Just a reminder about why I thought I’d start this occasional series of ‘poems I’d never dream of sending out to magazines or journals’.
“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. ……. 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. After a bit, I started to write my own, rather than (or as well as) freeload off other poets. 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. When I think about it, most of them started life like this. I don’t think I ever sat down unprompted, thinking, you know what? I think I’ll write something funny…a stand-up poem.
The first two “stocking fillers”, posted a couple of weeks ago, were written in response to invitations to write about imaginary/invented places.
Today I thought I’d share two about real places. The first in response to a prompt to write about somewhere you’ve never been, but as though you know all about it. It’s an invitation to plunder your favourite films and novels, when you come to think about it. If you’re ever stuck for something to do, why not try it?
There’s a fat wet slap of paddles, the gambling boats
on Pontcharrain; damp lawn and cotton, sweet lavender,
limp dogs in the streets, dancing girls and their laughter,
a slow slow blues playing somewhere, and high-yellow girls
in first floor windows, the slow swing of a silky leg
from a fretwork iron balcony, a shiver of hibiscus,
pale bougainvillia, a yellow playbill in the lazy breeze
of a dusty street, the tilt of a tight-brimmed bowler hat,
a flash of white teeth, and a reek of skillet oil,
of cornbread frying, the iodine of fresh-shucked oysters,
tobacco juice, the moonlight tang of smoke from lit cheroots,
a boardwalk castanet of heels, the alarm of mockingbirds,
a slur of Cajun French and all the icing sugar saloons
and bars, bordellos, gambling joints, and the river
huge and brown and slow, its towheads, boils and rips,
shoals of punched shell by the button factories. Spanish moss.
Never been there.
Read about it, some.
The second one was a response to an invitation to write about something someone said. It could be something odd and out of character; it could be something they often say, something quite peculiar to them..like a malapropism. My first wife’s great aunt used to tell neighbours I worked in ‘one of them apprehensive schools’. I sometimes think about writing a poem describing the curriculum.
This however is about something said by the poet and all-round good chap, Christopher North, and said in a real place. In the real place we were scrambling up a steep place below a cliff, looking for Iberian pottery shards. In the real place, he slipped and ripped the backside out of his trousers.
we’re climbing this hill,
a shaly slope ,a broken spine of stone,
all levels and layers , silicas, sandstones,
muds, and coral flowers, when he says :
from here we have to bushwack .
Cue long shot :
winding canyon, mesquite, stallions, bitter dust, rawhide quirts, and stetsons, cactus, creek and willow, mineshaft tailings, clapboard stables, saloon and whorehouse, Colt repeaters, pianola, mirrors, scrolled mahogany, sleeve bands, tight black bowler hats, tooled leather, spit, unshaven desperadoes, shifty mexicans and crooked sheriff, dark Apache , in his birdbone breastplate, three crow feathers pushed into his blueblack hair, wired- up Commanche on a piebald horse, contempt like a scalp on the tip of a lance, Black Hills Sioux, with eagle bonnet, the softest buckskin fringe, plumes of smoke in the lodge by the oxbow’s quiet shadows, and thin dogs doing nothing in particular, the hero carefully turned out, the rancher’s daughters prim as prayerbooks , careless dancehall girls, their knees and tucked up skirts, their buttoned boots and ribbons, ah, so many ribbons, the double door that swings both ways, a silhouette, a shadow bringing conversations to a stuttering halt, that exact moment that the piano stops midtune, a pause like a burial plot, just waiting on its allotment of words.
And from here, he says, we have to bushwack.
Whatever that is.
Right. I’m off for a hearing test; 8.00am tomorrow I’m having a CT Scan. I’ve booked a telephone appointment with the doctor to find why, after chemo, I’ve got chronic joint pain and permanent fatigue. My dad used to have a joke he’d trot out in these circumstances, the punch line being. Does it hurt? Only when I laugh. Exactly. Where would I be without you all?
I’ve got a great guest poet coming up for the next Catching Up post…hopefully this Sunday. See you then. Crossed fingers xx