Archive for April, 2014

cohenincuba

Final poem for April 2014. Today, for I think the first time, I’ve used the prompt from the NaPoWriMo web page. Actually, it’s yesterday’s prompt as they are a day behind Australia.  It gives a complex 20 step recipe for a poem e.g.:

1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.

etc.

I followed the instructions closely, and then massaged the results. For instance I relocated the poem to Cuba, which I visited about 8 years ago. The result does not necessarily make sense, but, as an experimental poem written within specified constraints, I think it’s sort of interesting. Only after finishing this draft did I find that Cohen actually went to Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion (read about it here) - don’t know whether that came from my subconscious or is pure coincidence.

Leonard Cohen in Cuba

Over Havana

the sun is eclipsed.

 

In the false dusk

the cab-drivers

are like porn stars

 

The street beggars yearn

for the touch of skin.

Their beds are of cardboard

scented with cheap rum

 

In the bars,

there is salt

on the rims

of the glasses

 

but the punters

can only taste collapse

and endure the complaints

of disappointed women

 

Leonard comes to town.

He corrects me:

“It wasn’t cardboard,

it was newspaper.

They stank of urine not rum.

and these cigars are utter tosh”

“Llame a la policía!” he shrieks

 

The bars are flooded

in a freak storm.

The cab-drivers go home

for dinner with their families.

 

On Sunday,

the ceiling collapses

from the weight of expectations.

 

The embassy recommends

we move to a monastery

safe from the police

and the constant

attentions of the jineteros

 

Leonard sneers

at his entourage.

The boss is unimpressed.

“It will end in tears” he warns

 

The belligerent nuns

whisper that the drunken priests

are the only ones

to be trusted

 

 © Mike Hopkins 2014

homeless

Two days left. Funny that I feel more creative on a Tuesday than a Monday. This idea has been brewing for a while, but not put into words until today. I’m sure the line between success and failure, between normality and madness, between comfort and destitution, is  a very narrow one.

I could yet turn into …

one of those seedy blokes
scurrying from bin to bin
with red blue tartan bag
and barbeque tongs
fishing out return deposit cans

one of those skinny blokes
on an ex postie bike
a stolen red milk crate
tied on the back
with occie straps

one of those menacing blokes
camped in the corner of a pub
nursing a cheap beer
rounding on his fellow drinkers
with spittle and blasphemy

one of those doleful blokes
in stained track suit pants
held up with string
imploring with cardboard
“no job, please help”

one of those unnerving blokes
cycling around town
old helmet askew
straps undone
squawking ”Beep! Beep!”

one of those medieval blokes
bare, mud caked feet
army surplus great-coat
and matted mane
camping on parkland benches

one of those try-hard old blokes
pony tailed, leather waistcoated
Woody Guthrie sloganned guitar
croaking to the shoppers
“This is your land”

Just
a misjudged step
a misplaced hope
a market failure
a malignant presence

but then again

I could carry on
going through the motions
holding the line
dressing the window
with collar, cuffs and poetry

 

© Mike Hopkins 2014

Not much gas left in the tank of ideas, so today I’m doing an ‘erasure’ poem. This involves taking a random slab of text and erasing words to produce a ‘poem’ from the remaining words.

I’ve used a great web site called “Erasures” to automate the process. The source text is History of the Gatling Gun Detachment by John Henry Parker, and I’ve called the poem “Erasing the Box”

Erasing the Box

 

erasure

 

 

 

 

© Mike Hopkins 2014

saint_tony

I’m not in a good mood today, having stayed up to the early hours to watch my Premier League team Fulham, desperately needing a win, throw away a two goal lead. Not sure why this still upsets me but it does. So there’s a bit of venom in the brain today, and it’s come out in the form of satire. I acknowledge a debt to the great, veteran, British performance poet Attila the Stockbroker for this one. He did a wonderful piece called “The Bible according to Rupert Murdoch“. I’ve pinched the idea and turned it into this:

 

The Gospel According to St. Tony

after Attila the Stockbroker

 

In the beginning was the word

and the word was Stop!

 

And the Lord said:

Let there be a plague of slogans and let there be a slogan for every prejudice,

Yea, even until the prejudiced themselves will say “Stop the Slogans”

 

And let St. Tony be the prophet whose mouth will constantly chant these slogans

And let St. Rupert be the holy messenger of these slogans

for he has minions in every corner of the land waiting to write the word.

And let this plague of slogans spread across the land so that the people hear and see nothing except “Stop”.

