Cayn White

Cayn White

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Hello, I’m Eva and I’m interviewing Cayn White who’s a punk poet in Hebden Bridge.  So Cayn, when did you first get into poetry?


First been into poetry since…I don’t know, since…I were about twelve to begin with just from school and poets such as Simon Armitage, and then got into punk poetry which I’m doing now about five year ago and started performing on the 10th of September 2005.

So who would you say is your main influence?

In performance poetry it would have to be people like John Cooper Clark, Attilla the Stockbroker and Nick Toscak, who pretty much – I already knew what I wanted to do with poetry. Nick and Attilla showed me how to go about doing it.

So when it comes to your poetry, what would you say is your main subject matter?

Main subject matter is really just from weirdness of life really cos I do various different subjects – ‘I Dated A Psychopath’ or ‘Biscuit Falling Into t’Tea’ or ‘Spunk In An Ex-girlfriend’s Tea’ all that type of stuff.  Even if they don’t seem to be connected, they just pretty much explain how strange and surreal life can actually be and it is basically connected to the real world which is summat I don’t think most poets do any more.

What would you consider a good poem from life?

A good poem – it’s got to be simple, it can’t be summat’s got to relate to you for a start, it can’t be any of this ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ crap to be honest, it’s got to be summat you can relate to your own life, but actually can better the action and pretty much just keep it simple.  Don’t use words that someone’s gonna reach for a dictionary cos gonna lose interest, so it’s just got to be simple and easy to relate to.

How do you go about writing a poem?  Would you say there are rules?

Again the main rule is just to keep it simple, make sure you know exactly what you’re talking about, and just try and enjoy it, enjoy writing it, cos if you’re gonna do a poem what you don’t enjoy, say you don’t like the subject matter, you’re not really gonna get owt out of it if it comes round to performing, so that’s pretty much the rule – keep it simple and know the subject.

Do you say that your poems have to rhyme?

No, not at all.  Certain poems do and it can add – cos it adds to the rhythm, but other great poems what don’t – I’ve done a poem like ‘A Glimpse of God’ – that don’t rhyme, it just tells a story and that’s much more effective than poems like ‘Biscuits’ that do rhyme.

What is a punk poet?

Just a word really, it’s basically, well the punk scene started out who all got big in about seventy-six, seventy-seven, and not] just bands and musicians like it is now, it involved everything, it were just one big sub-culture so you had your musicians and your bands, there were also like your comedians, poets, and it were just all classed as one thing, so it’s just basically a poet what’s out for moments just stuck in the past.

I’ve heard one of your most well-known poems, which is the ‘Biscuit’ poem.  What’s that based on?

‘Biscuits’?  Well what happened was…2005, in July one of me mates passed away and I did this stupid thing where, I think it were cos of the shock of it all really, I were in mourning, so I just stopped eating and drinking, I mean I were nineteen at that time so the death of me mate hit me pretty hard and at one point I thought ‘well I’ve got to eat and drink summat’ and so I were dunking this biscuit into me cup of tea, it would have been about three o’clock in t’morning or summat daft, and as I were doing it the biscuit snapped off and fell into the drink.  I thought ‘well I have to try getting it out’ so I focused on me energy as I’m trying to fish bits of me biscuit out, and while I were working on that, I pretty much forgot everything else what were going on, so I kind of made the joke that the most important thing in the world, instead of death and also that cack, is actually when your biscuit falls into your tea, so it’s basically what happens there and then can be more important than summat that’s happened since a month or a week.

Do you get sick of people always requesting the ‘biscuit’ poem?

I wouldn’t say I get sick of people requesting it cos it means that they know the poem and they enjoy it, so the fact that they come asking for the poem, it is a flattering thing.  I would say however that I do get sick of performing the ‘biscuit’ poem night in night out because I wann try other stuff, and it seems to be if I do a serious set which I’ve done before, it does seem a bit stupid to end on a note about biscuits falling into cups of tea, and it can diminish your set.

What’s your favourite poem to perform?

By me or by other people?

One of your own.

At the moment I’ve got one which I’ve just wrote called ‘Boring Poetry Night’ which is pretty much being stuck in a boring poetry night, and I performed it a couple of times and so-called real poets tend to hate me for it because it’s…it’s my views and apparently it slags them off, so I enjoy performing that because it gets a decent reaction, mainly an angry one, but still a reaction, and ‘A Glimpse of God’ because no-one expects that type of poem from me, especially that type of death, and now whenever I perform it you can just hear the entire room go completely quiet.  This different atmosphere just appears.  I think if you can do that with just one poem then you’re on to summat.

