Afrika Bambaataa identified the four pillars of hip-hop culture as MCing, DJing, b-boying and graffiti writing. No one has ever definitively outlined the pillars of punk culture, but poetry would have to be one.
Amphetamine Heart is Liz Worth's first collection of poetry. Visceral and direct, it does much to cement poetry as one of punk's cultural pillars. The work is inspired by early punk poetry in approach, if not in content.
"There are so many situations we run into in our lives where it's not OK to be yourself, and when I got into punk I felt very liberated by that," says Worth. "It wasn't just about being in a band or being in the audience. It was about creating on many different levels."
Worth went from zinester to freelancer before covering the early days of the Toronto punk rock scene in her first book, Treat Me Like Dirt. "When I was working as a freelance writer, I loved researching and interviewing people, but I often felt there was an emotional void," says Worth. "Writing non-fiction does require some creativity, but it's a different kind of creativity than what you tap into when you're writing poetry or fiction.
"When I was working on Treat Me Like Dirt, I was extremely passionate about it and when the book was done I felt slightly destroyed. I wasn't ready for it at all. I also wasn't prepared for how burnt out I felt afterwards. I needed to do something different, so I started getting back into writing poetry. It wasn't hard to switch because I really needed it at that time"
Though there is a natural inclination for punk and poetry to overlap, it's rare to see a performance combining the two. The creative crossover in the punk scene seems largely neglected when compared to punk's halcyon days. There's no punk poet laureate heir apparent to John Cooper Clarke or Lydia Lunch. "Things, to me at least, feel very formulaic a lot of the time," says Worth. "There are people who are trying to shake things up, but they seem outnumbered by everyone else who's sticking to a tried and true pattern."
Worth isn't necessarily longing for the past, but does see the value in a scene that embraces creative fusion on many levels. "I don't think that writing and music should have as much distance between them as they sometimes seem to," she says. "It would be cool to see the literary and music scenes come together more often than they do, because when they do it can be really fun."
Worth, along with Electric Voice Records, will bring together many of the unofficial pillars of punk culture this Friday: music, video and poetry. The show will feature a live video performance by Heather Rappard, readings by Worth, Troy Richter and Josh Salter and musical performances by Catbag, Friendly Dimension and Old & Weird.
"Everyone on the bill gets to bring their work to a new audience," says Worth. "And the audience gets to see something they wouldn't normally set out to experience."
Past readings by Worth have quite definitely featured performances out of the norm. "A group of girls called Triage did freakshow stunts at the Toronto launch of Amphetamine Heart, and they bleed real blood and everything. My parents left right after they came on."
Amphetamine Heart launch w/Liz Worth, Josh Salter, Troy Richter, Heather Rappard, Old & Weird, Catbag, Friendly Dimension Friday, February 10 at 1313 Hollis, 8pm, $5, all ages
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