Street Poetry AKA Punk Poetry is a style of poetry that exploded during the punk years in Britain. The style tends to lean towards spoken word/performance poetry rather than traditional page, and predominantly revolves around social and political topics, kitchen sink realism and an in-your-face attitude. A DIY ethos can also be applied in terms of poets setting up their own events, publishing poetry zines and small presses.

Patti Smith and Charles Bukowski are sometimes credited as the forerunners of Punk Poetry as they were writing about everyday city life in Los Angeles and New York; dealing with subjects such as sex, drugs, alcohol and general working-class life with a very real sense of truth and experience behind their words.

The style became what it’s known as today due to the ferocity of Dr John Cooper Clarke. Through the late seventies, he was opening for punk bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Clarke fuses the fast-paced get-in-get-out attitude of The Ramones with poetry written about life growing up in Salford during the post-war years.

At the same time, Linton Kwesi Johnson was mixing political poetry with dub-reggae and Jamaican patois. His most renowned work is focused on racism the black community was facing during the seventies and eighties (especially under Margaret Thatcher’s government) and life in inner-city London during those decades.

From this point, punk poetry influence could be found in a number of bands in the nineties and naughties. Bands such as Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and Kate Nash were citing John Cooper Clarke as an influence on their song writing (with the Arctic Monkeys going as far as to cover I Wanna Be Yours on their album AM).

With the birth of Slam Poetry in the naughties and twenty-tens, punk poetry found a voice again. Poets such as (Huddersfield’s own) Lisa Luxx, JB Barrington, Thick Richard, Salena Godden, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Matt Abbott, Toria Garbutt and Joelle Taylor are continuing to bring the initially mentioned topics to a brand new audience, who have in turn been influenced to go out and write and perform themselves.

So long as people are writing honest, lived words, we will always have a version of Street Poetry. Whether it’s writing about the town they’ve grown up in or giving a voice to a cause they believe in; the spirit of ’77, Two Tone and the Riot Grrrl movement will burn long into the night.

Remember, there is no wrong or right way to start. If you’ve never written a poem then find a topic/subject you feel passionate about and write one. No one can stop you from speaking your truth.

Simon Widdop will be teaching a workshop on Writing and Performing Street Poetry from 2pm-4pm on Saturday 10 March and performing at our 10 x 10 Poetry Cabaret.

Our annual Poetry Slam, presented by Kieren King, takes place on 10 March, from 8pm.

Further Listening

Charles Bukowski – The Laughing Heart https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHOHi5ueo0A

Linton Kwesi Johnson – Sonny’s Letter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uvY5qU7ayg

Jamie Thrasivoulou – You, Me, The Moon & The Train Yard   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC0kJ7xDY9A

Joelle Taylor – No Man’s Land https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qd3SPziQJlw

Matt Abbott – Say You’ll Be There https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moACU16jss4

Patti Smith – Piss Factory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFcWBrkQ87M

Thick Richard – God Hates Stockport https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdu2xlJ7NJo

Toria Garbutt – First Kiss https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6d6mM3mDac

JB Barrington – When The World Was Young https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqdVh9v_GzU

Lisa Luxx – What Sisterhood Means https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLhDj22N2Nk

Salena Godden – My Tits Are More Feminist Than Your Tits https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPQO1DJhlKo

John Cooper Clarke – Beasley Street https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5hB3cTd7pA

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