The Two Boidies

 

I wrote this poem a few years ago, and it first appeared in Mr Tim Wells’ Rising magazine (I’d put in a link but that publication is strictly analogue.) It’s a riff on The Twa Corbies, a border ballad, inspired by Ms Clare Pollard’s Gulf War treatment of the same poem from her collection Changeling (Bloodaxe, 2011), and by some kind of Jungian recall of these roguish corvids.

Everything about it’s electric (as I like to think of it) except the voice. The illustration’s done with Procreate on the iPad. I’ve tried a few drawing and painting apps – Brushes, ArtRage, and Paper – but this is now my favorite. It gives a decent resolution and means I can transfer to a desktop version of ArtRage and perhaps make some of the digital drawings polished enough to print up.

The jaaazzz band were concocted over the weekend in Logic Pro. It’s taken ten years to get the hang of that package, so I think this year’s next project is to record some more work. I ain’t George Martin, but hell, it’s poetry, so a rudimentary soundscape’s probably all that’s needed. That’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

King Cahunte and the Waves

Cahunte

After Marriott Edgar

Long ago in Merrye England
lived a monarch widely famed.
He’d a first in Summat from Oxford
and Cahunte was his regnal name.

His renown came not from virtue, though,
nor piety, nor grit;
he’d garnered no cognomen like
the Bold, the Wise, or the Fit.

His fame stemmed from some shabby
conduct in affairs of state,
and one notorious incident,
which I will now relate:

The realm was temporarily in
financial dire straits,
so he proposed to hawk lumps off
to a cabal of his mates,

who specialised in pillaging
and plunder in the extreme;
but he forgot to tell his barons
and jarls about the scheme.

He’d met with these rapacious brutes
(there was Suebi, Goths and Gauls)
wi’ contracts ready drawn up for ’em
on t’ table in t’ Mead Hall.

They said they would look after t’ Realm
‘As if it were our own,
though we might have to charge a premium,
and flog t’ crown jewels and throne.’

Cahunte thought this was a reasonable
reward for enterprise,
and t’ Barbarians laughed as dollar signs
rotated in their eyes.

But his courtiers caught him at it
and said ‘What have you done?
You’re giving t’ keys of t’ kingdom
to a gang of Vandals and Hun.’

He said, ‘I’m not.’ They said, ‘We saw you!
Handing over t’ deeds!’
And he looked a little furtive, scuffed
his feet in t’ flooring reeds,

then said, ‘It’s not my fault at all,’
and tried to call their bluff,
‘It’s you lot that’s the problem here:
you don’t work hard enough.

‘When t’ Realm’s imperilled, you should be
manning t’ walls and watchtowers.
Instead you whinge about weekend work
and antisocial hours.’

They said, ‘We don’t. You’ve made that up.
We’re very diligent.’
But he accused them all of treachery
and being militant.

Their patience tried, they called upon
the Venerable Bede,
said ‘We’ve got to get us message out;
illuminate a screed

to circulate to t’ serfs and peasants,
counter his propaganda.
Cahunte’s using t’ Witangemot
to perpetuate his slanders,’

But Bede said, ‘I can’t just put your side.
It’s not that simple, you see.
My Charter says I must maintain
scribal impartiality.’

With that they cornered Cahunte and said,
‘Enough already, schlemiel!
We’re going to fix your fibbing ways
with a trial by ordeal.

‘If God believes your porky pies
then in his Holy Name
he’ll stop the waves from drowning you.’
Cahunte said, ‘Right, I’m game.’

So, with t’ terms of arbitration
sorted, more or less,
they loaded an ox-cart baggage train
and set off for Dungeness.

They set him on scissor chair
at t’ very lowest tide,
but he seemed ultra-confident,
if not a little snide.

Soon waves were lapping round his feet
and soaking through his shoes,
T’ jarls said, ‘That’s game over, then,
and you, your Highness, lose.’

