Sunday, 25 September 2011

Chris Port Blog #314. Changes: Transcript of Poetry Set - "So, surprise each other"

100 Thousand Poets for Change - Southend

24 September 17:00 - 19:00

Alexandra Yacht Club, Clifftown Terrance, Southend-on-Sea (right by the Cliff Lift)

(All poems © Chris Port, 2011)

The theme for today is change. I’m not going to preach to the converted. We either change, or die. I’m not an air-punching poet. I tried it once, and I looked like a man fighting ghosts. I’m more… autumnal, cheerfully morbid. Autumn is a time of change. Winter, death, then rebirth. So, each of my poems is a ‘little death’. The question I’d like you to consider is - what comes next?

Let’s start with autumn - and a change. This poem is a snapshot of a moment. Somebody is leaving. Who? Why? Where are they going? Who do they say goodbye to? It’s deliberately vague, as though the sun is shining in your eyes and you can’t see the people’s faces. We have to leave the past behind. It’s called… 


I forgot I was leaving.
As I stop and say hello,
our hands shake.

The trees are incandescent,
as though God has dabbed each leaf
in fire paint.

Shivering red and yellow,
the blue air smells of presents,
gold and late.

I thought I heard a branch break.
But looking back, what odd sounds
the heart makes…

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

This poem expresses my contempt for human rights. I’d probably better explain that statement. If rights can be given to you then they can also be taken away. They’re just bureaucracies. Human rights are fine words. So are poems. But fine words never stopped a slaughter. Human rights make it somebody else’s problem. Silently consider your moral responsibility instead. It’s called… 

A Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mice

The mouse reared up
before the cat
and raised a steady paw,
and said
“Before we come to that
we first must come to Law.”

“Before my Maker
I am pleased
to have God-given right
to liberty,
a little cheese,
and certainly my life.”

The cat was rapt,
her nose was wet,
her eyes suppressed a cough;
then quite expectedly
she bent
and bit his head clean off.

And as she sat
upon the mat
digesting food for thought,
she mused
“The only truth is that
rich words are for the poor.”

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Moving now from autumn into winter. I wrote this last December, just before the Arab Spring. But I wasn’t writing about North Africa and the Middle East. I was writing about here. What does next spring hold for us? It’s called…

New Year Revolution

Dark at five, her heart survives the Christmas crush.
Lark song lonely in a bone tree
in the city rush
and me, reindeer socks in the trenchfoot slush,
missing home with every bus.
As I pass a bauble window
with its mannequin family
I have to blink in the Amsterdam glow.
Why do gaudy things wink at me?

New Year Revolution
(Time’s already changed)
The curtain-twitchers turn their face
New Year Revolution
(Time’s already changed)
They’re certain it’s a passing phase
Look in my eye.
Tell me if I lie.

I watch the shoppers scurry home.
Rats hoarding bags board
Titanic waving Oyster cards and
so the ice upon the Dome
seems to smirk in the moonlight.
And this meal ticket that I look at,
that I worked my whole life for,
is as sick as that cattle-truck ride
they charged the poor Jews for.

New Year Revolution
(Time’s already changed)
Air smells like ice, streets are white as bone.
New Year Revolution
(Time’s already changed)
Beneath the snow,
a Paris spring, the paving stones.
Look in my eye.
Tell me if I lie.

Homeless and hungry, I’m strangely warm
Dying is easy, it’s the calm before the storm

New Year Revolution
(Time’s already changed)
Concrete doorways that stink of piss
New Year Revolution
(Time’s already changed)
Cut deep, for pity’s sake don’t miss or see my face
Look in my eye.
Tell me if I lie.

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Can we see the future? To an uncertain extent, yes. But it’s not… shaped yet. It’s not shaped because we… interfere with it…. We affect it. But what happens if we see the future, a bad future, and don’t interfere, do nothing to change it?

This poem is difficult for me. Many years ago, I briefly saw a man I didn’t know who later killed himself. When I saw him, I had a… bad feeling, an intuition, a premonition. I saw a possible future, or lack of future, like a shadow flickering over him. But I did nothing, because I’m English and I didn’t know him and it wasn’t my place to interfere. Could I have done anything? Almost certainly not. Almost certainly. But now, I’ll never know for sure. Should we interfere? It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? It’s called…


I saw him once
at a distance.
I saw nothing
in his clothing
or face to sense
his sad offence.
He disturbed me
The flickering
of a crow’s wing
across the sun
is quickly done.
But a sudden
fear is summoned.
There’s an aura
around horror
and our futures
must obscure us.
When I saw him
I saw nothing.
A man planning
his own hanging?
What can you say?
Are you OK?
Time must move on.
I trust I’m wrong.
But with the damned
I never am.

