Manila Manifesto

James Fenton

Manila Manifesto

What you need for poetry is a body and a voice. It doesn’t have to be a great body or a great voice. But it ought ideally to be your body, and it ought to be your voice.

***

The parent helps the child discover what may be done with its lips and its limbs. This is the first poetry.

***

A sort of night then falls – a melancholy mercy – after which the initiation is mysteriously forgotten. This is the primal erasure.

***

The remainder of our lives is spent in recapturing the sense of that discovery. This is the second poetry.

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But the wisdom of the age has forbidden us the use of our lips and our limbs. This wisdom is the enemy of poetry.

***

You call yourself a poet?
Don’t you see, you’re incomplete
With your Double Nelson plaster-cast
And your disenfranchised feet?

***

In Madame Vendler’s Chamber of Horrors I saw seven American poets, strung up by their swaddling bands and crying: More Pap! More Pap!

***

A foreign body
Dug up in Manila
In a state of advanced decay
Turned out to be that
Of Theophilus Pratt
Who resumes supervision today
In LA,

***

I saw seven beautiful women, the dreaded Manananggal of Atimonan, who, as I approached, arose and flapped away and I perceived that they had left behind the lower half of their bodies. ‘Mga Manananggal, mga Manananggal,’ I cried after them, ‘Saan ang punta?’ They hung momently on the flowering crest of the Dapdap tree. ‘Pupunta kami sa IOWA, pare ko,’ laughed one, and they clattered off over the Pacific.

Prayer

‘Lord, Give me back my body
And give me back my voice.’
‘son, I would give your body back
But alas I have no choice.

‘For you have pawned your arms and legs,
Your fingers and your toes
And you sold your voice to the bottle-boy
For twenty-one pesos.’

‘Oh Lord, redeem my pawn-ticket
And find that bottle-boy too.’
‘Your ticket, son, is out of date
And your body is glue

‘And the bottle-boy has pushed his cart
Back home to his Tondo slum
And the Sigue-Sigue Sputnik gang
They laughed to see him come

‘And they snatched away your voice from him
For he sang so tunefully
And they slit the throat of the bottle-boy
And threw him in the sea

‘And they passed your voice from hand to hand
And your song was in their mouth
And they went to war with the Tadtad gang
And the Ativan gang
In Alabang
By the Superhighway, South.

‘For seven days and seven nights
Your voice rose o’er the fray
And you would tremble had you heard
The things I heard you say.’

***

I saw Emily Dickinson in a vision, and asked if it was merely by coincidence that so much of her poetry could be sung to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’. She said: ‘In poetry there is no coincidence. I had feet once. I had knees. I would not have you think I had no knees.’

***

Paint like the Flemish!
Give weight to the blemish!

***

Down with cautious perfection!
Down with a bloodless circumspection!

***

So you despise my fecklessness?
I pity your lack of recklessness!

***

This is the new fearlessness.
That is the old earlessness.

***

This is the new recklessness.
That is the old what-the-hecklessness.

***

Voici la Nouvelle Insouciance.
Voilà ... hein?

***

Das Neue Rücksichtlosigkeit –
I would pronounce it if I might
Von Ewigkeit bis Ewigkeit
Das Neue Rücksichtlosigkeit.

***

An arrow was shot from Teheran. A novelist lifted a shield. A thousand arrows were shot from Boston. A thousand poets died.

***

We call on America to stop killing, torturing, and imprisoning its poets.

***

Sa Kusina

Ako’y Pilipino
Pili at pipino
Sili, luya
At sibuyas –
Ako’y Pilipino!

***

Blank terror doth stalk
The poets of New York.

The Exchange

I met the Muse of Censorship
And she had packed her bags
And all the folk of Moscow
Were hanging out the flags.

I asked her what her prospects were
And whither her thoughts did range.
She said: ‘I am off to Dublin town
On a cultural exchange.

‘And folk there be in Cambridge
Who like the way I think
And there be folk in Nottingham
Whom I shall drown in ink

‘And when I reach America
The majorettes will sing:
Here comes the Muse of Censorship –
This is a very good thing.’

I went to the Finland Station
To wave the Muse goodbye
And on another platform
A crowd I did espy.

I saw the Muse of Freedom
Alighting from the train.
Far from that crowd I wept aloud
To see that Muse again.

The Approval

You tell me that your poems
Have been approved in France.
Well, that settles that!
Or aren’t you ashamed, perchance,

To cite this recognition
Because it’s French?
What language do you feel in?
You make me blench.

***

This is no time for people who say: this, this, and only this. We say: this, and this, and that too.

***

An Amazing Dialogue

‘But this poem is not like that poem!’
‘No, you are right, it’s not.’