‘I don’t,’ he boldly stated. ‘Look.
I’m turning back the tide.’
Their brows furrowed with puzzlement;
they gawped and then replied:

‘You aren’t at all; there’s seawater
washing around your knees.’
Cahunte said, ‘I’m as dry as dust,’
and looked secretly pleased.

The Goths, meantime, while filling chests
with silver, gold and groats,
winked, ‘It’s TTIP Danegelt.’
and stowed it in their boats.

Back at the beach the courtiers,
by now quite saturated,
realized they’d get no sense from him
however long they waited.

The King mused he’d announce his win
by Royal Proclamation
and have it read in every town
and village in the nation.

For tinpot tyrants always think
their every dictum datum,
That’s why subjects so often feel
obliged to assassinate um,

and, since that day in Dungeness,
every overweening dunce
and all self-deluding despots
have been pronounced Cahuntes.

An Horatian Ode upon Cameron’s Return from Belgium.

­file14-02-2016184520-2016-02-14-19-47.jpeg

The camera banks and podium are set
on asphalt by the cooling air force jet
as he, composed and statesmanlike,
descends to face the waiting mikes.
He pauses, waves. His whole career thus far –
Eton, Oxford, something briefly in PR:
the school fees were not wasted, though
he could have been a CEO,
he chose the life of humble public servant –
and all his works were leading to this moment.
He clears his throat, adjusts his tie
and prepares to almost sort of lie.
It’s not quite lying in the strictest sense:
more a Hermeneutics of Events
too nuanced for the common man
(or woman) to fully understand.
For where most versifiers come unglued’s
in underestimating just how shrewd
a rhetorician is our chief:
he, truly, beggars all belief.
So, let us use our artistry to praise him,
to magnify the nimbus that arrays him,
or we’ll be damned as simply ranters
and other loyaller bards supplant us.
As his domestic record will attest,
that slick patrician air of I-know-best,
(better, at the very least, than us)
is valid… well… because he does.
It’s bred, deep in the bone marrow, inherent –
and could come, in his case, from either parent –
bred in a world where no point’s moot,
nothing is open to dispute,
where there are no nuances or versions,
fact is alchemized from bald assertion,
every question’s fully loaded,
and each communication coded.
So take example from his Spads, who mix
their epochal linguistic fads and tics
with high-blown rhetoric, as proof
his precepts hide profounder truth:
the nation’s purse is like a household budget;
and charity’s recipients begrudge it,
if not dispensed with clausal tricks
to carrotize the salving sticks.
But greater eloquence is now demanded,
to convey the scene: the aircraft’s landed
and there the peerless statesman stands,
a piece of paper in his hand!
Small wonder he allows himself a smile.
With consummate diplomacy and guile,
he has squared the vicious circle,
won concessions from Frau Merkel,
outwitted Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker –
who are still spitting feathers in their bunker –
and, fêted everywhere he went,
secured the perfect settlement
It wasn’t always a foregone conclusion:
wading through black darkness and confusion
with faith his lantern, truth his sword,
he hauled assorted Slavs on board,
huffed and puffed from Lisbon to Helsinki,
and now’s confounded those who didn’t think he
had the nerve, let alone the nous
to shake the footings of this house,
defy the Eurocrats’ dominion –
in line with current polled opinion.
Rejoice, his triumph is complete;
his foes are supine at his feet.
It’s a whitewash bright as Dover chalk and’s
more glorious even than the Falklands.
Shout from the windows, mount your bike,
spread the gladsome tidings like
the Cabinet, who, confident their boss’ll
soon bestride the Continent, colossal
and revered, stir from their repose
and race to TV studios.
The copy-hungry commentariat
fall ravenous upon the unbagged cat,
take the joyous news and spin it,
Twitter like a flock of linnet,
and wrangle press releases into features
all overseen by Central Office creatures
and, flitting ghostly in their ranks,
antipodean mountebanks.
Meanwhile, a few haruspices and sibyls
raise, in broadsheet basements, crucial quibbles;
advising, from close-reading, these,
in their best-guess analyses,
suggest the Concord won’t stand close inspection:
that the Premier, perhaps, upon reflection
is like a nifty winger who
jinks, feints, cuts the field in two
to reach the line without the rugger ball,
and then rejoices scoring bugger all,
while in the press boxes and stands
the duped, ecstatic hacks and fans
are victims of contagious mass-hysteria:
his Promised Land looks like another Syria.
That said, the PM’s not dismayed,
nobody reads them anyway.
So while he still basks in refulgent splendour
he’ll get right on with winning referenda,
by harnessing his broad appeal
and easy charm to seal the deal;
and if this all goes nicely – who can tell –
he’ll chance another Scottish one as well.
Etonians who ride their luck
have scarcely ever come unstuck.
And when these victories are in the bag
remain assured his energy won’t flag:
though laurelled, not content to rest
he’ll put his mettle to the test,
and find another challenge for his talents,
a poser for his intellect. On balance,
he thinks that, at the very least,
perhaps he’ll fix the Middle East.

