For a while I was reposting some poems already on this blog with a bit more discussion or explanation. Then, because I was posting two or more often three of these poems at once, I found myself catching up with the first posts of poems. So I stopped the reposting. Now the gap has widened enough and I’m going back to it. Here’s three old poems.
If you are short of a principle
Or two or three or more
Principles for Men will fit you out
They won’t be demanding
You won’t have to shout
Or break the law
If you’re inclined to change your mind
If the conclusions it has come to
Aren’t for you
Go to the MIND shop, it’s no bind,
Address the crew
And say “I want to change my mind.”
If your account is in the red
The creditors in ambush wait
To Body Shop repair
Say “Out of stock – or am I wrong?”
In the van over there
I’ve got six bodies for a song!”
If something seems a little flat
A little empty
Don’t worry. Tesco’s is at hand
Seek out computer games and shoes
Join the happy band
There used to be just booze.
This is a wry look at “consumerism” – maybe it should be called “producerism”, or better, “vendorism”, always pelting us with messages to buy something. It’s also playing with words. PRINCIPLES is a clothing store for women and the male-oriented version is PRINCIPLES FOR MEN. But that sounds as if the shop is selling principles, presumably tailored to fit individual consumers: “here’s three principles just right for you sir – sound good and not too demanding.”
MIND is the U.K.’s biggest national mental health charity, so a GOOD THING, but one way they raise funds is through second-hand shops called MIND shops. I can never pass one without thinking that should mean they sell minds – and presumably you could go in there and change your mind.
Body Shop is a leading ethical business that sells skincare and other body care products. It does not, as far as I know, sell bodies, but that’s what the name suggests.
Tesco’s is the U.K.’s biggest supermarket chain, known for its aggressive approach to local councils which decline to approve planning permission for a new Tesco’s superstore.
There’s nothing very deep here, but you may deduce some resistance from me to marketing messages. If you are an advertising worker – try harder – or give up.
Here between the tumbled stones was the door:
Tired men passed seeking warmth, hot broth or a spade
Woman with a sickly baby in hope
The occasional visitor for a dram and stories.
Now the tourist wanders inside
The wet wind flails without a whimper.
They eat a little slowly, staring a short way ahead
To the battle they will lose tomorrow.
Each man prepares to do his job
The hidden guest at the meal is hungry.
The Beast was last here eighty years ago
That is the print of its foot in the crushed house
It has returned a hundred times, they say;
Your office is to be prepared and wait.
These drawings ought to help:
This one is by the man who saw it last
This reproduction of a temple frieze
Is thought to be the oldest: all the others
Are in between. I’m sure you’ll notice
Nothing is common to them but the size
And a certain presence. Maybe you’ll spend your life
Waiting for an enemy that never comes
And maybe for an enemy that comes.
I saw her turn a corner from the alley
At that old inn she left a note on the board
I thought I heard her when the rainstorm rattled
The window sashes and the wood outside
Chattered and sang to the rhythm of the rain.
The man I think you know took us into the room
I happened to pass a mirror, turned and looked
And saw an old man with a bloodstained baby
But when I wanted to show it to someone else
Instead a woman was singing very quietly.
The doors when opened led to other doors
The drawers pulled out to infinite other drawers
You sought an explanation but the man had gone
And then we couldn’t agree his height, his age,
If he was bald, the colour of his jacket
And if he ever was there at all
And then you did not know me any more
And I did not know you except as a light
I had seen seeping under a door on a dark night.
I am alive in the stone field
We are the rising of the moss
On fallen stones that lie like the last army;
Hint of salt in the wind over sandpaper desert
Light in the dark, dark in the light will nestle
Something in the fallen leaves rustle
Though they begin to rot; in the black lake
Stars are revealed; the star-warm sky
Rises to meet us, to repair the break.
A very different poem here – serious and mystical. Crofts are the traditional small dwellings of Scottish Highland farmers. I start by wondering about the people who lived in the now ruined croft (nearly all of them are ruined now). Then I move to a scene of soldiers eating the night before a battle, a bit quietly because they know this may be their last full day. The hidden guest at the meal is Death. The next scene – GUARD – introduces a figure I’ve used several times, a mysterious destructive beast that appears periodically. The guard is trained to be ready for it, but the information about the beast is very vague and he knows he may well never meet the thing. For me this recalls among other things the end of Camus’ “La Peste” (The Plague) where he says the bacillus never dies and we always have to be ready for it. SHE introduces another recurring image, of the female figure always just ahead, leading on. The speaker is led. ENTRY describes a disintegration of understanding, of intellect maybe, of everyday certainty. It sounds a bit like “The Matrix” or “The Prisoner”, but also like confused old age. THREAD is the most lyrical stanza (or whatever these bits are). There is a series of images of decay, death, lack of life – a fallen army, stones, desert, dead leaves – but at every point life is reasserted and the tone is set by the first line – “I am alive in the stone field”. At the end a break is repaired.
Now the big question – what if anything unites these mini-poems? Sorry, I’m not sure, but they seem to hang together. They’re about life, death, duty, incomplete perception and rebirth.
The leaning tower pisser is abroad
So is not here. The bugs are all in bed
Recording everything the Inspector said
The bet had strings, but we have one accord
If I can pirouette around the fire
My foil-flash clothes may glint like real gold
Though I am spotted, I am not yet old
Perhaps the fiddle is the ultimate lyre
But if the clothes reflect the dying light
And if the flames have fallen into charred
Parodic branches, there is one more card:
The glow is in the dark, the dark is bright.
And finally another humorous one with a serious message (but don’t let that put you off: the serious message is detachable and you can add another of your choice). The poem works through a series of puns and double entendres: the Leaning Tower of Pisa/ someone pissing from a leaning tower; something is abroad (it’s got out, it’s around)/ it’s abroad, so not in this country; bugs as insects/ bugs as recording devices; the bugs are in bed (they’re not asleep – they’re bed bugs); the bet had strings = conditions, qualifications, commitments attached/ strings in the literal sense, punning with cord in accord; I am spotted (= I am seen)/ I am spotted in my skin as a sign of age; fiddle as musical intrument/ fiddle as fraud or deceit; lyre as musical instrument/ liar. But there’s something frenetic about the desperate joking: I want my foil-flash clothes to be gold, but they aren’t. I’m trying to postpone the inevitable. But while the fire that makes my clothes glint is dying, new light is emerging in the darkness.
That’s it, folks… for three days or so.
All posts copyright Simon Banks.