The Poetry of Pure Fact

One prawn
with an ablated eye
can spawn
as many as one million fry.

***

We despise terrorist normative critics.

***

We despise the deformed, uncandid class-consciousness of our domestic criticism. On our map, there are no compass-points. North, for instance, does not mean good.

***

We say to France: AUT TACE AUT LOQUERE MELIORA SILENTIO – either shut up or say something worth saying.

A Poem against Barn Owls

Some people think that barn owls
Are an endangered species.
But they are found all round the world
As are their faeces.

The Gene-Pool

Get out of the gene-pool, Gene,
And take your tambourine.
You write the way you speak.
You’re not one of our clique.
You say the things you mean.
Out of the gene-pool, Gene.

Get out of the gene-pool, Gene,
And go behind that screen.
You don’t respect our style.
You sometimes crack a smile.
Your insouciance is obscene.
Out of the gene-pool, Gene.

You don’t belong to our age.
You don’t ‘write for the page’.
You put us in a rage.
You are unclean!
Get out! Get out!
Out of the gene-pool, Gene.

***

An Indistinct Inscription near Kom Ombo

(Meroitic Cursive)

I was born to a kiss and a smile.
I was born to the hopes of a prince.
I dipped my pen in the Nile
And it hasn’t functioned since.

The Answer

‘stop! Stop! Stop!
Stop in your tracks!
Because you are not with us
You are holding everyone back.’

‘Friend, you and your friends go your way,
And I’ll go mine.
I’ve enough water to survive
But far too little wine.’

          (Crocodilopolis Papyrus no 10743)

Here come the Drum Majorettes!

There’s a girl with a fist full of fingers.
There’s a man with a fist full of fivers.
There’s a thrill in a step as it lingers.
There’s a chance for a pair of salivas –

For the

Same hat
Same shoes
Same giddy widow on a sunshine cruise
Same deck
Same time
Same disappointment in a gin-and-lime

It’s the same chalk on the blackboard!
It’s the same cheese on the sideboard!
It’s the same cat on the boardwalk!
It’s the same broad on the catwalk!

There’s a Gleb on a steppe in a dacha.
There’s a Glob on a dig on the slack side.
There’s a Glubb in the sand (he’s a pasha).
There’s a glib gammaglob in your backside:

Saying

Gleb meet Glubb.
Glubb meet Glob.
God that’s glum, that glib Glob dig.
‘Dig that bog!’
‘Frag that frog!’
‘stap that chap – he snuck that cig!’

It’s the same ice on the race-track!
It’s the same track through the pack-ice!
It’s the same brick in the ice-pack!
It’s the same trick with an ice-pick!

There’s a thing you can pull with your eyeballs.
There’s a tin you can pour for a bullshot.
There’s a can you can shoot for a bullseye.
There’s a man you can score who’s an eyesore.

I’m an

Eyesore.

You’re the thing itself.

You’ve a

Price or

You’d be on the shelf.

I’m a loner

In a lonesome town –

Barcelona

It can get you down.

It’s the same scare with a crowbar!
It’s the same crow on the barstool!
It’s the same stool for the scarecrow!
It’s the same bar!

Ho!

Ha!

Like a spark from the stack of a liner
Like a twig in the hands of a dowser
With the force of the fist of a miner
(With the grace and the speed of a trouser)

In a

Blue moon
In a blue lagoon
She’s got blue blue bloomers in a blue monsoon.

Wearing blue boots
And a blue zoot suit
He’s a cruising bruiser with a shooter and a cute little
Twin blade
Sin trade
In a
Blue brown
New Town.

It’s the same hand on the windpipe!
It’s the same sand in the windsock!
It’s the same brand on the handbag!
It’s the same gland in the handjob!

The room is black.
The knuckles crack.
The blind masseuse walks up your back.
The saxophone is
On its own
Pouring out the Côtes du Rhône.

When you’re down to your last pair of piastres,
When you’re down on your luck down in Przmysl,
When your life is a chain of disasters
And your death you believe would be sameish,

When the goat has gone off with the gander
Or the goose with the grebe or the grouper
Then – a drum majorette – you can stand her:
She’s a brick – she’s a gas – she’s a trooper

Saying

Jane meet John.
John meet Jane.
Take those jimjams off again
Jezebel.
Just as well.
Join the jive with Jules and June.
Geoffrey, Jesus, Jason, Jim,
Jenny, Jilly, Golly Gee –
If it’s the same for you and him
It’s the same for you and me:

It’s the same grin on the loanshark!
It’s the same goon in the sharkskin!
It’s the same shark in the skin-game!
It’s the same game
Same same

It’s the same old rope for to skip with!
It’s the same Old Nick for to sup with!
   With a long spoon
   To the wrong tune

And it’s hard for a heart to put up with!