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BOOK REVIEWS

 

 

 

Selected poems 1980-1998 by Billy Childish

Codex Books 1999,

ú9.95 ISBN 1899598-10-3

BILLY 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 corrected?

 

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.

Marshall Anderson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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