He is the greatest poet in London. He may not be the best poet in London but he is undoubtedly the greatest. He has never had any aspirations to be either, he has gone out of his way to be neither.
He hasn’t wasted time or money entering competitions, he would never consider submitting careful rewrites to magazines or bother typing up laboured manuscripts for publishers. These pursuits are petty and pointless, contradictory to everything poetry, in its rawest form, represents. Micalef is a purest. His is a life given entirely to the grubby art of rearranging words on a page and growling them at whatever audience happens to gather before him.
He has won no awards, received no nominations, been proposed for no prizes. He isn’t the darling of the lit fest circuit nor the toast of the (small p, small s) poetry society and despite this, and in part because of it, he is the greatest poet in London.
I lived with him in Brixton in the mid 90’s toward the end of his ten year tenure running the Brixton Poets – the only free, weekly poetry night in the city. I would say I served my apprenticeship under him. Back then he made little of his contribution to the legendary Sniffin’ Glue magazine. While his mate Danny Baker had made strides into mainstream media he was still happily stapling our handmade Brixton Poets’ House pamphlet (later The Concessionary) together and giving it away in pubs for nothing.
Steve wrote every day. I’m sure he still does. He’d be up at six and done by nine when he’d knock on my door to read me his morning’s output. Steve wrote fast and fearlessly. Each piece firing and misfiring simultaneously. Although he is the greatest poet in London, Steve doesn’t always write great poetry. His greatness is in that everything he writes is poetry. Every unqualified cough and imperfect croak is a poem. While the rest of us are tightly transcribing Arts Council Grants in iambic pentameter Steve Micalef is gargling turpentine and lighting it.