Do you have any musical background?

I’ve got background where I play stuff that you won’t usually consider music.  I’m currently in a band called ‘The Dole Dossers’ and another one where I play bass for a group called ‘The Liberators’ .  I do backing vocals for a bit of a side project, which is a folk band called ‘Folk In Shite,’ so that’s pretty much my background to date, and I’ve done a few gigs with ‘The Dole Dossers’ – we actually came second in a Battle of Bands contest which were a bit amazing, and ‘The Liberators’ are just getting ready to do a couple of gigs in January.

Are you the first in your family to be involved in poetry?

No.  The first one and the only one I’m aware of to be honest were me mam.  She did some stuff which got published, I think it were one of the Penguin books anthologies years ago, and she did summat in a local punk fanzine in 1979 which I can’t remember t’name of, but she did a poem in that which were just having a go at mods. I’ve seen a copy of the poem – she certainly wasn’t the best poet in the world but it’s a basis for inspiration if I ever need it, so I think that makes me a secondary generation to be honest.

Have you ever done any gigs with any big names?

Too many.  I’ve done John Cooper Clark last October in front of four hundred at the Carling Academy in Newcastle.  The first ever gig was ‘Supporting ‘Attila the Stockbroker’ but the less said about that one the better.  I’ve mostly supported people like Nick Toscak, Sham 69, Anti-Nowhere League, ‘Sub-Humans’, ‘Conflict’ – it’s endless to be honest.

What would you say was your most interesting gig experience?

Not the first one – the first one were an eye-opener because I just thought ‘yeah, punk poet, easy – anyone can do it, in fact I don’t even need me notes for this poem and I can get drunk beforehand’ which unfortunately in the real world, that don’t work because I forgot me notes, well I forgot my words, I got stage fright half way through me poem and on me way home I got beat up, so that were my first major experience.  Others have either been…well I think every gig can be an experience; either the people you are talking to or stupid things like getting arrested after a gig, so every gig can have its experiences given the right price.

How do you remember all the words?

I just…cos I don’t have time to practice when I’m at home, I just – like I go to open mike nights or me own gigs and initially I read from the paper and eventually after a couple of nights the poem will sort of get stuck in me head.  It’s not a tried and tested method that I use, it’s just write it down and hopefully it sticks.

So how would you go about preparing for a gig?

Mainly I’ve learned is when preparing always carry your poems with you, so if you are stupid and really drunk and forget your words you’ve got them in front of you.  It depends on the venue and the crowd, so if it’s strictly a poetry crowd I kind of prepare in a different way sorting out me set list.  If it’s just a punk rock gig where not many people are gonna listen anyway, I can be a bit more rude so I’m not as nervous about that; have a few beers, sort out a quick set list and just get on with it.

Have you played with all of your heroes?

Nearly all of them, yeah.  In the punk scene definitely nearly.  Wouldn’t mind playing with….wouldn’t mind doing gigs with bands like ‘Stiff Little Fingers’ the main punk band what’s influenced me, but whether that happens or not is a different thing.

Have you been published?

Just self-published.  Me first book came out ‘Drunk and Incapable’ earlier this year which sold out all hundred copies within a month, and I got published by…in an anthology ages ago which I don’t like advertising because it basically ripped off poets anyway, and Channel 4 Teletext got hold of one of me poems as well.

Is the ‘biscuit’ poem in this book of yours?

Well I had help with the book, to get it printed and stuff, and the person said she’d only actually pay for it for me if two poems were in.  One were ‘Glimpse of God’ which I didn’t mind being included and the other were ‘Biscuit’ poem, which I spent about a week refusing to put the poem in the book because I think it’s just summat what – I prefer poems like that to be shouted out on stage rather than be read by someone in an armchair.

What advice would you give to up and coming poets?

Quit! [laughing]  No…learn your stuff, don’t get too stupidly drunk, don’t be afraid of being big-headed at times.  If you’re getting into something like that and you’re going to be on your own on stage with sometimes anything between five people and four hundred people watching you, over confidence can be a good thing, you do need self-belief cos if you don’t believe in yourself no-one else is gonna believe in you, so you do have to get up there and you do have to know you can do it.  Don’t be afraid of getting nervous, but just know –  know that you can get up there and do it, just have a laugh with it, don’t take it too seriously and don’t take yourself too seriously.

What would you say is the future for Cayn White?

