The world is in a weird old place right now.
You look at the news and we live in times of unprecedented change. Changes to our climate, changes to our democracy and thanks to some tiny invisible killer bugs, changes to how much loo roll you can acceptably stack up in your trolley before someone will rugby tackle you. Everywhere you look, the rug is being pulled from under our feet on what we thought was solid ground.
So every now and again it’s good to take stock of what is truly happening out there. Not as part of the rapture, but really, truly in people’s lives. The normal. (Do you remember the normal?) What are people’s daily priorities? Where are they going? What are they doing? The only voices we hear are media voices, politicians framing the agenda or celebrities framing their latest product. Where are the ordinary people? Where is Joanne Public?
She’s in Southend-on-Sea.
Well, more precisely, that’s where Sadie Davidson and her latest project ‘Life Behind Bards’ is. The multi-slam winning poet and author of two poetry collections to date has curated here a platform for working class poets and writers to articulate voices that we often never get to (or sometimes often simply refuse to) hear. Raw emotion in words; grime; an ownership of language that sends Radio 4 listeners running for the hills. Hard hitting rhyme. Brutal verse. Estuary Eminem.
What is clear from the moment this collection starts is that there is nowhere to hide for the listener. The voices are true, the voices are honest. The voices are without doubt angry, but not in a way that wishes to threaten you as a listener. You’re not responsible - but someone is. This a tempered anger, fragile and open that clearly leaves the door ajar for any offer of social change. These are real life stories of heartache, of tragedy but in no way of pity. No writer here starts pleading for our sympathy, they just want us to listen.
The voices are diverse - from Barber Josh Chamberlain who speaks of his Father’s heroin fuelled ‘Brown shaded daze’ to acting student Patrick Crowley, who despite his protestations in his introduction as a “small boy from Southend” in his verse ‘Pieces’ is anything but. Both deliver big ideas - commenting on the struggles of family, of their disillusionment with the establishment and how important these words really are to them.
Digging deeper and going below the surface (literally into what is described as an underworld) we hear the words of Sonny Green who gives us the lowdown on how certain violence isn’t necessarily about the fact you’ve been robbed but “It’s about the principle”. This world - a thousand miles from my own - is one with clear rules and boundaries - just not the ones they taught you in school. That stuff they taught us? That was for the middle class kids - these fine people live by a very different code.
The anthology continues with film maker Aaron Shrimpton’s ‘In the Morning Light’ - a melodic and more upbeat celebration of love and hope. An onomatopoeiac dream - Aaron’s delivery lifts us out of reality for just a second before we’re back with “Drugs, drama, drink and debauchery’ courtesy of Danny Martin. There is (it appears) little room for respite when laying out the truth on a plate for the listener.
But do not be fooled - despite it’s unapologetic nature, ‘Life Behind Bards’ is not a depression fest. Each of these pieces brings a smile as the sense of one to one conversation really does comes across through each poem. What these voices appear to want is for you to recognise their pride. In themselves, in where they live, in what life has dealt them in their version of family.
The experience of these poets is about as far removed from my own situation as you can get. I’m a lower middle class writer sitting up in the North of England, looking out on the Pennines and listening to voices of the county I left behind yet a good twenty five years ago - yet I didn’t feel accused, bullied or (far worse) forced to listen to a sermon.
This is where Sadie’s work really comes into its own within the collection. Aside from the fact that she is the lone female voice in amongst a sea of very powerful men, she is also the conductor of this collection, weaving everything together in a fantastically eloquent way.
The way that these tracks are spread amongst the other voices is telling. While the other works are generally personal stories, Sadie’s are pieces which speak for a whole community. Her contributions are timely - coming in early at track 2 almost like a host at a particularly rowdy open mic night.
From the start of ‘Life behind us’ - her first word is ‘We’ and that “I speak on behalf of them” attitude is continued throughout her work. Her mythical story ‘Ziroh’ is a clarion call for women everywhere to be the hero, while in ‘Entropy’ she brings all the threads together leaving us in no doubt that after all this we’ve heard today..... Well, Sadie’s the one who will challenge us - “So what are we gonna do about it then?”
Be under no illusions. This collection is not a ‘pleasant’ listen. Nor is it a fun way to spend an hour if you’re looking to pick yourself up from being forced to watch seven straight days of ‘Flog it’ in your pyjamas. The language is brutal and it is not a collection for the faint hearted or easily shocked. But if you’re looking to be taken somewhere other than the comfort of your own living room? Then you would do far worse than listening to this anthology. It’s an absolute treat.
‘Life behind bards’ is available on Soundcloud or for more information head to www.sadiedavidsonpoet.com, Sadie Davidson - Poet on Facebook or SadieDpoet on Instagram.