Category: Performance Poetry

Introducing David Bell : Poet Laureate of Fauxetry

David Bell or Ern Malley Youtribe Star

For those of you not au fait with my previous personality shifts may I remind you I have been a dead country star and a cartoon dog and also many years ago (briefly)
I sent out music tapes as songwriter David Bell only to have a famed critic (remains anonymous) ring my mother about David Bell only for her to almost hang up at which point I wish she had as the call wasn’t a positive response.

So a long gone alter ego re-emerges as I consider the fairly tribal nature of modern British poetry.

Having retired I have taken some time to see how the land lies now and whilst some things have changed for the better e.g. diversity and representation others have got remarkably worse.

In 1992 I briefly worked at the Poetry Library and then there was a shared sense of who the best writers were and what groups they formed. This just before Tim Berners-Lee blew a world wide hole in all that. Even living in Edinburgh for two years did not radically alter my sense of poetry apart from vastly increasing my appreciation of contemporary Scottish writing.

In 1996 I returned to Oxford and the poetry world map then was easy to draw. There were the Oxbridge dominated lists like Faber and Cape and Oxford Poets OUP even. They pretty much defined the ‘big boys and girls’ to an extant they no longer do. OUP was killed off and most decent poets found new homes with the major minors (then and now) Carcanet and Bloodaxe.

Everybody else from whichever tribe was marginalised …LBGT representation then was confined to Jeremy Reed and Kathy Acker and apart from Walcott/Agard and a young Zephaniah/LKJ and my friend Javaid’s sister Moniza BAME literature was also under-represented. The margins was just that, catered for by magazines and small presses like left of centre Angel Exhaust on the post NY school side and Agenda on the rightist conservative side.

These are very big generalisations but you get my drift.

By 2002 when I moved to Nottingham both my workplace and the poetry world had come to be dominated by the shiny screen. The greatest influence on poetry post 1996 was Windows OS. The rest is history or more importantly herstory.

Then a second revolution hit poetry and one it still not fully adapted to.

Youtribe and phones shooting video changed ‘profitable’ poetry from a page based literary art to a screen based performance art and Slam broke the fences on the old reservations down for a while. Since then the big publishers have assimilated and absorbed it and now pump it out in alarming quantities to boost their diversity and profits almost equally.

For a good proportion of new wannabee poets their introduction to poetry is via the slam/video scene it takes a few years for the paper based version to finally sink in if ever. Good poets emerge but so do a lot of very bad ones.

There are now ridiculous amounts of poetry everywhere and everybody is a poet. Indeed being a performance poet these days is just a step to being a media personality like Kate Tempest who I just read is now a novelist comparable to Dickens! A blurb written by her agent no doubt as we all live in shallow not hard times.

Most of this ‘poetry’ is not poetry but words on a page sometimes formally interesting or crafted but mostly formless selfie induced snapshots of people’s psychic state or feelings shared ad infinitum on the social media platform of choice. Small presses have grown up based solely on the income streams that gratifying these performance poets ‘need to be seen’ have now created.

Want to be a poet sign here, pay at the door, let me edit you until publishable and then I take half your royalties. Just look good on camera we will do the rest…

But exponetial growth and rising profits does not equal quality no more than every boy in a bedroom with a guitar equalled The Beatles.

The hardest part of returning to ‘scope’ ( a stupid word learnt in my academic daze) the Mod/Brit/Poet scene is the sheer unadulterated amount of fucking awful poetry flowing off the POD small presses. If only quantity meant quality then I and Martin Stannard and other old white men like us would have nothing to moan about. (Just spiking the expected you dont understand the younger generation quips sadly as a teacher for 20 years I probably do).

At its worse selfie poetry or FAUXETRY is an adjunct to ACE funded wellbeing and has a role to play in rehabilitation, mental health services and general social interaction for a good cause BUT it does not produce that much well written poetry from whatever silo be it
Working Classist/Feminist/Trans/Scottishist/Classicist/ Socialist/Rightist/Vagrant/ neo Caribbean/ Northern Populist/ Nordic
(ok I made a lot of these up)

To then try and place oneself in one of these tribes even harder.

Back in 1992 it was easy Simon Smith not only rejected my poems for Angel Exhaust but told me in person I had no grasp of what he and his cohort were doing which amused me at the time as he was an academic librarian and I had been a radical art student but hey ho horses for courses. So I was not a modernist.

Wearing a centrist nice working class poetry cap I briefly played second fiddle to Simon Armitage until I grew so fucking bored of the whole Poetry Review younger generation hype that I gave up completely. I moved to Scotland and got published which apposite as most Scots were at that point way ahead of the English poetry scene. There was nothing of the quality of Chapman/Edinburgh review down south. Ambit was as close as you got but that was pretty not political.

