be focused on poetry, culminating in National Poetry Day on Thursday. It is a week in which feverish swarms of poets will be descending on Bristol, Manchester, London, Glasgow; in which schoolchildren will be hard at work producing poems at least as long as the Bayeux Tapestry; and in which serious poems will interrupt serious discussions on the airwaves.

But how serious will Murray Lachlan Young's efforts seem beside all the rest of this nationwide activity? The undeniably serious aspect of the affair so far is the figure that he is said to have commanded from EMI for a recording contract - pounds 1.1m - and a second one from MTV for pounds 250,000. These sums of money (the recording contract alone being worth double the amount awarded to Seamus Heaney for the Nobel Prize for Literature) are extraordinary: no poet since Tennyson has commanded such sums. Young also picked up unexpected support from Oberon Waugh in the Literary Review, that great champion of fogey verse.

Poets and editors who were asked to respond to the news proved less charitable: Michael Horowitz, usually the most generous supporter of his fellow poets and himself a veteran of live performance, was uncharacteristically harsh: "His work sucks. It's not poetry. Someone I know saw him performing and said he makes people laugh." Peter Forbes, the editor of Poetry Review and a believer in the beneficent influence of performance poetry, slapped Young down too: "My instinct is to disapprove of the whole thing." Michael Schmidt, a poet and respected publisher of poetry, wrote in PN Review: "It is hard to know whether to celebrate with Mr Waugh or nash teeth with Horowitz and Forbes. The works is not available to be read."

That was the difficulty, of course: the media had focused on the money that a performance poet can command and not on the poems themselves because, until this week, those who had not caught Young on the performance circuit could not have seen his poetry because he was unpublished.

Now, at last, the hype is over. Is Waugh right? Or is Horowitz? Horowitz without a shadow of a doubt. On the page, the work is trite and clumsy in the extreme; crude, self-preening doggerel in the Belloc-cum-Hood mode with a naughty, late-20th-century fizz about its subject matter, which ranges from snorting cocaine to suicide, from outing heteros to casual sex. The test of any good poem is whether or not it deserves to be re- read; whether its language and its mood haunt us. This book-simulacrum can be read in 30 minutes flat, and it would require a mightily self-destructive act of physical and intellectual application to wish to pick it out of the waste basket.

But this is not quite all, of course. The more important matter is what the record and TV deals, and all the media attention lavished on Young to date represent: the young man has undoubtedly been a wow with audiences who have seen and heard him. His photograph on the book's jacket proves how visually appealing - from the well-oiled, raffish locks, to the white winged collar - someone thinks he is. He is proving a success as a performance poet. But performance poetry of this kind is as different from most of the poetry being read and heard around the country this week - the kind of poetry that transfigures the ordinary; that shows a respect for the mysterious workings of the imaginative processes; that transforms our perceptions of the world - as could ever be imagined.

Some of the time the world is all zip, bop, wow! This is the terrain of the performance poet. At other times, in those moments between the moments, time seems to take a little longer. That's when the real poet, sometimes impecunious, occasionally curmudgeonly, shoulders through, fresh from the inner dark of himself (or herself) and others.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Digital Marketing Executive

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

    AX Developer With EPOS Experience

    £450 - £500 per day: Progressive Recruitment: Dynamics AX / Developer / AX2012...

    Senior Analyst - ALM Data - Banking - Halifax

    £350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Analyst, ALM Data, Halifax, ...

    Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/day

    £500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/d...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz