We have sat here in too many poetry readings
Wearing the liberal rictus and cursing our folly,
Watching the lightbulbs die and the curtains rot
And the last flies departing for Scunthorpe.
Forgive us. We know all about you.
Autumn gives way to midwinter once more,
As states collapse, as hemlines rise, as we miss both,
And just as our teeth fall discreetly into our handkerchiefs,
Slowly the bones of our co-tormentees will emerge
Through their skins. QED and hic jacent.
Except we are seated bolt upright on customised
‘Chairs’ of the torturers’ school. Here it comes,
Any century now, the dread declaration:
And next I shall read something longer. Please
Rip out our nails and accept your applause!
Stretch-limo back to the Ritz and ring home:
Bore the arse off your nearest and dearest instead,
Supposing they haven’t divorced you already
Or selfishly put themselves under a train.
Please call them, at length and at public expense.
Send flunkies for cold Stolichnaya, an ox
Or an acre of coke and a thousand quid hooker.
Why not make it three, in a chariot
Flown to your penthouse by eunuchs on leopards?
Whatever you like, only spare us the details of when
You were struck by your kinship with Dante and Virgil.
And don’t feel obliged to remind us just now
What it was Robert Lowell appeared to be saying –
You’d read him the poem you mean to read us –
When the doors of the lift he was in and you weren’t
Began closing. Just leave us the screams
You could hear as the vehicle descended: Poor Cal.
Up to then he’d been perfectly normal. Ah, well.
Send Letters To:
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN
Please include name, address, and a telephone number.