Thaddeus Humming: The Anarchist Poet-Postman of Sidwell Street

PostmanKnown to residents of Paris Street and the lower half of Sidwell Street as their beloved postman who had managed to keep his job well in to his late seventies.

Thaddeus Wrench Humming was born in 1920 in Barnstaple to Murphy and Elsa Humming of Agincourt Road.  He had seven brothers and twelves sisters, and found that attention was often lacking.  He became a well-known for his prodigious ability to count lemons in passing delivery Lorries and featured in The Daily Express, as the mystic lemon counting boy.  An early career in fruit based psychic shows was put to ruin after one of his jealous brothers claimed that he was a fraud, claiming he was in cahoots with a local fruit distributor.  Unhappy with the negative attention, Thaddeus ran away to Exeter to live with his aunt.

He passed away a few years ago, but left a large donation of letters and manuscripts to The Ebenezer Prawn Tentacle School for The Verbally Odd which until now, had not seen the light of day for a number of years.

Mr Humming was a man of many talents, but he was best remembered for the Anarchist poems about burning Exeter Cathedral.  He was also a prolific writer of Anarchist literature, with a particular focus to the rise of totalitarian regimes in pre-war Europe, the state of the banking system and Exeter City Councils love of car parks (which was in itself a political statement, manifesting itself in town planning and civil control).

Mr Humming made headlines when he assaulted a traffic warden with his postbag after Mr Humming spotted the traffic warden issuing a ticket: newspaper articles at the time were quick to jump on the fact that Mr Humming had tried to make the traffic warden eat the ticket that he had just issued.

Always a lively character at open mics throughout the city, he frequented the monthly open mics run by Lilly Slotweaver at The Eloquent Snail, a well-known café that used to be located on Bond Street and was one of the many cultural hubs of that time.  Never known for backing down from an argument, he was often thrown out after picking an argument with random strangers and other poets who questioned the Anarchist ethos.  Police being called on numerous occasions after the end result of ‘Read-Offs’ where poets would duel by reading their poetry loudly and angrily.

The rebel spirit of Antonio Breadstick still ran deep in Mr Humming’s veins, but unfortunately so did septicaemia which he caught as a result of cutting himself on a rusty piece of metal on the side of Exeter Cathedral.  Police believe he was trying to set fire to the roof. Again.

A poem that he was frequently heard reading was one of his best known.  Shortlisted for The Exeter Society of Illiterate Weavers annual poetry competition in 1986, it was published in The Express and Echo twice due to its popularity.

Burn the churches,
Burn the trees,
Burn the flowers,
Burn the bees,

Burn the books
Burn the crows
Burn the rooks
Burn the sloes

Burn the tarmac
Burn the sand
Burn the lawyers
Burn the pans

Burn the alter
Burn the organ
Burn the psalter
Burn the organ

Burn it all
The cathedral
Burn it all

Burn the tarmac
Burn the sand
Burn the lawyers
Burn the pans

Burn the Racoons,
Burn the BBC
Burn the government
Burn Thatcher
Burn Heath
Burn the News
Burn St Paul’s
Burn The Festival Hall
Burn Glastonbury
Burn Meter rulers
Burn Coffee Granules
Burn Nelson’s Column
Burn the television
Burn everything.

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Dr Solomon Doornails at Taking The Mic tonight (April 15th)

Tonight is Taking The Mic. That is exactly what I am going to do. For 5 minutes somewhere before the end of the second half.  It’s at Exeter Phoenix, kicks off at 8pm on the bar.

I will introduce tonight a poem by the legendary Antonio Breadstick, medieval poet and leader of The Exeter Poets Rebellion which nearly happened in 1422

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I bet
That man
Has Tourette’s

He said Fuck really

I thought.

As I sat
In Tesco’s cafe.

But then I realised
He’d spilt his Tea
On his trousers.

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Smug Childless Couple

Inspired by this article… This poem is written from the point of view of the smug childless couple. They are not tied down, but worry about the future at the same time.  Choosing not to have children is not always made out of perceived selfishness, but often because of practical reasons. Like cancer or other conditions that would make it impractical to actively choose to bring a sproglet in to this world.

