This poem has been hacked into.
It was meant to be a private conversation,
the line made secure with end-stops.
But someone cracked the code and listened in.
I hate to think how it will be read
when all I spoke about in confidence —
the pizza, the piazza, the back row of the Plaza —
is out there in the open, on the page.
It’s not my fault the text went viral
but I feel I’ve betrayed your confidence.
What kind of world are we living in,
when poems become public property?
In future I’ll be more clandestine —
keep my voice down and my texts oblique
so that no one comprehends my meaning
or discovers who I’m speaking to
and the line between us is restored
and you can trust me again, as you should:
whoever you are, whatever your name is,
these words are intended just for you.
2: Call centre
This poem is an automated response system.
To activate it, please slowly speak your name.
I’m sorry but your personality has not been recognised.
Please wait while I transfer you to one of our inoperatives.
Your call is extremely important to us.
Please take a moment to enjoy the silence.
As a valued customer, we’d like to offer you
a special offer open only to new customers.
We are experiencing an unusual volume.
Please keep your voice down.
You now have three options: death from boredom,
death from apoplexy, death by suicide.
Thank you. Your complaint has been referred to our
where it will be answered with due coarseness.
3: This double acrostic
…Is my legacy, a fourteen-tier stadium
Bequeathed to the nation, an arena
Left behind for when my race has been run
And the games are officially over.
Kicking on to the finish line as we do,
Every poet deserves to be
Memorialised for posterity, whether
Olympian or not. But few who follow us will
Remember what we achieved or feel
Regret when we have gone. An obituary
In the paper leaves a mark but only
Sonnets can put us in the record books
Or tell how hard we struggled to be known.
Non-athletes though we were, we too once lived.
Names count for nothing but the words endure.
O my luve’s like a red red rose, sang Burns,
Serenading God knows who — what moves us
Is the image not the woman who inspired it.
Reporters never get this: they want phone numbers,
Room numbers, spicy detail. But the poem lives
Only on the page, where the rest of us can
Make it our own. Oh, I know what you’ll say:
Expression of self is all-important;
Kill the I and you destroy the USP.
Art’s more than narcissism, though; great poets
Lose their egos in the act of writing and
By doing so let the reader take charge:
In the mirror of poetry, we find ourselves.
This poem is measuring my carbon emissions.
The results are better than yours. Or do I mean worse.
Everyone who emits also omits —
The guilt of consumption is too great.
But I’m working at it, switching off the charm
And cutting down on my adjectives.
Already my footprint’s more Crusoe than Coca-Cola.
And there’s the energy I generate.
Last week, cycling to and from work,
I made enough kilowatts to light the way home.
Now I’m planning a longer ride, in the Alps.
All I create will go into my saddlebag
Which I’ll unbuckle at the finish, before — pouf —
Exploding in a brilliant white cloud.
This poem is you, sitting in a seminar.
You would like to join in but know nothing about
hermeneutics, zones of contestation, problematised binaries,
performativity, generative rupturing
or the ideology of transgressive epistemes.
Luckily others in the seminar do know,
Or talk as if they do, or anyway talk.
So you can join the starlings on the telegraph wire,
Ride that pushchair with the sleeping toddler,
Hide in the blouse of the woman at the bus stop.
Just make sure to be awake, before the end —
nod, applaud, rap your knuckles on the table,
as if you’ve been enlightened and inspired
and when you leave the room will see the world afresh,
no longer baffled by its semiotics.
6: Passing Places
This poem is the one I got out of Scotland.
It’s what friends say, after a disaster,
‘I suppose you’ll get a poem out of this’,
because they know what poets are like,
pen in hand as their marriage breaks up
or the curtains close around the coffin.
Scotland was meant to be a holiday.
I’d come not to write poems
but to wander, take ferries and camp.
Salmon farms, highland cattle,
lambs like schoolgirls in black and white socks,
oystercatchers patrolling a loch:
I felt restored, taken out of myself.
But the roads were single track, with passing places,
and every few miles, however remote,
there’d be a graveyard, neatly walled off,
so that my stops for a pee or coffee
landed me among my namesakes,
Daniel, Duncan, Megan, Margaret
and a host of other Morrisons
whose passings from earth were written
on stones half-hidden by moss and lichen.
The words said nothing of their lives
but sometimes the dates said it,
‘Aged 5,’ ‘aged 10,’ ‘aged 17,
the rain flooding their chests,
the snow clogging their lungs,
and the futures awaiting them —
nurse, farmer, architect, mother —
swept away like a branch in burn
As I climbed back in the car again
I counted the blessings of my time —
electricity, antibiotics, central heating —
though no technology masters death
and no mason will redeem me
with epitaphs as lovely as theirs:
‘The finger of God touched them and they slept.’
This poem is a riot.
Its letters are hoodies crossing the street,
With valuables looted from Hughes & Co.
Several fires have broken out.
Its stolen metaphors are on CCTV.
Feral, it’s been called,
Though some blame the parents
And others government cutbacks
And others the television
(Which the poem runs off with under its arm).
What it loves is the buzz
And hearing sirens go off
And feeling summer on the skin
And texting other poems
And almost getting away with things.
Plastic bullets can’t stop that.
Nor a baton to the head.
Once it’s finished its sentence
and next August comes round
the poem plans to riot again.