If you search for ‘Paul Lester’ online most the results will concern Paul Lester, the prolific rock critic and biographer; but anyone interested in performance poetry over the past 45 years will hopefully ignore these references and refine their search by adding ‘ poet ‘ or ‘Birmingham’ to ‘ Paul Lester’. They could also add ‘Protean ‘. For ever since Lester published his first poetry pamphlet in 1975 he has been regularly issuing slim volumes ( some very slim) , usually under his own imprint, Protean Publications, from an address in Knowle, near Solihull, although he actually lives in Rubery, in the far south-west edge of Birmingham.
Lester was born and bred in Brum, but unlike that professional Brummie, Carl Chinn, the social historian, does not make a fetish of his origins. However, it cannot be denied that most of his poetry is about himself as a Brummie and his encounters with other Brummies, and even his most well known poem,‘ The Bar-room Bum from Brum ‘ is a thinly disguised portrait of himself as an unashamed native and celebrator of England’s second city. Having said that, his literary interests extend well beyond his home town—to Loch Ness and the cult of its monster on which he did his Ph D in the notorious Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University—to working class fiction, to the London of Sherlock Holmes — and further away still to the mythical land of Redonda, the imaginary world of the bohemian poet John Gawsworth, which has attracted so many like-minded fans of Soho and Fitzrovia.
I first met Lester in around 1989, when I attended a talk given by him in Birmingham to publicise his forthcoming Sherlock Holmes and the Midlands. I knew nothing of him and his poetry at this time, but was impressed by his appearance in a tweed coat and deerstalker. Thereafter I kept an eye out for his poetry collections as they appeared in various small bookshops and cultural venues around the city. This was the period in which’ little magazines ‘were still flourishing and when poets like Lester were managing to produce pamphlets cheaply using local printers. Titles like Down at the Greasy Spoon Caféand Pass the Sickbag Alice,were obviously designed to attract attention. Continue reading