Smug childless couple
Looking for
House, miles from anywhere
Where the sound of a screaming child
is dissipated by the volume of space,
between it
And them.

Smug childless couple
Needs a
New car which has no
Space for a baby seat or a pram
Or even a relative or in-law.
Is a Trabant

Smug childless couple
Desparate for
A pet to replace the baby
factor in their marriage. The
Cuter the better. And if it produces
Golden eggs, then
It’s a done deal.

Smug childless couple
Would die for
A weekend away from the ‘brat’
Over the road who screams terror at
Her parents who fail to cope with tantrum,

Smug childless couple
Worried that
When they grow old they won’t
Have someone to look after them
And they’ll be at the mercy of the state.
Or kind friends, or
Their friend’s

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Antonio Breadstick and The Poets Rebellion (1420)

As the sunset over Haldon Hill in the distance on the 9th April 1422 (or roughly around this time from what we can gather) the fire that had ended Antonio Breadstick’s life was dying down quietly on the banks of the River Exe.  It was the dramatic conclusion to a story that ended in the murder of the mayor, the collapse of the medieval spoken word scene and the execution of the chief protagonist in the Poets Rebellion.  This is a little known chapter in the history of Exeter, but it is important and helps us understand one of our most important poetic figures, Antonio Breadstick.  But first some context.

Exeter was, like many cities during medieval times, a dire infested pit of brothels, monasteries and guilty looking monks.  With no real sanitation and a sparse militia to keep the peace it attracted many poets from outlying areas with its lawlessness, many inns and brothels.  A famous observer, merchant and diarist at the time was Sir Jasper Marmalade who kept accounts of the daily goings on   By the 1420s it had become famous for its ‘Spokyn Worde Nytes’ at various inns and meeting houses which often descended in to ‘A grate orgey off violent ackts’ and poets engaging in ‘all mannare off debaucherye and sordid ackts’ which seemed to be the main attraction.

The mayor of Exeter at the time was a gentleman named Sir Cobius Muthbert, who had managed to upset most of poets of Exeter by directly insulting The Poetick Guilde of Devonshyre by forbidding free refreshments at their monthly meetings at the Guildhall.  By the summer of 1418 the population of Exeter were mostly made up of monks and various church worker types, merchants and poets.  This was of great concern to Muthbert who had seen the poets as a nuisance and a scourge that needed sorting out.
In a letter from Muthbert to his mother who lived in Tiverton, he states that (translated in to modern English) “The poets are a fucking nuisance. They spend all their waking moments composing crap poetry and going on about this one poet who did really well called Chaucer, but none of them can actually see straight to write as they’re all permanently pissed out of their heads on mead and wine. When they’re not marinating their livers, they’re at one of the their Spoken Word nights trying to either punch one another of have sex with one another”

This viewpoint that Muthbert took was accurate enough to be confirmed by Jasper Marmalade in one of his occasional entries.  Again this has been translated in to modern English. “The poets held a festival outside the South Gate with a staged area and a line-up that included a chap who read his poetry from the back of a pig, the pig in question belonged to another poet who took great offence to this and caused a fight when, mid-reading, he grabbed the pig and thumped the other poet with the said pig. The pig scuttled off but left the two poets fighting each other which spilled in to the crowd, which then ensued in a violent riot that engulfed the south quarter of the city. No one thought to shut the gates.”

The notorious Pig Poet Riots as it had become to be known caused Muthbert to expel every poet from the city of Exeter which laid the seeds for the Poets Rebellion.

A year later and with no real place to settle, the expelled poets had mostly settled on a patch of marshy ground just outside of Topsham.  Exeter was under a strict Non-Poetry Order which meant recitation or composition of poetry was an executable offence, on the same level as heresy.
There is no account of when the decision was made to appoint the lowly Antonio Breadstick as the leader of the delegation but Sir Jasper Marmalade writes an account that three men on horses appear at the South Gate about a year from the date the Poets were expelled and ask to speak to the mayor.  Muthbert refused to talk to them, so the three men “rode away threatening they’ll come back with their mates”

