Part of: Safer Steps

Essay: Safer Steps

by Paul Hunwick on 9 February 2001

Journalist Paul Hunwick examines the life and work of contemporary British poet Andy Stick.

Journalist Paul Hunwick examines the life and work of contemporary British poet Andy Stick.

Still from Safer Steps (2001)

It's not unheard of for an artist to turn up to an interview with an agent in tow. But today the contemporary poet Andy Stick is accompanied by a Gucci handbag-toting friend who happens to be a drugs counsellor. Typical Stick.

The last but one time I came across Stick was at the Mardi Gras festival in Finsbury Park. He was sitting on a plastic chair in the VIP area behind a tent sponsored by the hedonistic nightclub Trade. Surrounded by empty plastic glasses and a group of twenty people, he seized the moment to recite a poem. Words came spitting from his mouth and the audience swelled. Most were engrossed, although there were one or two reviled onlookers. From what I've seen of Stick's impromptu performances (often uninvited) this is a typical crowd reaction.

'Even if you can't get people straight away, they'll hopefully pick up on something and follow', says Stick. 'I want them to come away enlightened and enlivened. I want to make people laugh, but if it hits them here,' he punches his chest 'and they recognise themselves in one line - or even two words - that's enough for me.'

Stick's subject matter isn't to everybody's taste. Dugs, gay sex, S&M, hardcore club nights, glammed-up low life - no subject is taboo. His work is based mostly on pills 'n' thrills culture with a hangover thrown in. It combines a certain black humour with a lash delivery that questions as much as it entertains.

'My poems are obviously about my lifestyle and me,' explains Stick pulling gently on a string of razor blades hung around his neck. 'They're about modern life in a city. They can be in any scenario and are often comic, but there's always a twist and a message.'

'Some of our greatest poets today are songwriters: P.J. Harvey, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker and even Robbie Williams.

Stick is famed for dashing around clubland like a demon in an asylum - the crazy boy mouthing off poetry in the corner. Whatever his physical or mental state - the velocity remains the same. He is fast: fast-talking, fast-thinking, fast-living. Recently his work has started to be taken seriously and last year same one of Stick's poems published in an anthology by songwriters and poets including P.J. Harvey, Jarvis Cocker and Sinead O'Connor.

He comes at you with a sense of danger and excitement. You wouldn't take Stick to a family wedding, but he'd make an excellent companion in late night drinking dens. Whatever, he knows how to deliver a line and to hold an audience. 'Performing feels like something that I was meant to do', he enthuses. 'I haven't found anything else that I find so naturally inspiring in my life. Writing poetry is one thing but when I perform, something spiritual happens. I find it very healing.'

'There's a whole poetry scene, but I don't really hang out on it,' says Stick laughing at the though. 'I only do so if I'm performing at an event. I don't want anything like that to influence my work. I think poetry events like Excess Express are developing a different genre of poets. Much more confrontational, more aggressive. I'd say there's definitely a new genre emerging.'

While it may be overstating the case to claim that there is a new poetry movement (this in-your-face style of performance poetry really about about around the time of the birth of alternative comedy) it is true that a new wave of poets is dominating the scene. Salena 'Salvia' Godden and Paul Lyalls are a few of the names to rank alongside Andy Stick.

'Some of our greatest poets today are songwriters: P.J. Harvey, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker and even Robbie Williams.' asserts Stick. Certainly the work of these people is presented in a format and language that is digestible to the MTV generation.

What does Stick think of that British poetic institution, Pam Ayers? 'She's alright,' he chortles with a laugh that would make an ideal soundtrack to a saucy seaside postcard. 'She's certainly loaded. I actually do have one small book of Pam Ayers. It was a gift, but I suspect they were taking the piss. Some of her stuff does make me laugh. What she did, she did very well.' Stick roars with laughter and amazement to his admission. 'Maybe I should get a Pam Ayers T-shirt made up. Better still, I'll make it Pubic Ayers.' Typical Stick.




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