Pretty much the same as for the past few years really.  More gigs, got a new book coming out in t’New Year – ‘Same Shit Different Cover’ and a second documentary’s been done where we’re getting interviews with people like John Rob from Goldraid and John Cooper Clark and Attila, all lined up for interviews.  Got the  CD ‘Menace To Variety, that’s coming out and a three month tour from January, well four month tour from January to April which is currently getting booked.

How would you like to be remembered, and would this include ‘biscuits’?

Well what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna get remembered for ‘biscuits’ whether I like the poem or not.  As to how I’d like to be remembered…don’t know, probably just as a punk poet that did his own twist on it really, but definitely not just for ‘biscuits’ and definitely not for some of the more embarrassing stories!

Have you always lived in the valley?

Yeah, I were born and bred in Luddendenfoot which were about four miles from here, and before moving into Hebden itself earlier this year. There isn’t really any reason why I’d want to leave, I’ve got quite a lot of friends, my family’s here, well not here but further up the road and I’ve pretty much everything I want.  It’s either in Hebden or Luddfoot to be honest.

Did the local area influence any of your work?

No…no, not initially and probably not obviously, but I think it depends really.  If I lived somewhere like Manchester my style might be a bit different, but I can’t really honestly say if it’s been a big influence or not.

Can you make a living from being a punk poet?

I’m going to hope I can at some point. Some people do – John Cooper Clark does through basically being the first real punk poet and charging a blooming fortune for gigs, when he decided to show up. Attila and Nick Toscak, they both make livings from it.  I think to be a punk poet – because you’re not just a normal poet, you’ve got – it’s more of an edge to it, so some people are willing to bend over backwards booking you, others won’t. Nick Toscak can do tours over in Thailand just from being a punk rock poet.  Because I’m stuck in England at the moment I can only do what gigs are offered to me for however much, so to make a living for me it would have to incur a lot more hard work.

How do you make ends meet now?

Signing on. To put it mildly, it’s t’first time since I’ve received or asked for any benefits at all, and so that were a bit of a shock to t’system, and realised I needed Government handouts to survive, but apart from that and obviously a bit of money I do make from performing, it’s pretty much just signing on.

It must be quite frustrating.

It is, because knowing I can go on to better things and I can do better.  I also know if I got my finger out a bit more and did more gigs, if it’s physically possible to do more gigs, I could make maybe not a comfortable living, but I could make some form of – I could survive on a day-to-day basis.

Do you find all your own gigs?

Pretty much yeah.  When I first started it were a case of just asking other people and begging other bands and other poets for gigs, and these days I can do a gig – I recently did a gig up in Rawtenstall and I got a few extra gigs from it, and so other people are now watching me and thinking ‘oh he’s good, he know what he’s doing, he can do it, we’ll book him for our gig’ and because of that and because of the documentary that came out, other people are booking me all over t’north of England at the moment so


Yeah.  It were a weird one.  I performed at a poetry night which were round at someone’s house and there was a Sheffield University student there called Pamela Eddington, and she’d just been co-producing a film over in Sheffield called ‘The Beat is the Law’ which is worth checking out, and she wanted to do a documentary about me, so a couple of months back we ended up – I ended up having every gig for the space of a month, filmed and before and after gigging, having to give interviews and it was pretty stressful, but we persevered with it and it got shown at the Odeon cinema down in Sheffield and it seemed to go down pretty well and a sequence has been done for the New Year,

Is it on You Tube at all?

No.  We decided that we don’t want it on You Tube because we’ve still got a bit more editing to do to make it better, which I think if you an always make summat better there’s no point presenting it to the public because you’re ripping them off in a way, and so we’re gonna try and make it as best as we possibly can then just try and give it more of a general release.

How can we find out more about you?

Just ask in any pub really…., or pretty much just check me…just e-mail me and I’ll put you on the mailing list of gigs.

What’s your outlook on life?

…[laughing] that’s a bit loaded!  Outlook on life – don’t particularly have one, I just take every day as it comes and just hope for t’best, when I go to bed, everything’s still gonna be okay in t’morning.  Not very profound to say I’m a poet, but there you go.

Do you ever get writer’s block?

Ye, pretty much all t’time.  I can write probably between two to five decent poems or songs and then…I won’t be able to write owt for a couple of months, but in them couple of months I normally don’t have time to write anyway because I’m gigging.

Lots of punk poets are political.  Are you?

Not as such.  I used to be.  In t’first couple of years of performing I used to be very political, to t’point where I used to be head to head with certain political groups and I kind of decided that through my performances I wanted an escape, because I mean politics affects every walk of life.  I wanna escape that walk of life, even if it’s just an hour a night where I’m offering someone summat different, and I thought the whole politics in punk poetry, that seemed to be like an unwritten rule where people thought you had to be political to do punk poetry, and I just wanted to break that barrier and just give them another side of it.

