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Getting to know Jonty Tiplady

I've been intending to do this since 2011 or thereabouts but have prevaricated and excused and forlorned myself because I wanted to say how important for poetry Jonty's work is. I need to make a brief disclaimer, he and I correspond reasonably frequently and this may be seen as one of those mutual appreciation pieces. I used to worry about this kind of thing but, as have others, Jonty contacted me after I'd written about him in positive terms.

I couldn't get my brain around his material for a while and then some of Jonty's work appeared in Chris Goode's wonderful Better than Language anthology and I suddenly saw the 'light'. His work has now gone into a radically innovative and strategically important (crucial) orbit that holds out some hope for the future of the Poem. Before we get any further, the Trillionaires project is something we all need to mull over, not just for its quality but also because of its contribution to the scheme of things poetry-wise.

These claims may seem overblown and grandiose but I do believe (know) that the current malaise (which isn't fatal) is partly because the Poem has become far too poetic for its own good. There are poets with enormous talent who seem to be stuck in a number of ruts. The first of these is an over sensensitivity to the enormous weight of the past, the second is the very real damage that continues to be done by twentieth century modernist (and post-modernist and all the others) clichés that cloud the work of most and confirm (this is important) the reading public's view of the Poem as remote, elitist and Not for Them.

The Tiplady project (along with the work of Vanessa Place and John Bloomberg-Rissman) is about presenting an aleternative way of doing things. Jonty's written material mixes the demotic with the profound to produce genuinely satisfying 'effects' which undermine the standard tropes and conceits with something genuinely new that we all need to take notice of.

My inention here (as with some others) is to introduce the work to a wider range of readers and to celebrate (in the widest sense) the ongoing body of work. I'm going to use this page however to give some brief examples of what I mean:


This was published by Barque Press in 2007, I bought it in 2009 and didn't like it because it seemed a bit mannered and far too clever for its own good. Because it's short, I did pay it some attention but decided that I'd be better off with the usual Late Modern suspects that I could see the point of. It wasn't until the Better than Language anthology in 2011 that I decided to re-read the ZAM poems and suddenly began to see what might be going on. The is the end of the third poem in the sequence:

     What I find in insider psyche, nothing grows fusty in this
     a tad, this tad of, this old giant tardis butterfly man.

I give this as the briefest example of the 'effects' described above. I haven't discussed these with Jonty but my take is that there's a dismantling of expectation, a norm or two that are being playfully undermined but nevertheless a saying of serious things.


This was the poem that turned me around, made me smile and (metaphorically) punch the air in delight. It's fiercely intelligent, makes brilliant use of the language and creates an 'effect' that made me think again about the possibilities of the Poem. Here's the second half:

    Screwball addiction post-bling,
    post-gangsta-rap nothing.

    Nice to wonder about with you
    nice to stay fat,
    nice never truly to be a polygraph.

    Worth it that the woods be sovereign,
    what matters is that any of it
    happened at all
    the children a little fucked (concept to pop to sex) up
    and Formby in Albania like Big Bird to Catanou
    did quite well with that toaster.

    About now climate change arrives.

These are some of the most startling and breathtaking (Prynne terms) lines that I've come across, ever. Incidentally, George Formby was very popular in Albnia during the Hoxha regime as a an example of proletarian cheerfulness, no idea at all about Catanou.

The Undersong.

This piece of brilliance appeared in the second issue of the infuriating but essential Claudius App, it's read by the v talented Amy De'Ath and it's the kind of thing that we all should be doing, if we had the talent. In this increasingly distracting world, I know that it isn't easy to 'commit' to anything but the briefest moments of attention yet this will only take 8 minutes of your life and is as much a landmark as Sutherland's Odes, Jarvis' Night Office and V Place's Tagodia. For those that don't know, the original Sooty Show was a fifties tv programme for children featuring two glove puppets. The playful melancholy of the poem gives an additional bite/edge to the poem which is in marked contrast to other examples of absurd seriousness. Without getting too lit crit, its also a dream (vision) poem with a kind of disjointed coherence that Langland aimed for in Piers Plowman.


All of this is poetry, all of this is a poem. A few months ago I wrote something insightful on bebrowed on the need for innovation and working across forms with others. Jonty is currently showing the rest of us how the poem can make use of what's known as new technologies in general and the interweb in particular. The only problem for me is that it's being produced at such a rate that I can't keep up with it.

(Moment of pretentious but brief rumination) I've spent some time over the last six months paying intermittent attention to medieval manuscripts and early modern emblem books. This has triggered for my collaborator and I much 'deep' speculation about how text and image may 'work' together. It grieves me to acknowledge that Trillionaires is a long way in front of our work to date. Those who may have any doubt of the oustanding merit of this material need only to glance at the text at 32 secs in Nothing is Over.

The above is an attempt to give a flavour of Jonty's work. In other pages in this section I'll try and amplify what I mean.

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