So this leads to David Bell who I am going to resurrect in a totally contrived way to publish my post NY school tendencies which pre Simon Armitage were always there along with a wilful tendency to write archaic Elizabethan prose when mood took me. I was post-modernist before term struck. Which maybe why the firmly modernist inspired Cambridge crowd around Angel Exhaust never really got me.

Other wilful inventions include an entire volume of poetry in pigeon Scots which went down like the titanic in Scotland at the time…maybe publishing that now under a Scottish pseudonym would be (in)appropriate.

Maybe David Bell was born in Ullapool….who knows.

At this rate I soon have more identities than Pessoa who actually one of my progenitors in the first place.

So ladies and gentlemen…the original Poet Laureate of Fauxetry.

David Bell.

Och aye.

Burning Books – hiding in plain view?

Last year I did a reading for Nottingham Poetry Festival in which I produced a small ‘polemical’ pamphlet called ‘Burning Books’.

The pamphlet was a one off and most of the poems after ‘outing’ in paper form were then hidden away as ‘too political’ for my readers by myself!

I censored myself which crazy but shows the agonies of being in any way ‘political’ or writing from a stridently working-class viewpoint in the contemporary middle-class ring-fenced world of ‘proper poetry’.

It only now and post Kit de Waal’s article in the Guardian that I realise that in doing so I hiding from my true self.

So here again is the ‘real’ ‘Burning Books’ pre-edit and I stand by these poems…..a lot of pretentious middle-class ‘poets’ will hate it but frankly as I don’t spend much time listening to their whinging I don’t care. I will be ‘re-categorised’ as a ‘performance poet’ I expect and described as having  a ‘chip on my shoulder’ which a frequent method of negating anything which threatens the middle class.

Here a taste of what I talking about…

Proper Poetry

I used to write proper poetry

Not the really proper stuff

You know packed full of classical allusions

Or invented lives based on obscure photographs

No I gave up on proper poetry

Because it is so fucking boring

So I write an occasional diatribe

And raise two fingers to the academy

These are the times for less poets, less experts

Less academics and more UKIP candidates

When a military chaplain’s daughter from Wheatley

Is playing Joan of Arc in the Wars of Brexit

With only God and King Billy to save us.

Download as a pdf here


Man With No Name – poetry V song

An authentic?( Adrian Slatcher)song that is a poem in disguise written in mid 1980s when I harboured ambitions to be the English Nick Cave

The song ok the ambition a little over ambitious:-)

The war in question is the Falklands and the story true my step-grandad died of a heart attack in his pantry and the dog guarded him all day.

He could not read or write had looked after animals on the farm all his life.

He was not my true grandfather that another story…

I did a reading in Nottingham for John Harvey’s Slowdancer in 1992 and Nottingham radio did an interview.

They asked what the difference between poems and songs I said my songs rhyme my poems don’t…..

Man With No Name

You kick at the tyre of the tractor
That hasn’t moved since the snow last came down
You pull at the chainlink fence blowing dandelions over the old grey sow
And wonder whose hand on your arm could lead you away from here now

Well it’s the middle of summer and clouds cover the sun up, you feel cold
And you run for shelter, find your father with a halter, staring at the ground

Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name

In a dark pantry a dog panting, tired from running under the August sun
On the kitchen table a dripping pheasant broken by a farmer’s gun
And you sat in your armchair reading news of a war that had hardly begun
Whilst all the berries we picked last summer turned blood red in the cup

Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name

Well your stepdad fell in that kitchen and his dog sat and waited all day
Whilst the silent river rolled on and on and the clouds blew over the hills and away
So father and son two years later we stand in a graveyard in the rain
If I could lead you to the answer I would , If I knew it I wouldn’t say

Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name


Songs as Poems – Poems as Songs – Substitute already written?

Poem or Song or poetry by other means….????

‘Un-American Way’ 1999…

Did you hear the guns a rattling out on the Kentucky hills
As mud spattered up from your prison truck’s wheels
Did you smile every day as you washed the days away
Imprisoned for having nothing to say?*

Did you dream in an Un-American way?
Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain
Is that the un-American way?

Now the Campsfield wire fences are rattling in the wind
And there are stranger’s faces pressed against the panes
What did they dream they’d find beyond the ghost of empire Were they dreaming of a world of American stars and bars

Did they dream in an Un-American way

Now the holy walls are dripping with the blood of men
As guns crackle like whips above their heads
And that prison truck is busy carrying away those who
Dream in an Un-American way

Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain

*Dashiell Hammett


Following on the revelation of the Middle Class ‘Proper Poetry’ v Working Class ‘Performance Poetry’ stigmatisation.