The Supreme Ironist

wpid-img_0168-2014-06-6-17-44.jpg
* Selections from ‘Oklahoma’

I
The foremost ironist of the age rode into town upon
a Palamino named Dobbin, or was it a Percheron
called Quicksilver. Whatever the case, he smartly made his
self at home at the bar, charmed the burghers and their ladies
in his gambler’s brocade waistcoat, beaver-felt town hat, and soon,
he was the toast of seven counties and the Malamute Saloon.
He regaled them with tales of the sea and ten years under the sail,
of battles with sharks and krakens and such and a prodigious whale
that was white and held a grudge blah-blah, and cannibal tribes
in the frozen North and degenerate cults whose voudou vibes
could send a man stark mad, and he’d swear it was true on the bible
though it sounded most unlikely and was all unverifiable.
He’d tell of the desert’s blasted wastes beneath the merciless sun,
just how he’d survived by eating his teeth and sucking the chrome from his gun,
or crawled for miles through malarial swamps south of the Rio Grande,
then he’d send somebody to the hardware store for a long stand…

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!

II

He told his stories once and then he told
them all again, but in a different order
with extra pathos here, more sex or slaughter
there, some elaboration on just how bold
he’d been in certain specific circumstances,
then he’d crack a nut with his teeth, and wink,
stand every galoot in the bar a drink,
and tell them what a gnu looks like, where France is,
how many beans make five. The gaiety
was boundless; such times they’d never known before,
and the minister’s Sunday sermon roar
was but a mousy squeak, the laity
opined, beside his rollicking homilies
on loyalty, hygiene, wrath, and bravery;
though some of his saws seemed a tad unsavoury
in their conclusions, his choice of simile
coarse, they drank it, as at their mothers tit,
but his tab distended, the barkeep frowned,
then he’d suddenly have an errand in town
and leave them un-replete …

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!

III

The months crawled by, his audience dwindled, summer came and went.
In deepest night, in his hotel suite, he worked till his candle was spent,
then gazed through the dark at the moon outside with horror-full, sorrowful eyes
as the vengeful hounds of truth bore down on his dismal pack of lies.
He rearranged them, changed words round, but by way of a critique
the townsfolk huffed indignantly, said, ‘You told us that last week
and it wasn’t even funny then. Come on, entertain us, move us,
tell us stuff that puffs us up, that edifies and improves us,
flatter our intelligence with pithy little apophthegms.’
and they gazed on him with pity, as they might a man condemned.
It wasn’t so long till his credit dried up, he was shunned by men in the street;
the Townswomen’s Guild passed motion of censure. His ostracism complete,
he fled the sting of the scuttlebutt, the harsh judgmental faces,
and skulks in the sage brush, clad in a barrel with inner tube braces
chewing his knuckles, tearing his hair, crying for mercy to God.
There he is, the dirty dastard! Quick! Throw rocks at the sod.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!

It’s the Daily Politics Horror Show

Paxo Poet

The problem with most political journalism is that it just doesn’t engage with ordinary people.

In fact, political journalists only seem to be talking to each other; they appear more concerned with some sort of pissing contest, the aim of which is to make their interviewees more and more uncomfortable at the expense any meaningful dialogue.