 

And St. Tony, in his raiment of red speedo and chest of camel hair, hearing the words of the Lord, smirked in an unholy way.

And St. Rupert said:

Now, let us also send forth the shock jocks of the east for verily, they will gladly mouth these slogan ad nauseam.

And let the old growth forests be felled to feed the paper mills so that my media empire can engrave the word “Stop!” in 4 inch headlines on newsprint every day unto eternity.

And let not the people be allowed to think of anything but “Stop!

For thinking leads to fornication, sodomy and bestiality and if any reporter dares to start an article, not with the holy word “Stop!” let he or she be cast forever from the media empire and spend eternity volunteering for Radio Adelaide.

And the Lord looked down on St. Rupert’s work and on St. Tony’s slogans and saw that they were indeed execrable.

But this was capitalism, and it made rich the robber barons of the land and so it was good.

 

But lo, it came to pass that the people went mad from the constant slogans. They took to drink and drugs, fornication, footy, home renovations and cooking to deaden their pain.

And St. Rupert sent forth his Fox Channel familiars to film the people and all the goings-on thereof, and made it into a top rating reality show.

And so the beginning of the end began.

And from there, things got even worse.

 

© Mike Hopkins 2014

const

 

This morning I cycled 22 kms and ran a 5km race before breakfast. Then I did a load of washing, spent the afternoon sanding and painting. Then went to the library, did my week’s shopping and picked my son up. And you still expect me to write a poem today? Well don’t expect it to be a complete one.

 

This Poem Is Under Construction

it needs a better title

and a first line that says

something the reader

doesnt already know

 

the middle is coming together

but the format

is

still

a bit

all over the place

 

it then meandars

without adding anything meeningful.

before coming to a faltering end.

 

That ending definitely needs a rethink.

And it needs a spellcheck too.

 

© Mike Hopkins 2014

Skeleton in Trench During World War I

Today (25th April 2014) is Anzac Day in Australia. It’s a public holiday. A visitor to Australia might be surprised at the extent of the commemorations of the soldiers who died in ‘active service’. In particular these days, it is seen as particularly honoring those who died at Gallipoli and in the First World War.

I don’t think there is a greater war poem than Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est“. The opening lines immediately give the lie to any idea that war is glorious:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge

There is no way to describe the experiences of men and women during wartime. And yet politicians and military leaders, with their need for simple messages, trot out the clichés every year.

 

Fallen

Anzac Day 2014

They fell

but that’s not all

before they fell

their bodies were pierced

 dismembered

ripped

 maimed

torn

 

they died

but that’s not all

before they died

they screamed for their mothers

 cursed their leaders

 swore foul oaths

 bellowed

 prayed

 laughed at the insanity

or just fell quiet

 

they were brave

but that’s not all

before being brave

they were scared

exhilarated

 terrified

 lonely

                                            wistful

 homesick

 

Some came back

but not all

and those that did

left behind parts of themselves

a limb

their youth

their minds

 their sense of self

                                                                                their innocence

 their trust

 

They were many things

and the pity is

that they did not live to be

what they would have been

 

© Mike Hopkins 2014

oldest woman

An article in yesterday’s New Scientist (here) summarises the results of the analysis of the blood and tissues of the woman who, when she died in 2005, was the oldest woman in the world. Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper (above) was from the Netherlands. She reached the great age of 115, and bequeathed her body to medical science.

The scientists found that “about two-thirds of the white blood cells remaining in her body at death originated from just two stem cells, implying that most or all of the blood stem cells she started life with had already burned out and died.”  We start life with around 20,000 blood stem cells. They also observed that her ” white blood cells had drastically worn-down telomeres – the protective tips on chromosomes that burn down like wicks each time a cell divides.”

This wonderful diagram called “The Tree of Blood“, shows how blood stem cells differentiate into mature blood cells.

Tree_of_blood

 

Haematopoietry *

At first

twenty thousand

stem cells

renewing, dividing,

mutating benignly

resisting corruption

restoring her blood.

 

One by one

losing heart,

wicks burnt,

telomeres frayed,

potency spent,

her cells surrender.

 

At last

just two survive,

the mother cells,

pushing the limits,

holding out,

to the end.

 

* Haematopoiesis (from Greek αἷμα, "blood" and ποιεῖν "to make") is 
the formation of blood cellular components.
© Mike Hopkins 2014

 

f-35

“The Government has given the go ahead for the purchase of 58 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) at a cost of $12.4 billion – making it the nation’s most expensive Defence asset.” (ABC News, 23/4/14).