I have looked at what I actually written over the past 40 years and an awful lot of my ‘poetry’ was sublimated or ‘hidden’ from my potential middle-class audience in ‘songwriting’ ….

So how appropriate that a book of ‘songs’ could be published with title ‘Substitute’…..perfect….


Here some potential ‘Pongs’ or ‘Songems’ or as I recently heard it called SOETRY (Song Poetry) 🙂


This a song from last year’s posthumous Trailer Star lost masterpiece Chalk Pit Rattle……
Buying Time…which appropriate in context of Kit de Waal s recent piece in The Guardian which prompted me to start writing again.

Maybe I will include songs in Substitute volume ;-) Songwriting is just poetry by other means for me 😉









Poem or Song? maybe I never really knew after all? Floor of Wood …..about the farm I grew up on.

Maybe these were performance poems all along just hiding in plain view 😉

If they are then I have several thousand poems waiting to be added to the collection:-)


This house was built of planks ten years after the war
I spent my childhood days watching the wind blowing the straw
As the sixties twisted away and the motorways came
I would stand at the window playing with toy cars in the rain

This time I’m really leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart under this floor of wood

Slate roof is full of holes, the walls are covered in rambling rose
Nothing lives here now but the ghosts
I push a broken door against broken plaster and ash
And watch the wind blow through windows all smashed

This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart underneath this floor of wood

Since I was a boy England has drifted from fields to city
All these cornfields been turned to golf courses or light industry
Plaster crumbles and dusts my shoes just like chalk
I walk away, scratches on my arm, I try to close the door.

This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart buried under this floor of wood

© shaun belcher – horseshoe songs 1999



Substitute : New volume of poems 2018

Sometimes all it needs is a trigger and Kit de Waal’s excellent piece in the Guardian yesterday brought together a lot of things for me that been bubbling under the surface.

Her article ‘Make room for working-class writers‘ touched a nerve…..

read it here

Also she made a comment about how the Proper v Performance Poetry debate basically divides along class lines and that really rang true for me.

It is the reason I leapt to the defence of McNish and Tempest. Adrian Slatcher’s comments about the experience of being a working class writer also hit home.

In 2011 we were both published by SALT as Salt Modern Voices but throughout I felt an outsider at that particular party.

I was reading next to very affluent new poets from privileged backgrounds who frankly I had nothing in common with.

Most of the audience were from their background not mine and in a particularly depressing reading in Oxford I actually felt antagonism for raising my subject in their presence.

A mostly white female middle-class leftist audience did not like to hear about the destruction of the working class communities of Oxford which allowed them to enjoy their academic privileges.

Some inconvenient truths are not wanted even by allegedly left-leaning liberal elites.

Adrian’s very erudite piece on the subject here:

Since then I have noticed that academic poetry and performance poetry have started to separate in a alarming way. This is an outcome of a deliberately devisive education policy by government that increasingly appears to be a ‘pay to play’ approach to education.

If your parents invest a £100 k plus (BA+MA+PHD fees)you will one day get the payback of an academic career before 30 in return . An American privatised model.

These factors stopped me writing..I gave up..I felt nobody cared..that there was no audience for what I did..and I was right….the middle-class ‘proper poetry’ area isn’t interested in me..isn’t interested in the truth of working class lives and experience as a subject.

PN Review and others are not interested in working class experience one iota.

You want to play in the Premiere League magazines better hide all that personal shit and start writing about your foreign holidays, how difficult it is being a middle class person post Brexit or at worst make up shit about Impressionist painter’s wives you have no knowledge about but it feels authentic enough to your equally pretentious and middle-class readers sitting in their sun lounges drinking martinis to swallow.

Poetry for me has always been a means of articulating my anger at the class system in the U.K.

It has always been polemical even when it appears to be purely personal. As Raymond Williams wrote about the Romantics ‘the personal is political’.

So I have the impetus and hopefully in a few weeks a book to go with it…..I feel that inspired. I have been silenced for too long.

I am coming off the subs bench……I may not make the first team but I will put in some hefty tackles especially on Simon Armitage …the David Beckham of poetry;-)


Sexism, Elitism or old fashioned Class War? : How poetry builds barriers to protect middle class dominance.

Sisters are doing it for themselves?

A recent piece of ‘criticism’ in PN Review by Rebecca Watts has caused a storm of controversy apparently.

