Eyewear is very glad to welcome a namesake to these pages this blustery London Friday, the British performance poet Todd Von Joel, pictured. Von Joel's background is noteworthy: by nineteen he had been expelled from school, thrown out of home and spent time in prison. An angry young man, Von Joel was lost - heavily involved in the underground London graffiti scene, where drink, drugs and violence were a way of life. His reputation as a graffiti writer rivalled his rep as an MC of talent. Prominent on the London party circuit, he performed at numerous events and for a short time ran a south London-based pirate radio station.
Things have changed. In his late 20s now, Von Joel has graduated with a First Class BA Hons degree in Creative Writing & Drama from Kingston University; this is where I met him, as a lecturer - he was in a creative writing class of mine. Since graduating, he has been signed by Jam Agency and is now pursuing both his acting and writing career in a professional capacity. Von Joel fights competitively as a kick boxer, currently unbeaten. He is also a keen footballer who plays regularly for his Sunday team.
This young man seems destined for some kind of greatness. Both rough and elegant, streetwise and sensitive, smart and tough, kind and strong, his charisma and decency shone through in the classes I taught him in. Strikingly handsome, tall, and articulate, his performances were moving for their honesty, dazzling for their humour. I am not sure the world of poetry is ready to receive such gifts warmly, but it may be that Von Joel builds his own future roles by redefining where he, and poetry, needs to go. I see him as a star entertainer, an inspirational figure. If he stays true to his dreams of rejuvenation and ambitious clarity, he will make a difference in his 30s. He's one to watch. These three poems showcase the poet's hip-hop sensibility, confessional honesty, sense of humour, and energy.
Lager Lout About
About has been writing 13 years.
About started bombing About in 97’
About all city.
About is the lion at the drinks,
About is good looking,
About is hilarious,
About is definitely the loudest,
About is in with all the boys,
About flirts with the barmaid,
About buys the first round,
About nods his head to the beat,
About has a mate called Stella,
About will probably meet Charlie later,
About hates Sambucca but will still drink it,
About does not have a drink problem.
About dislikes people before he likes them,
About judges immediately, within 3 seconds,
About would probably hate you.
About smuggles his drink out,
About sometimes gets thrown out,
About says ‘bruv’ allot,
About pisses allot,
About has a bottle up his sleeve,
About eats chips,
About argues with the cab driver.
About is up for another beer,
About is never sick.
About gets home and shouts at Spinny,
About smashes up his flat,
About snores on the sofa.
About can’t get it up.
About will be sorry in the morning.
We were expelled,
We were kicked out,
We went to Feltham,
We still wake up on the blue mattress.
We are very paranoid,
We are back on the Prozac,
We are ashamed.
About has a drink problem.
The Optimistic Pessimist
Escaping from the shhh I’m seeing,
Ab- normal human being,
Fire breathing Tyrannosaurus,
I am the Walrus.
Manipulate that fight tonight,
Find ways to excite,
The nasty streak in me,
Tee oh double dee...
Name means ‘sly like Fox’,
The Jack in your box,
Laughing at you from my corner,
The Stella spitter.
Rowdy like a charged bull seeing red,
Alive not dead - brown bread,
On souls I tread,
With a greedy vocabulary that is kept well fed.
Alcoholism enhances the transmission I use,
To educate a nation of youths,
From broken homes,
Watching happy slap clips on stolen mobile phones.
It’s time for the bells to ring,
A septic bee sting,
Running through your system,
Like adrenalin after heroin.
Sparkling like Christmas,
I’m a vicious virus,
Displaying subtle beauty like a trodden on flower in the gutter,
I never stutter or eat butter.
So don’t perpetrate,
You don’t know my mental state,
Turn around and shut the gate – you’re far too late.
The society we live in has invisible levels,
Like beats, bass and trebles,
As social workers medal in family business,
I don’t need this, find a quick fix.
Now my brains in bits,
The product of abortionists,
With twisted coat hangers,
D. I.Y family planners.
Fat women, thin women, ugly women, pretty women,
One in three women be transmitting,
Down to the clinic, examining, uncomfortable, embarrassing
Another lesson, I’m living learning.
But teenage pregnancies explode like embassies,
Can you smell the faeces?
’Big Mac please.’
I’m consistently fit,
Hyper and energetic,
Like the lyrics of my tongue I flick,
Juicing clits with candles lit.
Stages of my life merge like seasons without reasons,
But I don’t know who I am yet,
The Escitalopram in my system,
Sedates the depression,
Still it’s my disposition,
To complete my life’s mission,
An optimistic vision, Full of pessimism.
When I got ripped out, forceps, C sec; on my own.
When him then Mickey left, I was left; on my own.
When I found love, lost love, first time; on my own.
When I’d tried everything by fourteen; on my own.
When I went from a boy to About to a man; on my own.
When I got expelled, kicked out, moved in; on my own.
When I lost the plot that time, permanent marker smile; on my own.
When you all ducked out, I was still swinging; on my own.
When I went down, rode bird, came back galvanised; on my own.
When I found that thing in Bimbo’s thing, I was all broken; on my own.
When I wanted more, bigger better things; on my own.
When I done the Access, big step back then forwards; on my own.
When her scheme flopped, not sectioned, fuck you; on my own.
When I started Kingston, class full of people; on my own.
When I cleaned the blood off, moved out quickly, lucky boy: on my own.
When I wake up, turn kiss Spinny; on my own.
When I went Gran’s funeral, own pew, own thoughts; on my own.
When I pray, say sorry, think back what I’ve done - belly ache; on my own.
When I’m winning in the ring, 3 out of 3, knocked him out first round; on my own.
When the black dog bites, 3 month cycle, ready for you; on my own.
When I stop drinking, I’ll stop drinking; on my own.
When I pass, done well, graduation; on my own.
When I make it, if I ever make it, really wanna make it; on my own.
When he dies, big drink, no remorse, steady lip; on my own.
When I see the bright light, dark tunnel, march on, not scared; on my own.
Three poems by Todd von Joel; reprinted online with permission of the author, with whom copyright remains.