So here we have a new split poetry book by a couple of chaps that you might recognise from the British punk scene; Dave Cullern, vocalist of the doom-punk band HAEST and roaster of coffee at SHAM CITY ROASTERS, and James Domestic from the hardcore bands THE DOMESTICS and PI$$ER. Short poetry chapbooks seem to be the popular choice these days, but this is a satisfyingly solid 100-page book, featuring 24 poems by the former, and 35 by the latter.
Before getting into the poetry itself, I just want to note that this has an excellent cover painting; it’s a painterly-textured mess of brown and vivid orange, scattered with an assortment of what look like those eyes that people use in arts-and-crafts. I don’t know what it represents, but I also don’t know what the book title means either, so we’re off to a good start.
If you’ve listened to HAEST or read their lyrics in any depth, you’ll find Dave Cullern’s poetry voice familiar. There are similarities not only in the way he constructs written pieces to fit that band’s chaotic song structures, but also in the obscure, metaphorical wording. Like his lyrics, there’s little use of rhyme in his poetry, Dave largely preferring a free verse style, meaning that we’re treated to a unique structure and rhythm on every page. Because of this combination of elements, I feel like his stuff often requires an instant re-read; I find I get to the last line, something clicks, and I need to give the whole thing another run-through to more accurately decipher the message, which is a rewarding process. When he does chuck in some rhyming, it’s done with reservation and precision, adding a welcome wave of order to the otherwise open composition.
‘The Male Graze’ is a good example of how well Dave can coalesce disparate ideas and textures into a whole, comprising car boots and first loves, saplings and felled oaks, electric chairs, preacher’s eyes, and prison sex. ‘Yesterday’s Heroes’ is a humorous look at the shortcomings of modern idols, while ‘Baby, I Look Like An Anarchist’, one of the more structurally repetitive pieces, explores the philosophy of requirement. ‘Rats’ and ‘We Jam Econo’ are a couple of my favourites in this half, for pure despair and relatable content respectively, and the lengthy closer ‘Watching the English’ is well worth your time too.
I’m less familiar with James Domestic’s musical projects, but I do remember listening to some of his solo stuff and it bringing to mind the dry but eccentric humour of bands like PWEI. I can identify that tone again in his poetry, where he writes in a far clearer, more accessible voice than Dave Cullern. Eschewing obscurity, he writes in a bright and at times even colloquial tone, like a mate regaling stories down the pub. A lot of his poems are also structured without line breaks, adding to the vibe of continuous, train-of-thought dialogue. The aforementioned sense of humour also carries a lot of this stuff for me, provoking laughter between lines of despair.
When he does experiment with more organised structure, it’s really effective. I especially like the rhythm of ‘The Fizzybum Tree’ which, despite it’s ultimately grim subject matter, reads like a children’s book. ‘Just Talk Loud’ tackles the hypocrisy of racist Brits holidaying in Spain, ‘Celebrity Chef Bastards’ questions the curiously skinny frames of TV chefs, and ‘The Wait’ deals with the frustrations of tardiness. ‘I Am Resolute’ concerns becoming a slipper-wearing old punk (I guess it happens to all of us) while ‘Ancient Domesticean Proverb’ and ‘Free Yak’ display James’ ability to be both hilarious and pertinent in a concise handful of lines. ‘Human Schtick’ is worth a read if you’ve ever experienced imposter syndrome, and give ‘Framlington Pie Song’ a look for a good indicator of this poet’s sense of humour (and anthem-writing capabilities).
‘Cruor’ is a great little poetry book by two British punks; both enraged yet hopeful, but expressive in very different poetic voices. Definitely pick this up if punk poetry is your jam. And just in case, like me, you were wondering what the book’s title meant, the noun ‘cruor’, now effectively obsolete in the English language, refers to a clotted portion of coagulated blood. Well, I’m glad I Googled that.
‘Cruor’ is available to buy from:
@fuckballads / @kibou_records