British punk poet Dr. John Cooper Clarke hits U.S. at last 

click to enlarge U.K. performance poet Dr. John Cooper Clarke is on his first American tour in 30 years. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • U.K. performance poet Dr. John Cooper Clarke is on his first American tour in 30 years.
Britain’s legendary punk poet Dr. John Cooper Clarke finally has made it to The City, after a three-decade wait for his three-year working visa. The author, 66, of anthologies such as “Ten Years in an Open Neck Shirt,” says, “Every generation seems to rediscover me somehow.” For example, Arctic Monkeys set to music his poem “I Wanna Be Yours” on the album “AM.,” UK auteur Plan B (Ben Drew) cast and appeared with him in the movie “Ill Manors” and Manchester’s Inspiral Carpets included him on the new single “Let You Down.”

What did you first set out to do, artistically?

At school, I always wanted to be a professional writer of some kind. But it’s not an obvious choice if you want to make money. Nobody in their right mind ever said one day to themselves, “I need money, quick! I know! I’ll write some poetry!” You would have to be a nut! But writing is what I do best, so I always attempted to engineer the situation so that I was in a position to earn a living out of it. It’s always been the plan to be a professional writer of poetry.

You’re the English equivalent of our Jim Carroll, pretty much.

Oh yeah! I remember Jim! “The People Who Died” — that was a great record. And he wrote “The Basketball Diaries.” And then there was Patti Smith, obviously. My reference points were always that American kind of bohemian element, which, in itself, was quite Eurocentric at the time. But I think that whatever it is you’re writing about, if you get the bug early on, that’s what you’re going to do.

You’ve made albums, backed by stellar musicians like Pete Shelley, Bill Nelson and Martin Hannett. Do you remember the first time you got onstage?

Yeah. I was originally in a group called The Vendettas, and that’s what got me started writing lyric in earnest. But when the band split up – on account of the fact that we weren’t any good – I was left with this whole bunch of lyrics. And I was so up on the beatniks at school, and there was a jazz club in Manchester called Club 43, a real avant-garde beatnik hangout. And my stuff went over quite well there, so I got a residency.

Do you feel like a survivor?

Absolutely. I feel like I’ve achieved some kind of victory. But without getting too morbid about it, I think this is the last turn of the whirligig. I’m not going to get rediscovered after this go-round!


Dr. John Cooper Clarke

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. May 3

Tickets: $21

Contact: (415) 885-0750,

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Tom Lanham

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