poems 1980-1998 by Billy Childish
Codex Books 1999,
ú9.95 ISBN 1899598-10-3
CHILDISH is a legendary figure in underground writing,
painting and music. Born in Chatham, England in 1959,
he left school at the age of 16, having been assured
that he would amount to nothing. After working in
Chatham╣s Naval Dockyard as an apprentice stonemason
he enrolled for an unsatisfactory spell at art college,
which ended in his expulsion. Diagnosed as dyslexic
at the age of 28, Billy has published more than 30
poetry collections, and featured on over 80 albums
on a variety of independent record labels. He is the
author of two novels, and has exhibited his paintings
all over the world. Text , poems and illustrations
reproduced by permission of Codex Books.
When Codex published "Notebooks of a Naked Youth"
in 1997 Billy Childish╣s text had been cleaned up
to remove dyslexic eccentricities. It was felt that
his autobiographical narrative would flow more easily.
Readers would not be forever puzzling over misspelt
words that might disrupt the flow. In my experience
one quickly attunes to variations from the norm, vernacular
and slang. Thankfully, when Codex published │i╣d rather
you lied▓ they had the good sense to leave Childish╣s
raw language well alone - let it speak for itself.
It doesn╣t just speak, it screams, yowls, and babbles
off the page with discomforting force.
Billy Childish╣s language is rooted in London╣s working-class
culture and enforces the idea that to accept a cultural
norm is to give ground in the class war. He is out
to shock, assault cultural niceties, assert his working-class
pride and stamp his authority on poetry. The question
of whether he is doing so by adopting a self-conscious
pose or being true to himself is difficult to assess.
Obviously Billy Childish has chosen not to emply the
various aids available for checking and correcting
spelling errors, in preference of immediacy and street
cred. There are, however, inconsistencies in his bad
spelling which make it look like a cheap literary
device or pose. The question that arises is: Would
Childish╣s poetry be diminished if the spelling were
The answer is yes because we have the example of │Notebooks▓
to illustrate this point. The strength of Childish╣s
poetry lies in its brutal, in-yer-face honesty, and
to convey that honesty he must bare not only his soul
but his dyslexia - the two are inseparable.
This collection of pungent verse is accompanied by
the stark, uncompromising language of black and white
woodcuts and drawings. The immediacy of these visuals
is totally appropriate, giving the whole package an
expressive potency. The visceral nature of this book
exposes Childish╣s abilities as a draftsman and linguist.
This is compulsive work that demands attention.