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Times are hard. The nights are getting colder. There are a lot of poor and homeless people. I may be joining them soon. Back in July, I read a BBC news article - "Veterans battle homelessness as they return from war". American soldiers, back from Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, are being left to die on the streets because of cutbacks. This makes me so angry. America is the richest nation in the world. Britain is the 6th. There is no morally defensible reason for ANYONE to be homeless, let alone people we put in harm’s way. Why are we abandoning our wounded to die in the streets? What are our young men dying for? Corporate profits?

A Man Should Always Be Of Use

Each day I eat a hearty last meal.
It’s tinned soup,
but I eat it heartily.

Then I drink a hearty cup of coffee
Thames brown from yesterday’s dregs,
piecing together a ciggie from fag ends.

The day slacks ahead
like a limp elastic band.
I stretch out the cramp.

A bankrupt system is a terrible thing.
Your creditors took your principles.
I threw mine bricks.

A man can exist on soup and dregs.
But what kind of man
stuffs his face with lies?

Old friend, you were fair
when the weather was fine.
Why judge me so poor now?

You pass me in a shop doorway.
I look you in the eye.
You look down.

It’s only the stench of piss
and irritation. But still.
You couldn’t look me in the eye.

The pretence of fumbling
as your fingers filter coin sizes
embarrasses me.

When my teeth fall out,
I’ll throw them to you instead.
I don’t need them to chew soup.

I’m no elephant, but if they can make
ashtrays out of human ears,
lampshades out of skin,

brothels out of children,
surely you can find a place
for my little ivories?

Perhaps you could string them together
into a kitsch necklace?
A man should always be of use...

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Surreal times. We’re all fish out of water. There’s a painting by Magritte, a Belgian surrealist, titled ‘L’Invention collective’ (the collective invention). It shows a mermaid, a siren, lying on a beach. But this is a rather special siren: The lower part of the body is that of a woman, while the upper part is a fish with a fish head - a reversal of the usual seductive figure. It takes all the romance out of the fantasy. There’s no romance in being a starving, homeless artist either. It’s just sad and miserable. It needs to change.

Vagrant Magritte

In the June heat
Vagrant Magritte
paints the pavements
an odd fish
like a moon who’s
lost his planet
and just orbits
an abyss.

Lunatics live
in the crevice
where a minute
stops a day
under bridges
sunless faces
like crevasses
drop away.

It takes talent
and bank balance
to keep spinning
all your plates
and you’ll wobble
like a bottle
if you step in
someone’s face

Do not weep, dear
men just sleep here
and your rash tears
wake his thirst
but there’s no beer
without cash, dear
so there’s no beer
for the cursed.

On his birthday
men did once say
hip hip hooray
long ago
as he listens
to the distance
for a song he
used to know.

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Women, and girls, are dying on our streets too. But they die in different ways. Our schools and our media sell them a dream - the X-Factor, celebrity, stardom. Anyone can be a star. It could be you. You just need that one lucky break. Oh and you need to sell your soul, and often your body, too. What a load of lying bollocks. This is a song from a musical I’m writing. Don’t worry. I won’t sing it. I’ll just read it. Do you remember ‘Premonition’? Well, here’s another premonition. The premonition of what is going to happen to all those deluded X-Factor starlets unless we change our culture…

The Ballad of Tippi Marsh

Every actress
gets that black dress
but the mattress
finds a stain.
Could she care less?
Let the stars bless.
All good starlets
hide a shame.

Tippi Marsh spent
all that talent
on a spotlight
on herself.
How it haunts her
in the twilight.
Twenty-five and
on the shelf.

Little Tippi
loved the circus
and she juggled
school and night.
Here a pole dance.
There a small chance.
Then she’s smuggled
out of sight.

Someone’s crying
in a bedsit.
We hear footsteps
up the stair.
Now she’s lying
in a torn dress
on a mattress,

You remember
summer’s star role?
In Chicago
you had sass.
Now December
and the cars blow,
past the window,
yellow gas.

Take that black dress,
take that mattress,
block the cracks less
gas escape.
Turn the white taps
on your white face.
Let the stars bless
your escape.

When they found her
in that bedsit
she was naked
with no note.
Let me find her
in her childhood.
Let me find her
while there’s hope.

