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Martin Stannard


Great Poem

It has always been one of my ambitions to write a great poem
of the sea. And now as if from out of nowhere appears
a sentence that could be uttered by no-one but a salty sailor:
"Ropes and pulleys are connected to the sea's infrastructure
and gulls and terns perch on the spars of a sailing ship
to watch the unravelling of the disaster that's bound to happen."

Ma's excited by the prospect of a great poem of the sea
but perhaps this will instead become a great poem of the storm.
At this point it's difficult to speak with confidence except to say
typhoons aren’t the only upheavals that twist my brain
into a perplexing puzzle the convolutions of which befuddle me.

I am sitting becalmed now, thinking about writing a great poem
either of the sea or of the storm. The haphazardness
of these bouts of genius may signify an unsettled constitution
or the will of a vengeful God. I have no preference either way.

"Ropes and pulleys are connected to the sea's infrastructure
and gulls and terns perch on the spars of a sailing ship
to watch the unravelling of the disaster that's bound to happen"
are pretty okay opening lines and I should be able to find material
to hang on them if I don't think about things too much and
be overwhelmed by my desire to write a great poem of the sea.

(I have decided to stick with the sea because I know little
about it, whereas I am on intimate terms with the storm
and intermittent bouts of over-drinking that prompt
minor cataclysms and summon various horned demons
and, well, I've lost count of the troubles if you want to know.
I think there's nothing interesting left to say about the storm.)

The trouble is control is sometimes lacking.
"A cart loaded with crates of vegetables careers
through the back alleys and swings around corners
so fast the wheels fall off and it smashes into a wall
and we're watching it on our phones in Starbucks"
has just appeared in front of me and it has nothing to do
with the sea or the storm, and I have no desire to write
a great poem about whatever this sentence is about.

I'm going to cross all that out and persevere with my dream 
of writing a great poem of the sea. I shall try and avoid
obvious symbolism and other predictable rhetorical moves
and stun readers with unexpected and elegant maritime language
and a 21st century detachment that will move them to tears.
This may seem hugely ambitious, but I refuse to deny myself.




Linger a moment, and let's think about where we are. 
And before we linger let’s pause a while
to consider how we came to be here.

Some of us took a train, others one day woke up
and discovered somehow their place had been decided for them.
What discoveries they had unwittingly passed by!
You might have been enchanted by back gardens and terraces
and hypnotized by curtainless dens and whores' duvets.

And then some have been dragged here by people who know
what’s good for them. One cannot help but admire those who know
what's best and what's right but it never ceases to confound our leaders
how, no matter how many signs they put up, apathy reigns,
and if it's not apathy it's a terribly effective way of doing nothing.


We swim into the study area being transformed into a lagoon
by workmen from the countryside. There is a debate concerning
whether or not electricity is necessary or would it be a luxury
not worth the expense and the complication of forcing it through
eternities of form-filling and bribery and, after all of that, water.

And when the trees topple in a storm an entire army of workers
is flown in to stand them up again. But when an old lady is blown over
everyone stands around discussing the benefits of an early death.

The modernization of our living space continues apace.
It would be pleasant to be able to open the windows but this is only
a theory; there is always the risk of fresh air coming into the room
and sound leaving it, and we prefer to keep our noises to ourselves.


Today (or was it yesterday) there was an organized outing
to the hospital to have our ears put through their paces. I would have
considered going there on horseback, it being more picturesque.
The bus possesses no romance, and it's not even fast.

But horses could not be procured, this being the age of coal.
I told the doctor, I told it, I said the only time my head hurts
is when you poke around inside it with your poking stick.
I’m looking forward to the days when your stick is a thing of the past.

The doctor, it was a woman, this being a time when women can be,
she said how it was only by being done cruel to that a man could
ever hope to start learning what his place in the world was,
and I went home with my ears in a bag and some pills to swallow.


I don't want to bore you but there is institutionalized racism,
sexism and corruption in every corner here. Even when we
eulogize butterflies we are imagining them either pinned to a board
or fluttering their last gasp as we bulldoze their living quarters.
Some people also want to have sex with them, unless they are
white butterflies, which are not exotic enough. I don't know how
things came to this pass: one moment we were outsiders
eyeing the landscape from afar and then before we knew it
we were here, directing daily operations from behind a desk.

It's a hell of a desk, too. A family could live under it, and horses
graze within its shadow. When I lay on it with my head resting on a book
it's as if there is nothing to do in the whole world of life but enjoy
being better than others, and not pitying their pathetic facilities.




Copyright © Martin Stannard, 2014.