PNR is an adjunct to the long established and firmly modernist Carcanet Press which has long been one of the jewels in Arts Council funded poetry publishing in the UK alongside Ambit and Bloodaxe.

Read for ‘ACE funded’…’not commercial’ i.e. it can operate in an elitist way because it bankrolled….

I not criticising that in particular but this important in the context of the debate that Rebecca Watts started.

Her piece proudly available via front page of the PN website would not be available if PN Review had to stand on its own two feet.

Now Ms Watts is a poet and obviously a ‘proper poet’ by her tone and scathing attack on the three women poets as amateur and sentimental slush basically and worse their work sold by the bucketfull..

Ms Watts poetry with the title ‘The Met Office Advises Caution’ (published by you guessed it Carcanet) will have sold less..a lot less in fact it would not exist but for subsidy….

Her article opens with Rupi Kaur a Canadian poet of little depth but much exposure who has no connection to the other two poets. She is the foundation on which Watts builds her shaky theory….she uses the frankly awful Kaur to tar the other poets with the same brush. This is her prejudice over-riding any attempt at a coherent piece of criticism. Kaur is also of Punjabi descent….but let us not let race distort the picture too much. She is primarily chosen as an example of ‘popular poetry’.

To be popular in Watts world is naturally to be below par…in a upstairs downstairs kind of way…..beyond the pale..our language is full of class references…we are good at it..we built an empire on it.

Poetry builds its own little empires too…empires that discriminate and exclude.

Rebecca Watts is a middle class white girl from Suffolk further details on her website so I presume not a sink estate in Lowestoft…before attending Trinity College Cambridge in 2001 after fees introduced so fairly well off from the get go oh and then on to an MA at Oxford which takes a lot more money…buying her way into the system basically.

I worked as a ‘minion’ in Oxford University and know her type all too well.

With her impeccable university education she is a natural elitist come to protect the British Literary world from ..dumbing down..amateurish writing and worse musical crossovers…

In Michael Schmidt’s Parthenon of white middle class writing……she found a home…

So given a platform she launched this tirade against what exactly? Many hit back for its incipient sexism but that isn’t its real subject…it is about CLASS

If a man had written this piece he would be hung drawn and quartered for sexism and possibly racism.. Watts gender saved her although it frankly is sexist..why not include male writers?

No this is about a far deeper and more troubling fault line in British publishing..CLASS

McNish and Tempest are outward-looking and experimental especially crossing over with musical forms because they are not from the middle class they both are from lower down the social ladder..too low for poor Watts. At the bottom of the ladder people can enjoy more than one art form…

Elitism, white middle-class elitism is about ring-fencing resources in troubled times so that people who look and speak like you are kept above the breadline and people who don’t are let slip into poverty and obscurity. It mirrors society in Britain now where those lucky enough to gain a degree and climb the greasy pole to a non menial job can be served ( left or right wing no matter) by those who born to servitude. It not a new phenomenon the Victorians invented it.

Rebecca ( how many working class women called Rebecca?) is maintaining her privileged position and bolstering her place in the great and the good and she is doing it through a thoroughly classist viewpoint. What she really saying here is these two women McNish and Tempest do not deserve their audience, do not deserve to be read because they are not from the elite. She is deserving of attention because she is from that elite she is ‘PROPER POETRY’ everything else is ‘PERFORMANCE POETRY’ which is shit..



Performance Poets who won Mercury awards and Ted Hughes prizes…..who reference Shakespeare..but still not PROPER POETRY.

Performers with a larger audience through music and generally performers who are successful in their own right. Un-subsidised.

They have appealed to a huge audience Watts will never reach however good her poetry technically because she is not interested in the wider audience she obsessed with the narrowing down of culture.

Watts has proudly listed all her performances on her website ..they all in Oxford and Cambridge they all to people like her..ring-fencing culture..keeping it behind the college walls..keeping it safe..

For that reason I can honestly say I will never read her work but I will investigate Tempest and McNish because they interest me.

So thank you Watts your pathetic snobbery has opened my eyes to how there is a class war opening up in British Literature and I now know exactly which side of the barricades I on….

Oh and p.s. I write poetry you would hate..and I play music……I am obviously a NOBLE AMATEUR….and you my dear are a snob.


Oh and funniest moment in Watts frankly awful diatribe is where she compares Kaur and co’s populism to Donald Trump….


A white middle class elitist comparing a Punjabi immigrant girl to Trump…..just think about that for one second……

The comparison should have been Watts and Trump both say too much and think too little.

As for PN Review…..I will not be subscribing or submitting any time soon..wrong side of the barricade darlinks .


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