Do you read a lot?

Not as much as I used to.  I read…I pretty much don’t read any poetry since I started writing it myself.  Books, I normally read a bit of fiction but mainly music books, like books about ‘The Clash’ and Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthie, basically books about performers rather than books by performers.

The papers?

I can’t…no…not many, probably just the free one on the train cos I can’t really afford the daily ones, and also I can’t really trust what I read a lot of the time.  I mean I used to see people reading stuff like ‘The Sun’ or ‘The Daily Mail’ or ‘The Daily Star’ or ‘The Times’ and taking every little line as gospel and I really..if I buy a paper it’s gonna be for t’football results and t’little comic strips, I can’t really take what they say in the news as gospel and I really can’t take it seriously these days.

So could you tell us any gig stories?

Pretty much I did the gig in Newcastle with John Cooper-Clarke and he turned up a bit late so he missed me first set, which was probably just as well cos I nicked one of his poems anyway, and during one of me poems I did one called ‘I Dated A Psycopath’ and on stage I move around a lot, and then on the stage at Newcastle they had this stupid rug which wasn’t on the floor properly so I tripped over in front of four hundred people, I fell flat on me arse which didn’t really go too well, and then backstage I bumped into John Cooper-Clarke who in return head-butted me, so that wasn’t a good way of meeting one of your heroes. 

I did a gig in Leeds once and I missed me train so I had to catch a train from Leeds to Huddersfield and then walk from Huddersfield down to Luddendenfoot.  I were walking on the dual carriageway at two o’clock in t’morning after far too many beers and two o’clock in t’morning, not really getting any traffic going up and down the dual carriageway from Elland to Ainley Top, so being absolutely merry I thought I’d take the mick a bit and pretend to be a car, so I’m just walking down this dual carriageway going ‘beep beep’ and all that cack, and this car comes up and pulls up beside me, and it’s a police car…’have you had a bit too much to drink there sir?’   I thought ‘I’ve not time for this, I wanna get home, I can’t have time to prat about with the police’ so I thought I’d be a bit sarcastic with them ‘no, I think I’m a blooming car’ at which point I were bundled into the back at a rate of knots, turned around and spent t’night in Huddersfield Police Station which were a bit…when they let me out I had to walk to Luddendenfoot all over again cos I lost all me money, conveniently.

Any other stories?

They are pretty much the two main ones which most people like to remember, and I pretty much like to forget.  Obviously the Attila one where afterwards I got beat up, and me big brother were walking home with me that night and we have this unwritten rule between siblings where you’re meant to stick up for your younger brother, and me big brother somehow managed to drink more than me which I didn’t think were possible, and decided to hide in a garden and just watch me get jumped by three people.  Best one – I’m at a gig, it was at Marshall’s Bar in Hebden which is always asking for trouble even walking in there, but I were doing this anti-racist poem by Attila called ‘Asylum-Seeking Daleks’ and it features all these brain-dead, bone-head racist comments and this guy heard these comments and said ‘oh yeah you’re speaking me language, you’re speaking me language’ so I ended the gig, saying ‘I’ve got to go now cos me knee’s playing up cos I injured it at work and me throat is messed up, and your head must be completely messed up if you think I’m speaking your language’ at which point he got a bit offended and going ‘you and me are gonna have to go outside’ and I’m going  ‘it’s nice of you asking me out and stuff but I’m straight’ and he says ‘well so’s me fist’ so at this point I’d completely lost semblance of being on stage and forgot I had mike and just muttered over t’microphone ‘not if I break your fucking knuckles, at which point this guy’s storming the stage and he had to be restrained.  I had to be escorted out of the venue a couple of hours later so I had all these musicians on either side of me, straight into a car what were waiting outside and pretty much rushed home.

Do things like that happen a lot in gigs?

Fortunately not, no.  Sometimes I can be a bit of a wind-up merchant, like performing in a venue for Leeds United fans wearing a Derby County shirt, but normally gigs these days go a bit more peaceful fortunately, because I’m getting too old for all this running away lark.

Is your younger brother a future poet do you think?

[laughing]..he’s not a future anything.  No, he hasn’t got the inclination to perform or do anything, he’s just happy being sat up in Sowerby being a vegetable, so I can honestly say we won’t have a performance career from him any time soon.  Me older brother however is a stand-up comedian, so I think the book actually just stops with me.

Thank you very much Cayn. 

No worries.

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