“fuck being safe, fuck playing safe. in fact fuck playing. fuck being careful. fuck giving a fuck.”
These lines (from ‘Fuck Tea, Fuck Toast’) may give some idea of the flavour of Salena Godden’s long-awaited collection, Fishing in the Aftermath. Bursting with the attitude that gained ‘Salena Saliva’ her name as one of the most prominent performance poets in the UK, Fishing brings together 20 years of work for the first time in a formally published collection.
The poems are not in chronological order, but flow back and forth from flashes of 1990s hedonism to reflections on what it means to be a writer in today’s world. Godden, who was in New York at the time of the twin towers disaster (the subject of her title poem), draws an imaginary line between “the poet before and after 9/11”. Perhaps the ‘before poet’ is the one thought of by many as the true punk, the one that gets compared to Charles Bukowski and John Cooper Clarke, while the ‘after poet’ is the one who appears regularly on Radio 4 to discuss issues of gender and race, the one you’ll see at literary festivals across the globe.
But there aren’t really any lines to be drawn with Salena. Pure faith in the intensity and meaning of real life coupled with a boundless sense of fun runs through all her poems, leaving no time to pontificate or draw breath. Guided by feeling rather than form, the pieces in Fishing vary a lot in style, which makes for a delightful and ever-surprising read. Some are clearly lifted directly from the stage and cannot fail to raise a smile, particularly for anyone who has actually seen Salena screaming “IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT” down a microphone. However, poems such as ‘Cloudbursting’ and ‘Skying’ are fluid, lyrical and steeped in landscapes of nostalgia, demonstrating a delicacy and command of imagery one might not expect from an author whose other titles include ‘Twat’ and ‘Ball-ache’.
There are also prose passages, such as ‘The Last Big Drinky’, a five-part memoir told from the point of view of a friend of Saliva’s and featuring a week of excessive drinking, orgies and nonsensical conversation. Sex is a big theme in Fishing, which is dedicated to “the Good Cock”, and Godden is not shy of being graphic. However, even in the most fleeting and carnal of encounters there remains a certain integrity of feeling, as if somehow, at the root of it all, there is love, albeit not in any conventional sense.
This emotionally honest mentality carries over into some of the other dominant themes in the collection. Something that crops up again and again is the meaning of being a poet, both within oneself and in society. At times Godden rails directly and unapologetically against the poetry establishment, who are “focussed on ambition and celebrity instead of real guts and truth”. She has a healthy contempt for mediocrity, writing in ‘A Letter to a Young Poet’, “What does it take to put razors and stones into the comfortable slippers of light-entertainment and mediocre drivel like Bridget Jones and other chick lit crap.”
Anyone who has ever felt frustrated that literature does not speak to them, or that politicians do not represent them, or that to have a relationship with another human being is incredible, cannot help but have their spirits lifted by this collection. It is joyous to read, at times angry, at times tender, always driven by the most compelling of personalities. And for anyone aspiring as a writer, may Godden’s sign-off in ‘A Letter to a Young Poet’ ring true – “keep the ink wet and keep it burning.”
Words: Gevi Carver.
Image 1 © Salena Godden.
Images 2 + 3 © Sara Hill.