Feeling under the weather. Again. Not up to doing justice to a guest poet who I admire greatly. In the meantime, more stocking fillers. Sometimes in a workshop someone may ask you to write a poem about an imaginary event. Invent a bit of history, but, if possible, treat it with great seriousness. When I think about it, a great deal of the ‘history’ I was taught in school was actually of this sort. Kings burning cakes. Noblemen drowned in butts of malmsey. England being ‘founded’ by descendants of Aeneas. Richard the Second being a monster. That sort of thing. Who knows, if you’re deadpan enough, it might just get some leverage, like urban myths. This one was triggered by a starter poem by Billy Collins.
1470. Annus mirabilis
(after Billy Collins: ‘Nostalgia’)
1470. We’ll not forget that in a hurry;
the year they invented Jam.
We’d hear rumours,
folk passing on the turnpike,
a shout on the wind
from the back of a lathered horse.
‘Jam’ they’d shout. ‘Jam’.
We’d sit in the Tarred Pheasant
at the end of a day’s slurry-shifting,
or fettling capons, or stooking hares,
Change was never good.
The moon had been a funny colour
all through Martinmas,
the vicar’s wife had lost her arm to croup,
mice took to midnight swimming in the dewpond
by the mandrake patch in Cotton’s Bog.
All sorts of tales were rife.
Jam would bring back sight to the goitred.
Jam would take off a murrain,
make a slack-twisted pigman smell sweet.
It was more than that.
Fruit that didn’t roll off tables.
Fruit you could stick your hair down with..
No good would come of it. Devils’ work
Alternatively, you could make up your own historical figures. Lord knows, ‘history’ has edited out 99% of the people who actually made it. By a pleasing synergy, jam features in this one , too.
Let us remember them.
St. John Chatsworth Grace:
inventor of the reversible umbrella,
serviceable in jungle and in desert
to deflect, or conserve, rain
Enoch Waterman of Burslem
who patented a fruitless jam
and a device for getting blood from stones
Frederick Jagger, the Pennine Penitent
Who, daily, walked barefoot to his work in Rochdale
from Todmorden to mortify the flesh
and save on cobblers’ bills
and once walked backwards for a week
to see the future unfurl in his wake
Remember Benjamin Hardwick of Haworth
who patiently engraved the Book of Genesis
on the obverse of a halfpenny
that he accidentally put,
with a handful of loose change,
in a collection tin for
the Overseas and Colonial Society
for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge,
and who shortly after died,
consumed by irony .
Next week, I promise, there will be a proper post with proper poetry. And who knows, the country might have accidentally stumbled into sanity by then. Go well. Wear a mask. Keep a safe distance.