There is a poet living just up the road from me. His name is James Haddow. When I first met him a little while ago, he gave me a copy of his book, La Petite Mort. He also recited his poetry to me mid-conversation, in a way that was understandable and accessible. In a way that made me wish he’d been my GCSE English teacher! James recites poetry like someone who truly loves it; not just his own poems, but all poetry is brought to life. When S and I bump into him in the street, he recites Charles Causley for her.
Once you’ve heard James recite his poetry, you can hear his voice in every one of his written poems. Some of them are hilariously irreverent; others heart-wrenching, others political, satirical, racy or raunchy – there’s a poem for every occasion.
James says he’s always loved poetry, having listened to his father recite his favourite poetry at home – but also, “I was taught poetry at a time when rhythm and rhyme were still fashionable.” He talks of poets and poems with such enthusiasm, it makes me want to go out and find these poems myself, to see what I’m missing. Unlike James, I went to school in a time where teachers had to teach the curriculum – and the curriculum for most of us was the war poets. It’s not that I don’t like them, but when you’re 15 you don’t really want to be reading Brooke and Sassoon!
James is known as the Taxi Driver Poet. Before he moved to Salisbury, he was a taxi driver in Nottingham and would recite his poetry to people in the back of his cab. He became well known for this, with people often getting into the cab saying “tell my mate the one about the…” before pretty much reciting it themselves. He started out doing this when he wrote a poem about a girlfriend who had left him for someone else. One of his fares asked how his relationship was and he replied, “I wrote her a poem; I’ll recite it for you!” and the Taxi Driver Poet was born! (the poem was You’re Just a Selfish Cow and is featured in the book) Word got around that this taxi driver was reciting original poetry to his fares, and James soon found everyone was asking him to tell them the poem about his ex. Eventually the local papers, radio and even local TV were interested in him and running stories about him. This was around 16 years ago.
I asked James what made him start writing his own poetry, and initially he told me about the perception most people have about taxi drivers; sitting about, waiting for fares all day… but the truth is that when he was 26 he was married and a lay pastor in a church, and began an affair. “Conflicted in heart and mind, living a lie with no-one I could talk to about it…” he started writing poetry.
Twenty months ago, James found out he has Epilepsy and that brought an instant end to his career as a taxi driver. With uncertain health he decided to give it a go earning a living from his poetry: writing books, performing at parties and gatherings. Some of you might have seen on my Facebook that James arrived to my sister’s birthday celebrations to recite some poetry for her – and that’s something he’s now offering, which I think is fantastic. To have a real live poet turn up at your door and recite original poetry is something you don’t see every day. It definitely made my sister’s day, and made all of us giggle!
I absolutely love the story of how James ended up moving from Nottingham to Salisbury. When he first lost his taxi licence he spent some time recruiting new drivers for the company he had worked for. One lady named Diane had shown an interest, but when he wrote down her email address, his handwriting let him down. He accidentally sent an email about the job to a lady named Diane in Salisbury, instead of the one in Nottingham looking for work! Within two days they had exchanged over 300 emails, and seven weeks later James moved 187 miles to move in with Diane. What a story!
So, what of the poetry? Perhaps I should let James speak for himself…
James posts videos of himself reciting poetry – his own and other people’s – on Facebook and Youtube. I think the book is fantastic, and have read it several times now. My sister read it while babysitting one night and became a fan too – hence her fantastic birthday surprise. I love that there’s such a wide range of poems; it swings from one extreme to the other and back again in the space of a couple of pages. Some are short, just a couple of lines; others are longer and more meaningful.
I am not normally a poetry lover. I can do a bit here and there, but seeing it written on a page, it just felt dead to me. James performs his poetry, rather than reciting it. He writes engaging and interesting poetry which makes it easy to hear his voice when you see it written down. This book is possibly the only book of poetry I own. And it’s already dog-eared and battered, as all good books should be. James and his work make poetry accessible to all, rather than something in dusty books, only to be “understood” by the educated.
Thanks for reading.