Sunday, 28 October 2018

Brief Silence

The silence of the classroom, when the children
have all departed, tries to fill the spaces
vacated by the absent children. You
could hear a pin drop, not to say the laughter
at Friday afternoon’s surreal red herring.

The only things now left from this week gone:
some rubbish on the floor, the odd lost ruler,
a pencil case, some chairs that weren’t pushed in,
and too much marking. Piles of books
awaiting comments, tick and marks.

The silence settles. ‘This is it,’ I think,
while contemplating eight miles on my bike.
Uphill. The calm after the storm, before
the next storm. Take it in. Breathe out. Ride home.

[Another abandoned poem, April 2016; writing about 1997-2003]

Free Will* (It Isn't in the Script)

Romeo and Juliet cannot
elope to Gretna Green when Act One ends,
and Desdemona can’t seek marriage guidance
counselling when Othello has his tantrums.
Hamlet’s depression can’t be remedied
with meds, or therapy, or meditation,
and Oberon can’t take his grievance over
the Indian Prince to the Small Claims Court.
Lady Macbeth can’t rid her hands of blood,
and laugh and sing and dance with gay abandon,
and Prospero is not allowed to turn
his old foes into frogs, or four-wheeled pumpkins.
Petruchio can’t do the washing up
then give a pair of trousers to his wife.
Beatrice and Benedick can’t take themselves
behind the bike shed to relieve their passions.
Sir Toby Belch cannot go full-on de-tox,
renounce the drink and go to AA meetings…

…And you and I, we all must live our lives
according to what’s written in our scripts.

*as in Shakespeare

[Trawling through an old notebook, and once again I came across a sizeable stack of abandoned, half-finished, unrealised, and ultimately forgotten, almost-poems. This is one of them.]

Saturday, 27 October 2018


I decide I need to write a poem about Death.
Ten Poems About Death, I muse.
Seems like a nice round number.
‘Here Death,’ I call.
‘I’m writing a sequence of poems about you.
Any comments?’
But Death does not reply,
because Death is not real.
As in corporeal real.
Death itself exists.
But not the corporeal personification of Death.
I’m not so keen on the idea of the actual personification of Death.
Bit too spooky.
But then Death does appear.
He is not wearing a hooded black cloak.
He is not carrying a scythe.
He is not a skeleton.
He is, in fact, a T-shirt.
It is, in fact, a T-shirt.
‘Death is a T-shirt?’ I say out loud.
Yes, I am a T-shirt, says Death.
No, not really.
T-shirts don’t talk,
even ones which represent Death.
‘You’re not the personification of Death, though,’ I say,
while staring at the writing on the front –
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
‘you’re a T-shirt,
and a T-shirt is not a person.’
The writing on the front of the T-shirt changes.
That’s where you’re wrong, it reads,
and underneath there appears a convoluted explanation
about how a T-shirt which is able to communicate
by expressing its thoughts on the front of itself
is a form of personification.
Sod personification anyway, says Death,
in his T-shirt way.
You’re so humancentric.
The T-shirt is a manifestation of Death,
or, to be more accurate,
the words on the front of it are a manifestation of Death,
or they were,
until they re-manifested themselves
as a convoluted explanation.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
appears once again
on the front of the T-shirt.
‘What about accidents?’ I say.
And accidents appears on the T-shirt,
followed by,
Nobody likes a smart-arse.
I pick up the T-shirt with
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
And accidents
Nobody likes a smart-arse
written on the front.
I realise I should have mentioned
suicide as well as accidents to Death,
but then remember
Nobody likes a smart-arse,
which pretty much covers
every other eventuality.
I put the T-shirt on.
It’s a one-size fits all.
‘Oh, very funny, Death.’ I say.
Yes, Death is hilarious
appears on the front of the T-shirt,
I decide against wearing it outside of the house
and spend the next hour and thirty-seven minutes
trying to persuade Death
that if he’s/it’s going to assume
a corporeal form which communicates
in the medium of ever-changing written words,
then a notebook would be far more convenient,
and obvious,
than a T-shirt.
In the meantime
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
And accidents
Nobody likes a smart-arse
reappears on the T-shirt
and, beneath it,
Live 2018
as if it’s the name of a band
touring an album.
‘Very funny, Death,’ I say, again.
I’m basically a comedian
but not on the T-shirt;
the words appear on the page
of the notebook in which I am writing.
‘Oh, very meta,’ I say.
Death’s words vanish
and are replaced with
I have work to do.
Why don’t you get on with writing
your second poem in this series?
Perhaps you could make that one like an actual poem,
with rhymes and metre and whatnot?
Instead of this stream of consciousness
which is very prosaic, really,
isn’t it?
And then the words vanish altogether,
before I have a chance to mention
that the stylistic modality of this poem
was a deliberate metaphor for
the death of poetry,
or perhaps The Death of Poetry.
The words on the T-shirt are still there,
and I go for a walk in the autumn sunshine,
notebook in hand,
sensing the imminence of winter in the air.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Plastic Concerns

