Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Pong of Poetry

I'm off poetry. I am. I've been in a few poetry-related situations recently which have made me think of hanging up my haikus and shoving my anapests up my assonance.

A couple of events where it was only poets performing to other poets, a shouty guest night and an under-publicised and rather forced 'workshop' involving table tennis, balls with things written on them have conspired to make me question what exactly I am trying to do, and why...

Poets empty rooms

In five minutes flat
Poets watch poets... because they're 'up' next
we clear whole tables in cafes and pubs,
causing a disorderly egress
from all kinds of event.

We open our mouths and it’s as if
someone in the back row
has shouted: ‘Fire!’ or ‘Free ice cream!’
the way they scamper for the exits
as though our very words are painful
pointed at them, poisoning their minds.
It’s true – I know poets who do.

Ah, the power of the poets’ words
'Darling, we're leaving. That's Broken Biro!'
to knee jerk you from your comfortable position,
have you running for cover,
covering your ears, refusing to hear.

Poets are faster and calmer
than riot police, less brutal... usually.
Stand us in front of the National Front
at crucial junctions of Tottenham orToxteth,
let us open our frightening mouths
and speak. See those hooded, would-be 
thugs put down their weapons,
look at their watches, mumble something
Batty about poetry... is just plain batty
about having to be somewhere else.

If you need a seat on a bus – ask one of us.
Stuck at the back of a crowd?  See how we
part the sea of people like the Moses of poesy.
How our audiences shrink not swell
at every clerihew and villanelle.

Bring us in at closing time to get the punters
draining glasses, or cafĂ©’s were pensioners
linger on and buy no drinks,
or parks where youths loiter at sundown
causing alarm by laughing and being young.
a load of balls
Summon us wherever people outstay
their welcome: traffic jams, complaints desks,
refugee camps. Let our self-indulgent sestinas
evacuate tall buildings, entire towns.

Poets clear fields and promenades,
empty the deckchairs around bandstands
faster than a sudden downpour.
Use us in wars: front line rhymesters
who send our enemies back to the bunkers;
or during dubious interrogations
extracting prompt confessions with
the drip drip drip
of our water torture words.


  1. Ah Clare, funny, bittersweet poem. Loved these lines especially ...

    How our audiences shrink not swell
    at every clerihew and villanelle.

    But we all feel like this from time to time. But we come back, because we're poets; it's what we do; it's what you do (it's not the only thing, but it is what you do).

    Then there are the really great nights. I had one at the Ship & Mitre recently; thre was a special kind of magic in the air. Sure, it's not always like that, but when it is, well what a wondrous feeling.

    And then there is the feeling you get when you've got a poem down that you're really pleased with. Doesn't even really matter if no-one else likes it ... as long as the writer does. That's a kind of magic too.

    1. Are you on drugs? No, just kidding, Steve - kind, thoughtful words. Thank you.

  2. Steve's right, Clare. Don't you dare get pissed off and deprive us of your wonderful words.

    1. Thanks for the support - but my words will still come. I didn't mean I'd stop writing, I may not even stop writing poetry (its a compulsion more than an intention as often as not!), but I'm not sure I want to keep ramming it down other people's throats... which it feels like sometimes.

  3. The one on stage is you saying "No! The toilets are that way!"

    I'm sure the pong will be replaced with ping soon - happens to all us writers. I returned once from a horrible day at work really pissed off, only to find my Omnibus was out. I loved that bus.