Saturday, January 03, 2009

Reaction poems

I make no claim that the poems below are better than similar poems written by other people reacting to events reported through the media. All they represent is my reaction to those events. Others can judge their worth; all that is important is that they worked for me at the time, and continue to work for me now.

This poem, last revised in October 1991, was in fact my reaction to the war in Iraq. But I couldn't comprehend that war - I couldn't find words or images that worked for me on the page. So instead I wrote about my second-hand memories of an earlier conflict - the war in Lebanon which was coming to a close at that time.

The Levants

Sayeed is the checkpoint leader:
he stands proudly before his rubbled halt.
Comrades in turn approach his barricade
so he can bar their path with his metal crutch.
Sweet wrappers and leaflets serve for passes -
each is produced with the correct degree of fear.

Abdullah appears too confident:
he is an American and cannot be stopped.
Sayeed is unimpressed. Americans are devils.
Abdullah is denounced - infidel.
And then shot. Bang!

Abdullah's brother argues for a kidnap:
tie Abdullah hand to hand
and guard him within a cellar
- Abdullah is not loved by his brother.

Noor is a nurse again:
with her doll to help, she patches Abdullah's wounds.
She uses leaflets as pads and strings as bandages
and folded magazines to make the splint
- tricks learnt when the torpedoed flats
were felled one morning, and Sayeed lost his foot.

Coup! No warning.
Abdullah's brother wants to be leader.
When he doesn't fall upon Abdullah's shot,
Sayeed's crutch cracks to the brother's head.
The brother retreats, tearful,
trailed by Noor - bandage to hand.
Then Sayeed and Abdullah grin to each other,
kinsmen in arms once more,
and return to the game.

Everyone wrote a 9/11 poem. My 9/11 poem was written some three weeks after the event, while I was on holiday (how false is that?) in Chania, Crete - which happens to be next door to Souda Bay: maybe the sight and sound of low-flying fighter jets on patrol helped me find a way to write the poem.

Manhattan Flower

My tall dahlia. Scythed
by the wings of dragons,
white flies on the blue sky.

Litter caught in the storm.
My fiery bright dahlia,
it blooms: it blooms.

Switch off my cold eye. Frost
blackens its lace-vein leaves,
my dragon-axed dahlia.

My Boxing Day Tsunami poem was written about a fortnight after the disaster, mainly because someone on a poetry board had written a very poor tsunami poem - which I critiqued. One of the moderators (stupidly) challenged me to come up with something better. So I did. Nobody chose to comment on the poem when I posted it, so maybe it's just me that thinks this is a good poem. Whatever ...

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.

1 comment:

  1. Rik, I admire your ability to write reaction poems. I can't. In fact, big things like the ones you cite freeze me up. Too much anger, perhaps, too much emotion? I stopped writing poetry for a dozen or so years after my father died. I have written nothing for my husband. I don't think it's unconnected to the emotion.

    Confessional done, I admire more than your ability. Your 9-11 poem is one of my favourite of yours. Perhaps I'll study the way you respond and learn from it.