Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
1:00 AM 2nd March 2024

Poem Of The Week: Rolling News Blues By John Cooper Clarke

Rolling News Blues

BBC – the daily Guardian - you choose
This misery soup is on a loop
Rolling news blues

There’s nice people doing nice things
Most of the time
I can’t prove it but you gotta believe me
You wouldn’t hear it on the public dime

BBC – the daily Guardian - you choose
Deep concern could only earn you the
Rolling news blues

There’s never been a better time to be alive
Gratitude is de rigueur
You used to be finished at sixty-five
Now its triple figures

There’s one thing fucks it up
Like gravel in your shoes
The horror the horror that makes the cut
On the rolling news blues

Reading the Salford Bard’s poems on the page demands a leap of the aural imagination: if not rendered terminally ashen, the texts will necessarily lack the nuanced linguistic colour of the poet’s vernacular, the absolutely unique delivery, and the ‘one-off’ gusto of his performances. John Cooper Clarke’s poems are written to be performed by John Cooper Clarke.

The trick is to recall his voice - those flat and guttural Mancunian tones - and to overlay the words in front of you with the wit and sardonic wisdom of his skewed tonal take on the grubby zeitgeist.

If his latest collection is any guide, he has lost none of the left-field, instinctively skeptical, sharpness of perception that has dignified half a century of trawling his plastic bag of poems around the clubs and theatres of the UK. To see him live is to revel in the language, the hammer-blows of repetition, and the thumping rhymes that give his performances such power and relevance.

You can hear cadences of both anger and resignation in the blunt instrument of ‘Rolling News Blues’, whose examination of the daily grind of depressing headlines corroborates the torpor that most of us feel when confronted by the pessimism of the Home and Foreign affairs columns. In the world of rolling news, our sense of well-being, bonhomie, and proneness to spontaneous acts of kindness – ‘There’s nice people doing nice things / Most of the time’ – is overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught of an abstraction.

The poet’s scrupulous avoidance of punctuation motors a polemic designed to shout us out of inertia. His final quatrain, with its (only half) tongue-in-cheek equation of media news with the ‘Horror’ of Kurtz at discovering his own moral condition, and the inescapable pain that undermines all rational means of evasion, reminds us that Cooper Clarke’s poems are informed by an allegorical intelligence that is as wide-ranging as it is deliberately given to hyperbole.

‘Rolling News Blues’ is taken from What, and is published by Picador (2024)

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