Mud Wrestling With Words: Bang Said The Gun, Burning Eye

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Bang Said The Gun’s anthology Mud Wrestling With Words defies the conventional, carefully-weighted review – and I’m sure that’s the way the organisers of the weekly ruckus at the Roebuck pub in south London would like it.

Their tongue-in-cheek pitch – or brand, if you like - is reaching out to those “who don’t like poetry”. Polarbear, addressing the year 9 boy trying to find a rhyme for ‘Orange’, tries to transmit the rhythm at the heart of performance poetry: “ … maybe it’s kinda like when a drummer in the queue at the bank and without even knowing starts tapping a beat with his hand and his feet”.

Within the covers of Mud Wrestling With Words are some of the biggest names in performance poetry: John Hegley, Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest, Luke Wright, Elvis McGonagall, to name but a few, as well as Bang Said the Gun leading lights Peter Hayhoe, Rob Auton, Martin Galton, and Dan Cockrill.

The anthology is full of surprises. Yes, there are political poems, but not too many of them. Luke Wright’s ‘Nigel Farridge’ is a “Cream-stuffed cat with verbal squits / who’s banging on about the Blitz”, while Elvis McGonagall’s ‘If … after Rudyard Kipling’ follows a predictable path:  “If you know you’ve won the race before it’s even run / … you’ll be a selfish Tory bastard my son.” On the other hand, Murray Lachlan Young is remarkably even-handed in his ‘Maggie: Obit Poem’:

“Some will remember the chill in the air / Some will remember your teeth and your hair / But most that you gave and asked for no quarter / … not bad for a greengrocer’s daughter.”

Bang Said The Gun’s poets tackle the pressing subjects of today: rude people who play iPods too loudly on trains; restaurants that want their table back at half-past eight; random car-horn honkers; nose-picking in public; pilfering at work, public snogging at bus stops. These things matter! Why don’t more poets write about them? 

But, just maybe, they protest too much about their cavalier attitude to “poetry”. In the introduction to the book Ian McMillan describes his induction at the Roebuck: “The audience were given all kinds of things to make noise with and they were encouraged, before the show began, to make as much noise as they possibly could.”

He adds: “I stood up to read after a thundering welcome that my family could hear back in Barnsley. And then the Bang Said the Gun miracle happened: the audience went quiet and listened.”  

And, whisper it, but there are poems in this anthology that are not rude, rollicking or raucous, but quiet, observed, poignant. Poems such as Molly Naylor’s ‘Earlham Cemetery November’, John Osborne’s ‘Our Waitress is Employee of the Month’, and Jo Bell’s ‘Urban Mermaid’, who “combs the condoms from her hair”: 


   on the coping stones she leaves a shell,

   so he can hear the sea;


   takes in return his can of Special Brew.

   She holds it to her ear sometimes, and listens to

   the roaring of the trains at platform 2.


Any self-respecting gunslinger should be seen with a copy of this book in their pocket. And those curious to investigate the noise coming from the performance poetry neighbours next door would do well to start here, too. Greg Freeman


Mud Wrestling With Words, Bang Said The Gun anthology, Burning Eye, £12



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