Let me find her
in her childhood.

Let me find her
while there's hope.

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

On the same theme… Not over the rainbow…

Over A Chip Shop

Somewhere in a red lit room
Up dark stairs
There’s a girl that I once knew
Selling her thin white wares.

Somewhere in a red lit room
Ceilings stare
And the wet nicotine walls won’t
Look away or care.

Someday she’ll steal a dealer’s car
And drive out where the streetlights are
Behind her.
Where pills are dropped the rainbow stops
The ambulance and traffic cops
That’s where you’ll find her.

Somewhere over a chip shop
Young girls sleep
Men walk out of a chip shop
Why then, oh why can’t she?

If happy little children be
Outside the chip shop
Why, oh why, can’t she?

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

What happens to Cinderellas in a world that isn’t a fairy tale?

Cinders Dream

When it’s wintry
Little Tippi
sings as evening
closes shop.
Rows of TVs
lip-synch as she
sinks to both knees
and blow jobs.
Oh poor Cinders,
whores and sinners,
how the wind cuts
through the skin, such
a cold thin touch
You’re old lovers.

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Our education system needs to change. It’s as corrupt and deceitful as big business. Another song, narrated Rex Harrison style, from the musical ‘Marty Gull’ (the gullible martyr). What it’s like to be a teacher.

Education’s Pointless

It’s five a.m. A dog that barks
At a glow of metal sparks
A train that rattles slowly past
And open eyes that see the dark-

[Simultaneous] -ness/-Yes education’s pointless
Its waiting for the jobless
And we have nothing left to teach them now

The management have games to play
Mortgages and holidays
Their pay rise with our lives we pay
And every day is endless grey-

[Simultaneous] -ness/-Yes education’s pointless
Its waiting for the jobless
And we have nothing left to teach them now

The budget and the balance sheet
The broken men who know they’re beat
The management that lie and cheat
Deceiving us with oh such sweet-

[Simultaneous] -ness/-Yes education’s pointless
Its waiting for the jobless
And we have nothing left to teach them now

The man who stands up for what’s right
Is on his own and serve him right
He might as well lay down and die
At five a.m. what sign of bright-

[Simultaneous] –ness?/-Yes education’s pointless
Its waiting for the jobless
And we have nothing left to teach them now...

And Marty’s nothing left to live for now...

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Apologies to Wilfred Owen for this one.

Anthem For Doomed Boys

What classroom tells of these who have no future?
- Only the pointless orbit of the sun
Only the joyless poet’s turgid torture
Can flatten out their wasted horizons.
No jobs to see now for them; no cars nor fuel
Nor any choice of transport save the prisons
The dull, cemented prisons of failing schools
And sirens wailing for them like mad fun.

What manhood must be sold to feed a bride?
Not in the eyes of girls, but in their son
Shall stare a lonely father forgotten.
The anger of boys’ hands shall be their pride;
Their power a wireflex round lowered head,
And each grey dawn an empty space in bed.

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Apologies to William Butler Yeats for this one. Yeats wrote an apocalyptic poem called ‘The Second Coming’ just after the First World War. There’s a polite Chinese curse. ‘May you live in interesting times’. We surely do. Here’s my update on Yeats…

The Third Déjà vu

Walking and walking on the narrowing beach
The gun dog flips an ear, the gun winds screech;
Castle walls slip; a moat has overflowed;
Mere entropy is howling at the stones,
The soapsud tide is foul, and every turd
A crowning glory, annointed underfoot;
The mad have heard the future, while the herd
Are full of it, pocket bells jingling.

Surely Apocalypse Now was a film;
Surely this third déjà vu is a film.
This third déjà vu. Quicker than retina
The mind’s afterglow of some childhood lava lamp
floats in my eye: long ago in a silent car
A boy white as milk like a cub weaned from the darkness,
A window gaze reflective as the moon,
Is shifting his cramped thighs, while all about him
Sit shadows of the adults like Hitchcock’s crows.
The rainblows beat the panes; but now he knows
That twenty empty years of questioning stares
Were just their nightmares, stoning him awake.
And what salt breeze, cut to the bone at last,
Now pushes his back towards the answer?