 

Reasons to Spend $12 Billion on Fighter Jets

 

  1. Saves on medical bills – less Viagra needed by politicians and military top brass.
  2. Loud, fast, impressive flypasts at motor races
  3. Avoids arguments between bureaucrats about whether to spend the money on health or education
  4. Sounds really impressive in speeches – sexy words like ‘strike’, ‘JSF’, ‘fighter’, ‘f-35, ‘hornet’
  5. Exciting daily rides for large numbers of Australians – well 58 of them at least
  6. Wonderful vote of confidence in those great, great people in the armaments industry
  7. You can get somewhere really fast – if you’re on your own, a qualified F-35 fighter pilot and the ‘somewhere’ is an air force base or aircraft carrier
  8. Got to love those vapour trails
  9. Easy to park – can fit into just 4 normal car park spaces *
  10. Gives lots of our money to a really needy country … the U.S.A.
  11. Stimulates jobs … in the U.S.A.
  12. Shows how independent we are from everybody (except the U.S.A.)
  13. Scares the shite out of boat people when you fly really low over them
  14. Big boost to the sales of plastic model aircraft kits and glue
  15. Video stores get increased demand for rentals of  “Top Gun”
 * car park spaces must be at the end of a 750 metre runway

 

You know it makes sense.

 

© Mike Hopkins 2014

Many years ago, when I lived in Dublin and listened to a lot of Irish music, I heard an incredibly sad song called “I am stretched on your grave”. The lyrics are a translation of an anonymous 17th-century Irish poem titled “Táim sínte ar do thuama”. I think the version I heard first was from about 1979, by a band called Scullion, founded by Philip King.

Here’s a version in Irish by Diarmuid Ó Súilleabháin

A more contemporary version is by Kate Rusby:

And my favourite is by the Voice Squad, but the only version I can find has some cheesy excerpts from Braveheart. The harmonies are stunning. Close your eyes and shut out Mel Gibson if you wish:

 

There are some astonishing lines in the song lyrics, and I’ve had the idea of somehow using them in a poem for some time. After trying a pantoum and a villanelle version unsuccessfully, I eventually resorted to a blues format, which is entirely appropriate for the tone of the lyrics, but does not quite transmit the extreme grief of the Irish songs.

 

Stretched on Yo’ Grave Blues

 

Well I woke up dis mornin’

I was stretched out on yo’ grave

Said I woke up dis mornin’

Stretched out along yo’ grave

Gonna lie here fo’ever

Don’t care how dem priests do rave

 

I woke up dis mornin’

I was smellin’ of the clay

Said I woke up dis mornin’

I was stinkin’ of that clay

My tears all hot and wild

Fall on you all night ‘n day

 

My ma and pa they thinkin’

I sleep safely in my bed

Said my ma and pa they thinkin’

I sleep safely in my bed

But I spend the night a callin’

To my girl, the one who’s dead

 

Do you remember

That night when we was lost

I say do you remember

That night of cold and frost

We done dat righteous thing

Yo’ honour was not lost

 

Dem priests and dem friars

They looks on me with dread

Said dem priests and dem friars

They fear me, they all in dread

For I love you darlin’ still

Oh, my life, and you is dead

 

I am stretched on yo’ grave

I lie here for ever mo’

I am stretched on yo’ grave

I lie here for ever mo’

If yo’ hands they was in mine

We be joined for ever more

 

I woke up dis mornin’

I was stretched out on yo’ grave

Said I woke up dis mornin’

Stretched right out along yo’ grave

I gon’ lie here fo’ever

Don’t care how dem priests do rave

 

Said I gone lie here fo’ever

I don’t care how dem priests do rave

 © Mike Hopkins 2014

confession

Swapping messages of mutual support with Roxy Contin this morning, she mentioned that her poems are mostly ‘confessional’. (Read her excellent blog here.) This was a good prompt for me to attempt one, though not in the same style as hers. I was brought up Roman Catholic, and, for some years as a child, went to confession fairly regularly.

 

Confessional Poem

Dry incense darkness

A screen slides open

A backlit lattice pattern profile

 

In the name of the Father,

the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

He knows who you are

 

It is one week since my last confession Father

Oh God, how many sins

can one boy commit in a week?

 

I reel them off,

the same ones every week.

I never learn

 

He sighs, no surprises,

knows what I’m not telling him.

 Say two Hail Mary’s and an Act of Contrition

 

Yes Father, thank you Father

A clean slate.

Now it starts all over again.

 

© Mike Hopkins 2014