John Wilks (2019) According To The Dandelions

I’m reading the last bit of Deborah Orr’s, autobiography, Motherwell: A Girlhood. In many ways John Wilks, should read,  According To The Dandelions: A Boyhood. I trade in the nostalgia game so recognise the junk and faux gold that some writers sell.   I can sift through the rubbish (lots of it written by yours-never-truely). But poetry scares me a bit, to paraphrase Stephen Mulrine’s The Coming of the wee Malkies.

Haw missis, whit’ll ye dae when the wee bit poetry come,

If they dreep doon affy the wash-hoose dyke,

An pit the hems oan the sterrheid light,

An play wee heidies oan the clean close wa,

Missis, whit’ll ye dae?

Where I come from, you see, poetry was always for women. I admit I cheat, a bit, and read poetry as prose. I don’t gie a fuck whit the rules are. And I don’t believe there is a conspiracy to keep me silent and my poems unpublished, because, if there is, I’m part of the conspiracy. Poetry has a hard enough job without me adding to the misery of mankind.

All readers play the part of Emperor in the colosseum of words. Reading is my religion, so I plump up the cushion quite willing to give words on a page a fighting chance and a thumbs up. Too many books and words that give me a headache and  it’s a thumbs down.

John Wilks, Dandelions, gets a thumbs up, because like Deborah Orr’s Motherwell, his is a world I know, I’ve lived. His words are my words. When poetry says what you didn’t actually say, without saying it, but you go— right. It resonates somewhere inside you, then, it rings true, and the wee Malkies willnae get you.  

Getting the Picture, for example.

Let me draw you a picture, he said;

meaning: you are stupid.

This from someone that can barely scribble

a stick figure whose knowledge

of anatomy is crude, at best.

I hear that voice, I get that, it is part of my past of self, of self-knowing and the tribe of people I know or have known.

The Girl I Wanted

I wanted a girl who would hold my Mars bar

and use it for a microphone.

The kind of girl I could follow

 up the stairs of Routemaster

 and I would be watching the curves

 of her cheekbones, the ozone depleting

 bounce of asymmetric hair,

 the nebulae round her eyes.

I can open any page in John Wilk’s collection of fifty poems and I’m staring back. The Girl I Wanted was Pauline Moriarity. Here she is on a Routemaster bus. Here she is in my heart. Not broken. Not mended. Not wiser—because I never got older. Sshhh, whisper it, that’s the secret of poetry, like the wee Malkies I’m always waiting, always there, and John Wilks has mastered it well.

Let me put you in the picture, he said;

meaning: watch your back, I’ve been talking behind it.

Why book selling doesn’t work!

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Warning, I’m going to try and sell you something. It’s billed as ‘the best new writing from ABCtales’. Who decides what’s best? That’s a question that is often difficult to answer. Certainly, Stephen Thom, who wrote story of the year is here. And Alex Graves who wins poems of the year, every year, is included. My work is also in, but I’d guess that’s because I’ll have a book out later this year in which ABCtales act as my agent and get a fee. I’m glad about that. Although it costs nothing to join ABCtales, or to publish your work online, the expense of running the site is met by Tony Cook, chief cook and bottle washer. Every year I pay around £40 to ABCtales because I know it’s not free and I can afford it. Mr Cook will probably pop up here and say no you don’t – in the eight years you’ve been here you’ve paid six shillings and two pence. But listen, I’ve got an active imagination and no real interest in Facebook, I do like stringing a few sentences together and passing them off as original prose. And I get a buzz when someone reads it and comments. Without a reader the circuit of writing is not complete. ABCtales gives me that opportunity. It gives you that opportunity. But I’m not stupid. I know whatever I’ve written will be forgotten quicker that a photo of last night’s dinner. That doesn’t bother me. There’s no glory in what you’ve written, but what you’ve still to write. Even then, I’ve no illusions, ABCtales is gang hut in hyperspace few folk know about and fewer still cares?

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Well, I care, because it’s my gang hut and my turf. And John Wilks who edited this slim volume also cares. He offered up his time and expertise to get this published. Publishing is the easy part. We all know that now. There’s an extract from Joe Lawrence’s East End Butcher Boy here and it’s better than anything published by Unbound, and I include my own work in that. The difficult part is selling something. I know that and Laurie knows that and Ewan knows that and Tony knows that. And I’d add that Scratch (Peter) who has also written a novel on ABCtales, although he’s not included in this volume, also knows that. It’s only when you actually go and try and sell something that you realise how difficult it actually is. It’s not like that Kevin Coster film Field of Dreams, when you build that baseball diamond, ‘they will come’. No they fucking willnae.  Ask Richard Penny,  who has a story here ‘The Tipping Point’, but who also published a sister volume,  My Baby Shot Me Down which included the works of some my favourite writers on ABCtales, including Rachael Smart, Claudine Lazar and ‘Katherine Black’ (Harpie). And really if you’re going to publish the best of ABCtales you’ve to have something from Maggy van Eijk. Why stop there? What about Philip Sidney who is also not included in this volume and to my mind merits inclusion (I love this for example, But I don’t really think it matters that those other names aren’t there. That’s editor’s choice. I’ve been there with A Celtic Anthology, which I co-edited with Kevin McCallum (Old Pesky on ABCtales). I could rattle off another few anthologies I’ve been involved in. It’s that gang-hut mentality that makes you part of a group, and your mum and your sister and their brother might buy a copy. And then you become invisible. Christopher Isherwood’s narrator in The Berlin Novels jokes about selling eight copies of his poetry before fleeing England for Berlin. Funnily enough that’s the number of copies John Wilks claimed to have sold so far. I can name a few buyers. Joe Lawrence, Claudine Lazar, Ewan Lawrie and myself. That’s 50% of the buyers. And it’s pathetic. Thirty of those published in the volume haven’t bothered buying a copy. Whatever the opposite of resounding success this is the opposite.  Build the field and they will come? Just because you get ABCtales for nothing, doesn’t mean it costs nothing. Put something back (if you can afford it). There’s some good stuff here. I can’t claim any credit for that. At least think about it.