Stocking fillers

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I committed myself to ‘catching up’….particularly and especially to catching up with work I liked by poets that I like. At one time I used to do this pretty much on a weekly basis (I had a role model called Kim Moore). Still do, but I simply can’t keep up. But I do want to keep the great fogginzo’s cobweb ticking over. 

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How many of you remember The Interlude on television, when there was only one (b/w) channel and a 17” screen was regarded as excessive, and potentially damaging to eyesight unless you lived  in a huge house? Programme sequences were interrupted intermittently by the interlude. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because the programmers had all grown up with the notion that visual entertainment like the theatre and the cinema traditionally had interval breaks when you could in one case go to the bar, and in another, buy an ice cream from a lady with a tray. Or maybe they thought that television posed too great a challenge to the concentration and/or eyesight, and that viewers needed a break for reasons of health and safety. 

Whatever the  reason,there would be a break that may feature a gently turning windmill or the hands of a person you never saw working at a potter’s wheel. It’s only just now struck me that they both involved turning wheels. Why? Are wheels soothing? If you use Google, you’ll find there was also one with a lady working a spinning wheel, but every now and then, a kitten playing with a ball of wool, and one of teams of horse drawn ploughs.

So I thought that if it was good enough for the BBC in its pomp, it was good enough for me. One reason why I write poems, and about poems, is that some years ago I used to go to folk clubs which were essentially sing-/play-arounds. The organiser would point to me and say “are you performing” and I’d say no and that would be it, until one night the organiser said ‘can’t you do a poem or something’. That’s how it started. At first I’d perform other people’s poems…Pam Ayres, Roger McGough, Mike Harding and so on. Because poems in folk clubs basically, need to be funny, probably need to rhyme, and need a punch line. They need to be compact and robust. Which is what much oral poetry was, originally. I discovered that writing your own stuff is a lot harder than you’d think, and I think I learned a fair amount about the trade from trying. Sometimes I’d try what I thought of as ‘real poems’, but they didn’t work, and once I decided I wanted an audience for them, I shifted my allegiance to poetry open mics. Bit by bit I assembled a folder that I called ‘Stand-ups and stocking fillers’. Sometimes I’d use some of them to finish a set at a reading, just to leave the audience with a laugh, or sometimes to relieve what may have been a bleak sequence. One or two have been published. Very often, writing workshops would set a task that prompted what I’d think of as  a stocking filler.

And now I see that I have a use for them again, in the absence of open mics and readings in the real world. The poetry equivalent of the potter’s wheel and the kitten with the ball of wool. So here we go with the very first interlude, the very first stocking filler, while I get on with planning the next Catching Up post.

Two poems tonight. Each comes from a workshop task. One where you’re given an obscure word from the OED (thanks for this one, Ann Sansom) and do something like writing a definition, or treating it as an object in a display case, or being taken on a guided tour of it. The second (thank you Carola Luther) is to be given a list of odd sounding/unusual place names and writing someting like a travel brochure entry for it..or, again, giving a guided tour. I think that at the time I’d been reading a book by Jonathan Raban about the abandoned settlements of the American prairies. Something of the sort. I sort of believe they’re real now. Here we go. Interlude time.

Boanthropy

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Sprung up damn near overnight

when the railroad come through. 1878.

Nuthin’ here but saltbush flats,

buncha tumbleweed, willows out by the creek.

Hard to tell. But this here’s Main street.

There’d a been the First National Bank, 

grainstore, hardware, general store,

haberdashers, three saloons, a whorehouse

(course, they wouldna called it that).

Later, gas station, J C Penney’s, soda fountain,

Episcopalians, the Baptists, and the Coloured church,

Picture Palace, auto wrecker’s, stockyards.

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Interstate went right on by, what,

twenty years gone now. Nuthin here

but saltbush flats, a buncha tumbleweed,

the creek run dry.

Them rusted-up gaspumps there.

Boanthropy. Sounds kinda fine.

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Aint worth spit.  

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  (To save you looking it up: boanthropy:    a mental condition in which the sufferer believes he is an ox. OED)

Dead Women Crossing Bridge

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Weren’t always a bridge, just a slackwater place,

sandspits, yellow bluffs, just a slow turn

on the river, willows on the edges.

Dead Women Crossing.

You might go there, one day.

Come off the Interstate. Ain’t no sign.

But come off by the Mobil place.

Been shut down twenty years or more.

Rusted to hell.

Blacktop ain’t too good.

Keep goin west. Just mesquite, prairie scrub.

Big red silo. Lundquist’s place.

Keep on past there. ‘Bout an hour near enough.

Used to be they had a store.

Baptist church still goin’.

Shotgun motel. And the bridge.

Over that you’re out the other side.

Goin’ nowhere pretty much.

That’s it. Dead Women Crossing.

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Why they call it Dead Women Crossin’?

Maybe sometime back they was some women went and died there.

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Next time, we’ll be doing some catching up. See you then.

2 thoughts on “Stocking fillers

  1. Haha, John that gave me a giggle and a lift this rained-on Monday morning. And how clever to get the language of certain types of American! I can really hear a voice reciting or even singing them (but not your voice 🙂).
    Hope you’re doing OK now?

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  2. Hey John – these are terrif! Do you still perform them as party pieces? And do you do the American accent? I hope so. And great that you still have them – I’ll bet some “serious” poets would have discarded them as juvenilia, once they became too “important”. But you’re not tarred with that brush. Jean x

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