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          
Not getting you down, am I? Don’t worry. I’m sure there’s some more cheerful stuff coming later. Until then…

Never Mind

Never mind
Never mind
Whoever said life was kind?
A beer down the pub
Will soon cheer you up
A pint with a mate and a plate full of grub

Never mind
Never mind
The deaf, the dumb and the blind
Who litter the street
With bitter defeat
Will soon disappear when there’s nothing to eat

Never mind
Never mind
To look for love is to find
That girl from next door
Fourteen and cock-sure
For twenty quid now is an old knackered whore

Never mind
Never mind
The government rob you blind
Though men hate their job
A foreign sweatshop
Will soon undercut if you don’t shut your gob

Never mind
Never mind
What cancer’s ever benign?
That eats at the soul
And leaves a black hole
We had a fat chance now we’re down to the bone

Never mind
Never mind
The rope that hangs you is kind
When all hope is gone
A good cockney song
A knot at me throat and the choke won’t take long

Never mind
Never mind
Our corpses you’ll never find
Each man tops himself
For sake of his health
Of course some insurance ensures future wealth

Never mind
Never mind
In far-off climes you will find
There’s no happiness
But this is the next
Best thing that there is. Never mind!

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Should we rely on politicians to change the world? With apologies to Arthur S. Sullivan and Sabine Baring-Gould who wrote ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’…

Onward, Politicians

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag
See the mogul Murdoch, legal as the shark
Bleeding in the water, murder in the dark

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

At first sign of trouble, advertising flees
Go then Rupert Murdoch, go down on your knees
Law’s foundation trembles at the spread of rot
Cleanse the nation’s temples on this curséd spot

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

Like stampeding arseholes saving their own arse
Sacred cows are running into abattoirs
Parties are divided, factious are the tribes
Pieces of the action, buying peace with bribes

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

Newspapers may perish, nations rise and fall
But the corporations always make the call
Parliaments will always vote for their money
Men just float tiny boats on their lawless sea

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

Listen then you Gleesters to your happy songs
Little sips of Lethe, drowning out all wrongs
Money pulls the drawstrings of your puppet grins
Whores of Orwell singing, hanging your washing

Onward, politicians, waving like a flag
With your jobs and pensions safely in the bag

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

Back to show biz. The purpose of entertainment is to take our minds off our troubles. Problem is, that means we don’t do anything to change them. With apologies to Irving Berlin…

There’s No Business Like Big Business

The bankrupts, the breakups, the cockups, the courts
The bailiffmen who bash your door at dawn
The children, the women, the lawyers, the torts
Your cardboard life in boxes on the lawn
The hostel and the alkies with no hope
The light bulb bare and cord flex for a rope

There’s no business like big business
Like no justice I know
Everything about it is just stealing
Everything a contract will allow
Nowhere could you see that crappy ceiling
When you aren’t feeling that tortured brow
There’s no dastards like bank bastards
They bet ‘til we were broke
Yesterday your assets all were Triple A
That night they sank in the U S A
Now it seems that China’s going to have its say
Democracy’s a joke!

The countries, the corpses, the famines, the floods,
The little wars that drag on in the sun
The headlines, the heartaches, the backstabs, the blood
The liquid capital that just won’t run
The hoping when the postman is your chum
The coping when the job offers won’t come

There’s no business like big business
If banks tell you it’s so
Sweatshops in the Third World make a killing
Saving on their labour costs with kids
Cholera won’t stop their coffers filling
With a quite thrilling amount of quid

There’s no wankers like rich bankers
They smile when you are low
Even with a country that is torn by war
They’ll charge them interest and keep them poor
Genocide it seems is now within the law
Let’s go on with the show!
Let’s go on with the show! 

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

So, the world is a dark place. What’s it all about? Is there an answer? Or are we just…

Measuring The Dark

When all mysteries are explained away
men will still lie awake in winding sheets,
- mere ghostly shapes in the fabric of space -
measuring the dark with their small heart beats.
Master of fears, hearing nothing singing,
do not ask “Who is this who is coming?”

*           *           *           *           *           *           *          

So, the times are changing. What’s coming? I think I know. Premonition and all that. But this time, I’m going to interfere. It’s said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. But I would suggest a third. Three words…

What Few Words You Would Say

All those intentions we mislay
and all that time we never find
and then too late.

And if you could pawn the pocketed day
for one more moment in that lost life
what few words you would say.

A cloud hurries by
- one of those moonlight white rabbits
- one eye on his pocket watch
- always late
- and then is gone.

And today
(being Christmas morning)
unwrapping the gift of still having time
you turn to her puzzled smile
and, with sudden inexplicable tears
say “I love you”.

And she
although quite familiar with you for years
is still pleasantly surprised.

*           *           *           *           *           *         

So, surprise each other...

No comments:

Post a Comment