Cardiff Cut Lloyd Robson

Peter Finch on Lloyd Robson’s Cardiff Cut

As Parthian release a twentieth-anniversary edition of Lloyd Robsons Cardiff Cut, Peter Finch looks back on the recent history of Cardiff and gives an insight to the Welsh writers book.

Lloyd Robson emerged onto the Cardiff literary scene in the 1990s. It was a prescient moment. There was a buzz going on. The traditional ways of reading and presenting poetry in public had already been dealt severe blows; first by the British poetry revival of the 1960s, then by the performance poetry explosion of the 1980s. Poetry had suddenly become entertainment. On your night off you went to listen to it. If you had any pretentions at all you joined in.

Lloyd, who’d caught the tail end of performance poetry’s rise by virtue of his attendance at the ground-breaking extra-mural classes run by poet Chris Torrance at the University, was a natural for this kind of creative activity. Spoken literature that was as valid delivered by voice as it was printed on the page. Like many of his contemporaries Tôpher Mills, Chris Ozzard, Nick Fisk, and J. Brookes included Lloyd started a small press mainly as an outlet for his own work. His was called Blackhat. Not the first time that outsider name had been used by a small publisher bent on ground breaking but a pretty good describer of the kind of material it brought out nonetheless.

Cardiff, Lloyd’s permanent home by this time having spent parts of his earlier life successively in Cwmbran, Symonds Yat, Monmouth and Plymouth, was going through an identity crisis. The rush of rebuild and change seemed unstoppable. County Hall’s 1980s move to the heart of the Bay had started something. Cardiff had become a shot-downing, drinking weekend destination for coaches from all over the local countryside. The city had bright street lights and a pedestrianised heart. It had pubs, clubs, bars and music venues by the score. It was a vibrant place. You came here to party.

Cardiff was, after all, both a Welsh city and the Welsh capital. The Youngest In Europe ran the boosters’ banner. It was also unsure of both its own accent, hated elsewhere across Wales, and it’s actual Welsh identity. How Welsh was it? How Cymreig could it become? Buzz-saw accented Lloyd, who had made a virtue of street slang and out and out Cardiffness, was having no truck with this slice of intersectional identity confusion. The literary tradition he was part of was not Anglo-Welsh, not Cymraeg, not Welsh much anything at all. He wrote in the Cardiff language which, as he recently reminded me, is not one fixed thing but an accent full of local variations. When confronted by an overvocal critic at a reading complaining that ‘nobody speaks like that,’ Lloyd told him, ‘well I fucking do, mate. If you want it to sound like you then write your own fucking book.’

Cardiff Cut Lloyd Robson
Lloyd Robson, author of Cardiff Cut

Cardiff in the 1990s, which is the one that gets celebrated in Cardiff Cut, had, at that time, yet to really attract much of a literary tradition. Dannie Abse had published There Was a Young Man From Cardiff, but the city had yet to acquire the celebrity that new works from John Williams, Trezza Azzopardi, Sean Burke, Llwyd Owen and others would give it. The Irish, English and Scottish capitals all had their literary walking tours, selling out to visitors. Cardiff could do little better than manage a stumble from Roald Dahl Plass to the spot where Tom Jones eluded fans among the bushes in Gorsedd Gardens.

Cardiff Cut is actually a prose poem, or a set of prose poems, blended to form a novel-length whole. This is a form the author admits he enjoyed using. But as the world knows, poetry, and especially something as grandiloquent sounding as a prose poem, doesn’t sell. The book was marketed as a novel and as such roared with success. There’s little plot in any traditional sense although if it’s anything this work is Ulysses rather than Finnegans Wake. It fits straight into that tradition of street-life dope taking, drink swallowing, panhandling, petty crime engaging, roaring and rocking work begun god knows where but certainly promoted by William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller and Allen Ginsberg. Cardiff Cut is filled with Angel-Headed hipsters and buddha-breathed bodhisattvas. It’s just that the author doesn’t refer to them so.

The work reaches forward in a rush of heavily accented speech. Robson makes full use of the rhythms of everyday speech promulgated as a vehicle for poetry by William Carlos Williams who wanted to get inside the rhythms of daily speech and by Allen Ginsberg whose breath patterns gave him a long, sparsely punctuated line that went on and on until the breath being used to voice it ran out. You are in a taxi, you are street walking, a garble of local speech engulfs you:

‘the rassclunk gearchange from second up to satdee, drive pulls an 8track from the pile…’

all lower case as is most of Lloyd’s work — and punctuated in a wild almost experimental sprawl. For those unfamiliar, Lloyd provides a glossary. He neatly explains what an eight track might be but ignores ‘satdee’ and ‘rassclunk’, which only serves to enhance their magical music.

The book is full of music. Song titles and lines punctuate the pages, often rocking in large type to underline the point. Lloyd’s city is a dope-aided, dope-addled, coupla cans, hipsterlunatic-filled, genius-headed absolutely non-nostalgic place. The Castle’s Animal Wall is rendered as ‘the great shitbrain zoo where animals clamber walls/turn ta stone/attempt escape to the filthy orangefilter glow bouncing off shop panes/over the walls of citycastle into backalley deaths & towercranes above the arms park…

It’s also full of partying with heavily-accented dope detail to rival Burroughs at his most expansive:

‘I unwrap a microdot, go halfsies with a bloke with an E, blag some speed. realise aristo’s alsatian has grafted itself onto the head sitting next to me: asks if I’ve a twenty so she can tube up the powdery.’

Burroughs homes in on just as much detail but somehow doesn’t make it sound like anything as enjoyable.

The Burroughs parallel continues in a section where Robson encounters the mayor, a fictional mayor, one we could have had, and almost did have, rendered vocal on the City Hall steps offering advice to the public and the press:

‘be wary of shiestas & charlatans, shamsters merchants policymakers grant applicators masturbators self-proclaimers amateurs & big mouth: pocketliners one & all. you heard it here first, trust none of them, & good nite for now.’

For the city things do not end well: ‘money goes where money knows, let’s just say the funds have left wales’, as they always used to, naturally.

Lloyd’s Cardiff is full of change: ‘& suddenly there’s half the council workforce in me street/bath/ears & there’s roadworks fuckin everywhere all thro adamsdown right outside my window…’

Cardiff Cut is a book on the edge of the avant garde. If it had photographs, those would no doubt be obtained using Lloyd’s own method of sticking a camera out of a car window while travelling and just clicking without looking. His Making Sense of City Road exhibition of 2000 was partly created like that. The verité randomly achieved can often say more about reality than any studiously considered rendition. But there are no cut ups and no visible shuffles in this book. Instead, Cardiff Cut is a flashing and highly exhilarating rush through a slice of 90s city living that is still with us. Turn up on Queen Street most nights and you’ll see it in action.

Lloyd Robson has moved to Norfolk, Virginia, a port just a little smaller than Cardiff where Chesapeake Bay stands in for Barry Island and the city possesses both a Bute Street and a Llewellyn Avenue. The name of this latter thoroughfare, Lloyd tells me, few pronounce the way he does.

Cardiff Cut, a Welsh achievement.


Cardiff Cut by Lloyd Robson is available now from Parthian.

Peter Finch is a full-time poet, psychogeographer, critic, author, rock fan and literary entrepreneur living in Cardiff.

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Lloyd Robson