Sunday, January 09, 2005

Good and bad poems about tsunamis

Hearing about a disaster, or a catastrophe, or the latest outrage on the news always puts a little lead weight into the folds of my guts. Not because of the severity of the news, but rather because I know that for the next few days (or weeks, or months) the online poetry newsgroups and websites are going to heave under the weight of bad poems written in haste about the event.

You can list the western world's major events by the volume of bad poetry associated with them: the death of Diana, 9/11, the Soham murders, the Challenger disaster, war in Iraq (but interestingly very little poetry about war in Afghanistan) and - now - tsunamis.

Tsunami is an interesting word. Searching for tsunami+poem on Google throws up plenty of links, but few of those links lead to poems about tsunamis prior to the current disaster. There's no "your love released a tsunami in my heart" or "blood spurts from my severed vein like a tsunami". It seems to be a word rarely referenced by modern poets and poetasters - possibly because it sounds too foreign to the english speaker's ear.

Well, not any more. January 2005 shall be the month where ten thousand tsunami poems splurge across the 'net. Even now I expect that some enterprising poet is pulling together plans for a tsunami anthology, entry standards set particularly low to help sales, all profits donated to charity. Well, call me an uncaring shit, but what's wrong with just donating the printing costs to charity direct? Instead of spending money on a "Poetic Momento of the Boxing Day 2004 South Asian Tsunami Disaster" just throw the money into a charity collector's tin!

I need to find a word that describes the act of using a disaster to promote bad poetry. I want to include it in a poem I'm writing ...

Talking of which - yes, even I succumb to the happy circle-jerk of writing poems about disasters. And it's only fair that I put my efforts at a tsunami poem on public display - how else can people ridicule me? So, with no further delay:

The Charity Collector

She stands in the wind with a tin in her mittens
and calls for donations - some coppers will do.
Shy shoppers are caught with their purses mid-pocket:
they clatter their change in the pot and move on.
Though eyes will exchange a brief lock of compassion,
the gale is too chill to allow a quick word
and somehow the act doesn't mend the impressions
that photos of children in rows in a pit
have lodged in our heads. But still that tin rattles,
now loud as I put my bare hand on loose change
and add to her pile. Her smile is infectious:
a spread of the lips to reveal crooked teeth
that tell me that though we can't stop the tsunamis
we still change the world with a copper or two.

Happy flaming!

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