the uncorrected, by Billy Childish, is an extensive collection of the author’s poetry. Confessional in style it is divided into themed sections, each opening with a black and white woodcut illustration. Childish is dyslexic and the poems appear as written. In the introduction the reader is told:
“He disliked “not naming things by their proper names”, and had no time for elegant embellishments of expression”
“Childish did not hold with the patient modelling and fashioning of a verse which so many poets declare to be indispensable to their art. He thought that a poem, and indeed all art, was emotionally secreted, and that the poet’s job was to refrain from intellectualising it.”
While Childish may be seeking a grounded authenticity, the subject matter – “poetry out of everyday sordidness” – can be challenging to read. He writes of: bestiality; being sexually abused by a family member as a child; being an alcoholic and a sexaholic; being “the bad ending to every fairy tale”.
Although he suggests that he doesn’t wish to be regarded as an artist, this comes across as disingenuous. He produces writing that “disgusts the senses” and appears proud to do so. He expresses contempt for qualifications and execrates the arts establishment.
“emotional truth is the lie of all art and all poetry”
Within this work is much railing against what he cannot be and the suggestion that he behaves badly in protest – in anger at how he has been treated, especially when a child. He also treats others badly, particularly the women he has sex with. He is “hungering for the moment”. Describing himself as a “serial masturbater”, he often mentions his “cock” and its secretions. I found such imagery base and unpleasant to read.
There are also poems about his son and these offer a softer side to his views and actions. In huddie 8.12.99 he writes:
“you came into this world
to teach me to love
i welcome you”
He promises the child many things, mostly that huddie will not be treated as Childish has been. Poems revolving around the boy reflect an abiding love. In where the tiger prowls stripped and unseen he writes of his wish that huddie retain hope and wonder rather than be taught at a young age of the many problems facing the world.
Certain poems offer wider perspectives amidst the personal outpourings. a sad donkey and a fat man smiling portrays the difficulties the author has faced, the weight of past experience he struggles under. In animated stone he compares the drunks, murderers or simply unhappy to daemons, gargoyles.
“the painters of old nailed their look bang-on”
The graphic descriptions can be shocking – detail provided of a botched abortion (waterloo station) is particularly horrific. Use of porn and paid for sex is normalised. Casual cruelty to animals is mentioned without apparent regret. Whether it be beauty or ugliness, Childish writes: you “see that which you deserve”.
nite ash offers a moment of reflection yet even this is shadowed by the opening:
taking a nite piss
i would often look from my bog window
into your strange arms”
It is as if Childish is capable of deeper thinking yet cannot rise above his preoccupation with bodily functions.
He claims to be “a poet who hates poetry” yet writes prolifically, often effectively, in the form. He describes his work as a gift and believes it should be appreciated.
Later in the collection there is mention of aging. From the un ready
“i feel myself younger than everybody
im not ready for this
i am not ready”
In waiting to become he returns to the theme of artists seeking validation – something he unconvincingly claims to eschew, although his refusal to conform in order to achieve is clear:
craving to win
feel others eyes
crawl over them
so be uplifted
in others envy”
Due to the language and subject matter I baulked at many of the poems, yet still there is a raw honesty that drew me in. I look to books to enhance and enlarge my understanding of experiences beyond my comprehension. These works may challenge my half century of white, middle class, protestant conditioning but in opening up a different way of thinking they demand and deserve attention.
I cannot say that I fully enjoyed reading this collection but the emotional dynamism has its moments, not least in acknowledging the differences in how each of us defines pleasure. It certainly made me ponder my prejudices.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tangerine Press.