I’m clearing up last night’s Scrabble
and waiting for the toast to pop up
when the title for an unwritten poem
pops up, unbidden, into my head.
I wonder what structure and tone
the poem will take.
Will it be a mirror
which reflects the meandering
narratives of Kirill Medvedev?
Or a string of opaque images
like Paul Emery?
Maybe I’ll try my hand at an original poem
in the style of me?
I think this last one impossible.
All of my poems are a concatenation
of every poem I’ve ever read,
ending up with whatever my latest poem is.
when such a word as concatenation
jumps into the forefront of my mind,
I’ll dismiss it,
unless I’m being deliberately Gilbertian
for comic effect;
but I’m not feeling that brand
of funny today.
Then I remember Sheila’s comment
about my father:
Sometimes, he would come out with a really long word,
and I would wonder if he was making it up.
Making up for a lifetime of absence,
these days he’s rarely far from
the forefront of my mind,
and so concatenation it is,
a tiny acknowledgement of my father,
in a poem which has nothing to do about my father.
Perhaps that explains its appearance,
the word having stayed hidden in my mind
after I’d encountered it
in some dense historical tome,
or a book about politics;
or possibly one about the impending
environmental devastation
which is currently doing its sprint finish,
due to overtake us any day now –
unless it already has –
although we won’t realise it has
until we see it reach the finishing line,
ahead of us,
as we come in last,
in a world-sized stadium
filled with the impotent
harrumphs of a lifetime
of social media tantrums.

I interrupt myself
in order to put on my shoes.
I’ve recently decided
that I prefer writing with my shoes on.
I don’t know if the wearing of a pair of shoes –
or, rather, the pair of shoes,
as I only have one pair –
has a beneficial effect on my writing,
but it’s an oddity
which I’ve gradually come to acquire;
one of those idiosyncrasies which evolve
over time,
like always writing in pencil,
or having to start every notebook
with yet another poem
about the starting of a new notebook.
The evolution of who I am:
the concatenation
of largely inexplicable habits
whereby I become
an ever more complicated
and ridiculous version of myself;
the unconscious becoming
of a unique, complex belief-system
according to which I live my life.
It’s fortunate that I’m not the new Messiah,
or other people might also start believing
that it is imperative
to buy every album release
which contains a contribution from Johnny Marr,
along with having to wear shoes while writing poetry,
or having to use a knife and fork
to eat sandwiches.

Plastic Concerns was the title.
It’s less a metaphor, and more a pun,
and puns have very low status in poetry,
unless you’re from Japan,
where puns are an acceptable form of expression.
Perhaps therein lies the ambiguity
which I feel towards this title:
I like it as a pun,
but as poetry,
I find it unacceptable.

There is a cacophony of despair
at the discovery of a new continent of plastic,
the latest triumph of human ingenuity;
a cacophony which seems as ubiquitous as plastic in the oceans.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
each now has an entire cavalry
at its disposal,
although I don’t know which regiment
this thing belongs to:
War? Pestilence? Death?
Having discovered this new continent –
the Continent of Plastica,
or perhaps Plasticopia
(no, it’s definitely Plastica) –
I react as I always do to such things:
with a not-quite-detached
Well, then.
after stumbling across the suitably ominous video of Plastica
online for the nth time,
I wondered,
Whence all the plastic?
and stumbled, in my subsequent search,
across a statistic which I hadn’t seen mentioned
by any of the concerned posters:
46% of Plastica is made from
discarded plastic fishing nets.
And the majority of the rest of it?
Other fishing gear:
the ropes,
the crates,
the baskets,
the spacers.
Exhortations abound:
Give up plastic bottles!
Give up plastic bags!
Give up straws!
Recycle! Reuse! Sign petition!
Tick, tick, possible tick.
Give up eating fish!
FFS, you vegans are so…
So extreme.

Around 100 million sharks
are killed each year
as bikill,
the by-product of fishing;
fishing with plastic nets.
There’s a picture of a deformed turtle,
one of the four holes of the plastic packaging apocalypse,
from the Regiment of Beer Four-Packs,
strangling its shell.
It’s a picture we look at
while ignoring
the sky-high photograph album
of dolphins, whales, sharks,
fish, fish, and fish –
and turtles –
which have all been killed by bikill
in the pursuit of marine cuisine;
maritime mass murder;
the unintended consequence
of battered cod,
or whatever fish ends up in the kitchen.
Without our plastic bottles,
our plastic bags,
our plastic straws,
our recycling plants,
or our online petitions,
the Continent of Plastica will continue to expand.
Perhaps the campaigns –
to ban plastic bottles,
to ban plastic bags,
to ban plastic straws –
will be 100% successful,
while, amid our empty self-congratulation,
Plastica grows and grows and grows,
so that,
come 2048,
it will be left to float above the dead ocean,
and all of our plastic concerns for that ocean
will be seen,
by our grandchildren,
for what they really were:
plastic concerns.

Around 100 million sharks killed every year

Seafood may be gone by 2048

46% of the tonnage of the plastic garbage patch is fishing nets, the majority of the rest is composed of other fishing industry gear