We don’t know anything about Antonio Breadstick apart from three very sparse pieces of information that we can gleam from a few sources.  The first source is a letter written by one of the expelled poets who, ironically, was the daughter of Muthbert and considered the Rebellion’s second in command.  Her name was Isabella Muthbert.  She was in frequent correspondence with her friend from school who was Tracey Leach.  She had terrible acne and it was well known that Isabella had stayed friends with her because she made her look good.  Her account of meeting Antonio Breadstick went something like so:
“OMG, I met the nicest guy today, he’s called Antonio and he’s, like, so nice. I think he’s a baker as well as his surname is Breadstick. But I can’t tell if this is like, his stage name or what. Anyway, I think he’s in to me as he shared his stale loaf with me today. It wasn’t too bad as we dipped it in some mud for taste”.

Another snippet that gives an idea as to Antonio’s origins is also given away in Isabella’s letters to Tracey: “I think he’s Italian too, he has this amazing accent and he has such nice eyes. He said he’d take me to Rome and we’d visit The Holy Roman Empire, which he says is really nice this time of year..”

His origins are possibly foreign, and how he ended up in Exeter and why he started hanging out with the Poets are up for speculation.  Could he have been a mercenary? Possibly a merchants son who wound up in desperate times after he lost his passport? Or maybe he had heard of the debauchery that went with being a poet in Exeter? Its hard to say.  But despite being a poet of little output, a few bits of his still survive.  Most of them incomplete, but I believe I have now found the only surviving poem left that was written by Antonio Breadstick.  The poem, transcribed by Sir Jasper Marmalade was recited by Breadstick at the dramatic conclusion to the Poets Rebellion as he burned at the stake.

After demanding an audience with the mayor, the three men (one of them Breadstick himself) rode back to their camp.  Angered that they had been ignored, messengers were sent out to gather support for their cause.  In a fit of rage, Antonio ordered his followers to ‘kill Muthbert with a sharpened eraser’.

Not much is known about the murder of Sir Cobius Muthbert, but we can tell that it happened soon after the failed audience request and according to Isabella’s letter to Tracey, it was Isabella who struck the fatal blow. “I know you’re going to kill me, but you know how I always wished my Dad would do me a favour and kill himself? Well I might have given him a hand with that, well, me and a sharp eraser I found at the bottom of my pencil case.  Please don’t tell anyone, you’re like my best friend, and I know I can trust you…”
Two months later a large gathering of poets, jugglers and mime artists had gathered on the banks of Exe armed with words and pitchforks, they planned to raid the city and overturn the militia, creating a poetic haven that would be free of rules and poetic form for the rest of time.  With the poetry-hating Muthbert now dead, it would be easy to gather support in a city where no poetry had been recited or composed for nearly two years.

Unfortunately their timing couldn’t be worse as Exeter was holding two events that consequently meant that the rebellion wouldn’t work.  The Castle was holding the Longbow Monthly ‘Arrow Of The Year’ awards which was attracting some of the biggest names in arrow shooting and longbow manufacture and the Cathedral was holding the funeral of Sir Gregor Grabnut, who was murdered by performance poet at a demonstration in Westminster.  A Castle full of expert arrow-shooters and a cathedral full of poet hating knights lay in wait for the army of rebels.

As it goes with medieval rebellions, keeping it quiet was hard and by the time the poets had grouped, marched, stopped for lunch and done some more marching, the welcome party had already been gathered, organised, swords sharpened, longbows tightened and horses brushed.

Sir Jasper Marmalade recounts the battle which lasted half an hour outside the South Gate.  It would have lasted 15 minutes but some of the poets were quite fast runners and therefore very hard to aim at.  Out of the 14 poets that had gathered, with a promise of some lunch afterwards as well, only two remained. Antonio Breadstick and his lover Isabella.  This was blamed mostly on the fact that Antonio had hid behind Isabella for the majority of the battle.

Antonio was tried for crimes against the church, crown, and the murder of the mayor and verse.  Isabella was sent to boarding school and later married a mime artist called Dave, taking her true crimes to the grave until Tracey Leach sold the letters to the papers years later.