They demand simple yes/no answers to questions on issues that are far too complex for such a response with the sole intention, as far as one can discern, of generating conflict and confrontation. Not that the hapless politician/expert/official has much chance of giving any sort of answer: they’ll be interrupted before they manage to splutter to the end of their first sentence. One imagines the political journalists have a sweepstake running on who’ll get the next walkout. They seem to think we, the punters, only want to be entertained by reality TV style bust-ups and slanging matches; but we have Geordie Shore for that.

Anyway, the consequence of all this is that the poor old averagely intelligent punter is deprived of any useful information or significant analysis. The political journalists really need to up their game.

Or perhaps what’s needed is to subject the political journalists to some sort of ‘inquisition’, to give them a taste of their own medicine, but let’s up the ante, though, and make it one with racks, strappados, braziers and tongs. That would make good telly, Paxman.

Allodoxaphobia

wpid-opinions-2014-03-15-16-37.jpegNow here’s a thing. On the back cover of an old issue of his Rising poetry magazine, Mr Tim Wells assigned a phobia to each of the contributing writers. It’s a good gag. Every issue there’s a list of authors and their supposed equivalent in some new category. There have been puddings, Cary Grant movies, Nadsat slang, pick-up lines – sixty odd in all at the time of writing. If you’re lucky enough to be published therein, one of the great joys is checking to see what you’ve been allocated. My favourite was military engagements. Everyone else got El Alamein, or Blenheim, or some such; I was given ‘The Battle of the Herrings‘. This was made even better by the fact that he’d dragged me into a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road several weeks earlier, found an encyclopedia of military history on the shelves, and showed me the entry for said action.

Anyway, on this phobias issue back cover, I got allodoxaphobia. I had to look it it up. It is, apparently, the fear of opinions. It gave me a shiver. How well he knows me, I thought: Battle of the Herrings, then this. There’s nothing quite so likely to give me the gripes as someone’s heartfelt, long-held, fervent, or even (though admittedly less likely) considered opinion reverberating round a full East Coast carriage when I’ve forgotten my head phones. The convictions of a saloon-bar sage can drive me to forgo drink. It’s gotten so bad that I try not to have any of my own.

According to some websites, this phobia’s a real one, and is a sort of social anxiety relating to conflict and argument; or that’s the prevailing medical/psychological view (Some Websites, 2014). On reflection, I’m not so sure. I’m pretty certain my vertigo evaporated when the only paid work available was stripping the roof off a four storey Hackney townhouse. Maybe I’m confusing a neurosis with just not liking something.

Whether it’s real or only in my head, though, is immaterial: it would seem to make me constitutionally unfit for this place and this activity – namely the internet and blogging. I’m told, by someone whose judgement I, more or less, trust, that whenever I set about writing prose, it ends up being an exercise in avoiding the subject; of failing to get to the point; of trying not to state what’s actually on my mind. Each near-assertion is qualified and re-qualified until it tips into a maelstrom of reservation, hesitancy and misgiving.

That’s not generally the case for the happy denizens of the world wide web. I’ve been to the wilds of the Telegraph comments section. The doxaphiles there are quite happy to trumpet their opinions. In fact, many seem only to have one, which they express, in more or less the same terms, over and over and over. It conjures a picture of great prehistoric beasts, at the brink of an extinction event, wailing their unanswered mating calls over a vast empty plain – except there a millions of them. On second thoughts, no: perhaps it’s more like the invisible horrors revealed by Crawford Tillinghast’s infernal electrical machine in Mr Lovecraft’s ‘From Beyond’: maybe you turn on the internet and all the opinions that had been hidden are revealed, flabbily quivering in their loathsome profusion, as the great man might have had it.

Current wisdom, however, holds it that one’s employment prospects may be enhanced in some way by making a contribution to the general merriment. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I’m game and I’m going to give it a bash and write about things that interest me – like the above-mentioned Lovecraft, weird fiction, art, or maybe even poetry. I’ll even do some drawings to make it interesting as well.