Thursday 9 October 2008

How are you celebrating National Poetry Day?

It's National Poetry Day today, and the theme is work. So here's a poem about different kinds of work. It's from A Balkan Exchange, which came out last year from Arc - the result of a collaboration between North East poets and Bulgarian poets which began in 2003. It's not typical of my work - it has a middle eight, for one thing - but was influenced by a week listening to W.N. Herbert read aloud, and memories of Adrian Mitchell.

Re-entry Blues
(on returning to work at the Arts Council after a week of performances in Sofia, October 2003)

When I woke up this morning I was feeling no pain.
But I drove me to Darlo and got on the train.
I headed for London and as I drew near
I thought ‘bout the time that I’d had in Sofia.

Got the walking talking
corporate bend blues

I don’t know what I’m doing but I do what I gotta,
Just like in rehearsals way up Mount Vitosha
Where Bluba Lu jammed and we poets studied rhyme
And something came out under pressure of time

But now I got the walking talking
suited booted
corporate bend blues

I’m a profit agnostic and don’t give a damn
But half the North East thinks that I am The Man
Who makes arts decisions and dishes out dough,
Though deep in the Balkans they know it’s not so.

I got the walking talking
Suited booted
Corporate bend blues

Now this is a really exceptional meeting,
to iambs and pulses my head is still beating.
The train speeding there rattles Sofia away
And gives me three hours to think what to say

I got the walking talking
Suited booted
Arts transforming
Corporate bend blues

I could be sticking words to beats somewhere near Boyana
Instead I’m playing jargon bingo eating a banana,
All I needs a mention of building my capacity
And someone here will get to taste my vigourous tenacity
For making words jump and dance around the table
Seven days of Bulgar blues tell me that I’m able
To pull it out the bag and fill the air with lines
But while meetings are a drag they also feel like mine

So I take the damned tube all the way back to Kings Cross
kidding myself bout the gain and the loss
A small step forward, not one great leap.
By Newark North Gate I am sound asleep.

I got the walking talking
Suited booted
Arts transforming
Double meaning
Plain English speaking
Corporate bend blues


Joy Leftow said...

Very cool blog. I know what you mean about bureaucrats, it's a rough call even when you just work for them. I speak from personal experience also being a widely published poet & writer, & finally having abandoned my NYC Dept. Of Ed. post as a social worker after 21 years. It's always a rough call & I am very glad not to be working for them anymore. It's gets rougher every year. I would say at least half of our kids can't read or write very well by the time they get to high school. About 20% seem to have a learning disability.
I like your Re-entry Blues & can relate completely.

Anonymous said...

This seems to accurately reflect the mood of the nation
but I'm a little worried about an apparent banana fixation.

Mark Robinson said...

If I could spell potassium I'd mention it now.

The only thing I think about this poem now is it's not clear enough that I'm not asking for sympathy. My mother would have asked, 'Are you bragging or complaining?' and I don't know what I'd say.