Antonio’s final words as he sizzled nicely with some BBQ sauce and Piri-Piri was the following (translated in to modern English):

Burn me,
Cook me,
Slice up my thighs,
You’ll never
forgive yourself
for the rest of your life.

You’ve killed the art
You’ve murdered the heart,
And in 10 years time
You’ll know you’ve played your part

As we dish out our soul
And sell off the rest for scrap,
What remains will just be crap.

Measured by prizes,
Of different sizes,
Made in Devizes,
You’re full of lies-iz.


I might be flame grilled
But you’ll just die ill.
Without poetry in your naked heart
Your words will be as eloquent as a
horse’s fart.

Advice on the history of melon cultivation and the simian underworld by Jon Freeman

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Workload – (written whilst deep in the archives of The School of The Verbally Odd, Exeter)

Watch it.
Here’s the boss.
Want him to fuss.
Close down that computer screen
So the procrastination, can’t be seen.
We’re a productive efficient bunch but,
It’s ok
we’ll do it after lunch.

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Minor Surrealist Poets of Devon: Mrs Edith Corset-Wrench

Berresford’s Devonne Compendiume listed Ms Edith Corset-Wrench as one of the first female surrealist poets to rise to any degree of eminence in the county of Devonshire.  She was an active poet herself in the Colyton Hundred, and had quite a following amongst the nobility at the time.

Born in Wrexham around 1742, she was an unusual child as she was born to a horse and at the time of her birth she was four years old.  Foul play was suspected, but when the local priest claimed this to be an act of God and nobody should not be alarmed in the slightest, everyone got on with their day.  As the horse itself was unable to care for a small pre-school aged child, it was decided that she would be set to work to sell ‘smokinge potatoes’ which had become a form of delicacy since it was introduced a century or so before

From an early age she had shown an adeptness for surrealist poetry and prose.  One of her earliest pieces of juvenilia was a haiku poem written about a time-travelling possum, called Phil The Time Travelling Possum who was a known character that has come up in numerous academic writings about life in Britain at the time.

Phil, your silver suit.
Makes me mute. As you appear,
Out of the thin air.

This was one of the first sci-fi haiku poems recorded in a parish church guest book somewhere on the outskirts of Wolverhampton.

Her life up to the point where she settled in Sidmouth at the tender age of 32 was mostly unrecorded apart from a small pamphlet of poems entitled ‘The Parson’s Septick Toe’
It is believed that it was published in Bristol by a teenager with a printing press named ‘Shute’ who had been convinced by Ms Edith Corset-Wrench that publishing her work would be a very good idea.

After settling in to a rented apartment overlooking the seafront, she started working as a Gutrungler for Mr Smythe, the local butcher.  This job suited her as she was able to concentrate on her art during the daytime and whilst there was no daylight, be at work in one of the gutrungling huts that Sidmouth was famous for.

During her free time she could be heard delivering her often extensive poetry to seagulls and passing farmers on their way to the town market.  For years she was considered a mad, strange woman who should be avoided.  But her break came two years after settling in Sidmouth whilst visiting Honiton on holiday, she was discovered by a member of the Hardhat-Brewsters who introduced her to the family and paid her to read her works to gathered members of the local noble families.

This naturally led to more work and after numerous publications, she gained infamy after being the subject of many aggressive sermons which only helped boost sales of her pamplets.

I was lucky to find one of the very last poems that Ms Corset-Wrench published before her untimely death at the tender age of 45 at the hands of a farm hand who liked experimenting with gunpowder and sheep: unfortunately for her, lamb soaked with gunpowder was not a good combination for curing a headache, especially when she already had a dangerous Potato Smoking habit to boot.

The poem was written during her ‘Clod and Scissor’ phase, when it was noted that most of her impromptu performances included her reciting poetry to a handful of Clod with some scissors stuck in them.

The Clod and the Seagull.

Me black heart
Cooks the steam. I am
So angry with the earth.
It boils my liver
Like my table
For all its mortal worth.

The parsnip calls
The arrow spears
The deaf and blind can see
And whilst I’m blowing
In the wind,

The Parson doth maketh
Camel noises.
Slobbery drunk
A fool for the nascent

Toooooot toot toot toot.

He says Toot. TOOOOOT he sayeth.

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