Book review from R2 Magazine – November 2016
Attila The Stockbroker
(Cherry Red Books) www.attilathestockbroker.com
ISBN 978-1-909454-30-9Softcover. 298pp
I’m not entirely sure how for thirty years I avoided actually seeing Attila The Stockbroker live. I was aware of this ‘ranting’ poet and remember discussing his ironic fascination with Albania with friends who had seen him in the mid-80s. I think I had dismissed him as some kind of rabid apologist for totalitarian regimes and then forgot pretty much all about him until Blyth Power’s thirtieth anniversary concert where it gradually dawned on me that the gnarly grey-haired chap compering was, in fact, Attila himself.
Firstly I was taken in by the humour and wry approach to politics: this was clearly someone who saw the absurdity in everything, including himself. In fact especially in himself. And then he read a poem that made me cry; it’s included in this autobiography and is about his difficult relationship with his step-father: ‘But later we learned so much/and something new began/And here’s a poem I wrote for you/you decent, gentle man.’ There were layers of complexity here that I had foolishly dismissed. I think it comes down to the quotation on the T-shirt Attila wears on the cover of this book. It is Liverpool poet Adrian Mitchell’s manifesto for poetry: ‘Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.’
Firstly the book is well written, after all Attila clearly has a way with words which is why he’s a poet. The only minor niggle I had were the number of times a person or incident is brought up in the narrative for the reader to be told, ‘But more of that later.’ Secondly this goes well beyond the realms of simply telling the Attila story and is more a social history of the punk and radical left scene from 1980 to today: from the angry young ‘ranting poet’ of the early-80s to the contented middle-aged performance poet of 2015. Although I guess ‘contented’ is hardly the right word.
There are some interesting diversions along the way. Although the miners’ strike, the battle of Wapping and the dissolution of the Eastern bloc are hardly diversions for a leftist in the 1980s. One of the most fascinating chapters discusses Attila’s experiences touring in the pre-unification German Democratic Republic. He is not blind to the failings of the state, but is disappointed when the possibility to create a new kind of society as the Soviet bloc disintegrated was lost by a mindless stampede towards western capitalism.
Along the way we find out about football, particularly Attila’s dedication to Brighton and Hove Albion; his family, including one very moving chapter dedicated to a poem about his mother’s experiences with Alzheimer’s; and some bit parts from other ‘ranting poets’ including Steven ‘Seething’ Wells, Porky the Poet (now Phil Jupitus) and R2’s own Nick Toczek.
What is most impressive is that, despite the disinterest of record companies and publishers, Attila has continued his tongue-in-cheek criticism of capitalism through self-publicity and cottage industry.