Lawrence Upton introduces Jeff Nuttall at an Eric Mottram Celebration, date unknown c.2000
Tonight's Eric Mottram Celebration is made by Jeff Nuttall. I don't know what he is going to do. That is entirely up to him.
I would like, as usual, to say a few words of introduction. I am going to quote Eric, but it'll largely be me talking about Jeff. For those of you who are understandably keen to hear him, I assure you that this is short. And I apologise to Jeff in advance, but it is about time someone told him just what they think of him
A year ago, when I introduced Bob Cobbing's celebration of the late Eric Mottram, I quoted Jeff on Cobbing.
Some of you may have not committed that to memory, so I'll remind you that the quotation was "A man of total commitment." Typically, it is colloquial, clear, not understated, and spot on... But here's Jeff Nuttall on himself, during his own SVP reading on 20th May 1997: "You know where you are with me; you know what you're going to get. Sex and landscape, that's all I write about, usually at the same time."
I agree with Jeff that one knows where one is with him, as a person. I think so, anyway. Sex and landscape? I'll pass that for a moment.
That leaves "You know what you are going to get."
I disagree with that. Beyond superficialities of style, I don't know what I am going to get from Jeff either as a poet or as a critic, except that it'll be well worth experiencing.
I know the mannerisms and manner in which he will speak; I know some of his concerns, and for sure they do include sex and landscape; and so on; but as to what he will say at any moment I remain much more ignorant in his case than of almost anyone else I have ever met.
In that way he is unpredictable. That's not the unreliable kind of unpredictability, which is a lack in the person called unpredictable; what I am talking about is a lack in the persons experiencing the unpredictable.
Jeff Nuttall's mind is always on the move and often way ahead of the rest of us. His take on the world is, in some ways, unlike anyone else's I know and nearly always still changing. I don't always agree with him. I don't always follow him though he speaks with clarity. He takes big leaps. I think that sometimes he says things so that he can hear them said so that he can decide if he agrees with them himself! But I could be wrong, and I do say that partly in jest.
All this could be fatal weakness; but, in Jeff's case, it's anything but. He's never boring, he's never random. He listens to others. He learns quickly.
Preoccupations with sex and landscape might make him seem unextraordinary; but it is what Jeff does with ideas and sense data, the connections that he makes between them, which make him so extraordinary.
He has a fine intellect. He is one of the best extempore speakers I know. He makes connections between things which are multiple octaves apart, sometimes on different instruments, not all of those musical. He builds mental houses of cards you can happily live in and which don't fall down.
Eric Mottram said of him, much more than once, that he is a genius.
It's a misused word, but Eric didn't misuse words. He said what he meant; and I think I know what that is. If I could tell you easily, you can be pretty sure that Mottram would have said that. That he chose repeatedly to use that enigmatic word, indicates that we have with us tonight someone whose undoubted gifts are hard to classify, perhaps because rarely encountered, certainly in this combination.
Eric didn't say that Jeff is a poet of genius, though Jeff is a fine poet; nor story-teller, though he is a story-teller of the greatest skill, on the page and in the pub; nor painter, though he is a fine painter; nor musician, though he is a very good musician; nor actor, though he is an accomplished actor; nor critic, though he is a perceptive critic and a critic of criticism itself. Eric just said genius. In fact, once in my hearing, he went on and said "the only person of whom I say that without hesitation"
Here is a restless artist, who, I think, sees the world, in some ways, more clearly than most of us see it, who sees some of what many of us do not see at all, whose work renders workaday categories inappropriate if only because he'll change your understanding of those categories while you're talking - if you listen. It's always good to listen to Jeff. Which is why it's such a pity that he has often been dogged by people shouting "Sing Bomb Culture!" as if he hasn't been producing important work and commentary ever since that book, important and useful though it is.
I am hardly interested, in this context, to evaluate his individual books and projects. Not because they shouldn't be evaluated, not because some are inevitably better than others... A lot of artistic activity and criticism expends its energy on building monuments. Jeff's wonderfully contrary energy is not of that kind. It doesn't look back. It doesn't self-regard. It is restless, as I have said. It is the nearest thing to the Blakean "glad day" that I have come across, but with humorous mischief.
His performance of his poetry and his writing itself is various; he intones it, chants it, growls it. Voices shoot up in it and chase themselves off through the undergrowth of other voices while the narrative takes its own zigzag, but never out of earshot.
It is extraordinary writing, and of itself. It sets its own terms and rewards those who are attentive to it.
I've learned an immense amount from him and could have learned much more had I paid more attention. I find him energising... Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Nuttall…