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!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Lets do some poetry

Now, lots of people think they can write poetry (they can't), and lots of these people insist on doing poems about writing poetry (yawn). This is my poem about writing poetry. Enjoy!


I suppose a pen and a scrap of envelope
will do, for scribbles that hit mid-amble
along the street, or on a bus. And a keyboard
can take a good pounding of angst, or a tap-peck
for a milder bout of the muse.

But nursery scripts demand to be spelt
on alphabet bricks across the carpet.
Competitive strophes must be gridded
with Scrabble tiles, rhyme sacrificed
for the triple word score.

And the joys of play dough snakes pressed
into sentences across the dinner table
(or the workstation when the boss is away),
verse upon verse coursing across the surface,
punctuated with multicolour dinosaur stops.

Historical epics demand quill and parchment:
the local college offers courses in do-it-yourself
writing kits, supply your own pigeon wings
and kitten skins. Epigrams are built for clay
tablets, baked in the oven alongside the pot roast.

If an image hits as I walk along the shoreline
then a stick and sand will do, big poems
decorated with seaweed and conch shells
to be seen by seagulls until the tides of time
scrub my visions back into the beach.

Or for that one-time invitation only performance
piece, a neighbour's wallpapered lounge and a set
of dayglo crayons: it's art, I cry, as policemen smash
through windows, unbind the audience, muscle
me out of the house.

And then those special times, late at night,
when I creep to the kitchen and settle in
for a feast, and indulge in my secret vice:
chocolate, vodka, and magnetic fridge poetry.
Drafting while the rest of my world snores.

Rik, knee deep.