An excerpt from

No One You Know

Anthony Wilson and Sue Dymoke

Intense, by Richard Nicholson


Look out
here comes that bloke with the
worn out eyes.
He's always coming 'round here
with his talk about
death and sex
and laughing too loud
and thinking too much
and drinking too much
it's too much
for a small town without a cinema
and only one horse.
Much too

Richard Nicholson

Richard Nicholson (aka the singer-songwriter Billy Penn’s Brother) burst into my life towards the end of the 80’s when he invited the band I was in to play at Harry, a tiny festival of faith, arts and politics in Harrogate (get it?), North Yorkshire. Around the same time, with my friend Luke Bretherton, I began a monthly meet-up for writers and artists in my kitchen in Brixton. We named it Bull, after the pub in Clapham that we never quite got round to booking to hold the event. Without the resources of the internet we now take for granted, it was a word of mouth affair, friends of friends of dubious friends pitching up with their entry fee of Bulgarian red, to read, pontificate or argue about their latest masterwork. Naturally Richard came and held forth with the best of them, making lugubrious wisecracks in his deep Geordie voice while sipping Oolong tea through his pipe smoke. One week he would bring a painting, the next a new song, another a manifesto in reply to Marshall McLuhan.

Then, one week, he brought a little sequence of poems which stunned me with their brevity, mordant humour and precision. I think there were no more than half a dozen of them, but each seemed to carry the freight of a lifetime’s reading, study, reflection and rage. I told him at the time I thought they were as good as Ivor Cutler, one of our shared heroes. I still think this today. I saw him perform the poems once, in a basement on Brixton’s Acre Lane. He declaimed them without introduction, sitting upright in bed wearing striped pyjamas and a Scrooge nightcap. The effect was charming and unsettling in equal measure.

Every time I read ‘Intense’ I recall the force Richard’s different personae, whether singing onstage, painting in his front room (which was also his bedroom), or merely making some eggs. Much more than that, I am struck by the delicacy of the poem’s line breaks, some of them on the breath, others interrupting it. My impression was, and still is, that Richard wrote the poems quite fast. Nevertheless, I see the faultless timing of its wit, its simultaneous debt to outliers like Cutler as well as something perhaps darkly vaudevillian that I cannot quite put my finger on. Most of all, the poem is completely true to its own lights. It stands on its own terms, unafraid of what any reader might think of it. I still can’t quite tell if I find it funny, or disturbing. I urged Richard to keep writing his poetry, but cannot be certain that he did. More than twenty-five years later, I still hold out hope to see the entire sequence in print for the first time.

Anthony Wilson