Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Yellow Studio

A Review of Stephen Romer: YELLOW STUDIO (Carcanet, 2008)

   In a Radio 3 interview with Clive Wilmer conducted 20 years ago, Stephen Romer (a long-term resident in France and professor of French literature) speaks of the engrained disparity between the “post-Mallarmean reflexiveness’’ of French poetic idioms and an English tradition benched in the quotidian world of people and things: he related how a French academic, on being presented with a Larkinesque poem of urban mundanity, found it so alien to his sensibilities that he declared ‘Ceci n’est pas une poeme’. (A hint of Magrittean surrealism enters the picture here.)
    A major element of Stephen Romer’s project over his five published volumes has been to work through a complex negotiation between these two apparently divergent poetries and the epistemologies that accompany them, an impressive attempt to marry the philosophical elegance and linguistic clarity of contemporary French styles with the more worldly, experiential, noun-cluttered demotic of their counterparts in English. His new collection Yellow Studio furthers this ongoing dialogue through its five sections, plotting a kind of ironic narrative from the opening’s ambivalent francophilia, through a satirical American divagation, back to the poet’s English roots in the beautiful cycle of uneffusive elegies for his father which close the book.
     It’s as though, from the perspective of rueful middle-age, Romer is dismantling the bookish pretensions towards high-flown theory and aestheticism he may have indulged in when younger (just as in one poem he dismantles his library) in favour of the looser, more provisional modes of understanding that broken love and grief force upon us. In a characteristic paradox, however, the  pastoral withdrawal of aging is also ironised, and in the title-poem Vuillard’s stylised ‘Yellow Studio’ comes to symbolise the “humane heaven” of art he now regards “with nostalgia, with homesickness” – is its “sweet, autarchic rest” really to be longed for, though, if it provides only a “lumpy mattress” to lie on ie. hidden imperfections would always trouble you, such as the social contexts of the artist’s studio evoked earlier in the poem? The unusual word “autarchic” is also troubling, alluding both to an anachronistic notion of absolute power (attainable only in the abstract world of art) and perhaps even to a condition of autism that implies exclusion from human discourse and reality.
    This is a telling example of how subtly Romer “loads every rift with ore”: the wry, sophisticated surface of each poem often gives way on closer inspection to an unstable inner pattern of evasions and problematics, frequently hinging on nuanced ambiguities or oblique references to other source-materials. In this way, the oppositions the book initially seems to set up – between art and life, France and England, exile and home, youth and age – are consistently skewed and disjointed into more intricate relations. Equally, the urbane, knowing narrative ‘I’ who bobs elusively in and out of the poems keeps adroitly pulling the rug from beneath his own feet (the “two-tone shoes” he mentions hint at his doubleness): one is reminded of what one critic said of Rilke, that “by most revealing, he was most concealing himself”. Implicitly fighting shy of the unitary confessional voice which is all too often the default-setting of contemporary English and American poetries, Romer hives himself off into different registers, slants and postures which enact multiple perspectives on recurrent situations and locales.
      A further way the poems attain this polyphony is through the use of translation and adaptation to create personae, in the Poundian sense: four haunting versions of Apollinaire’s war-poems modulate familiar motifs of lost youth and thwarted love through a newly modernist tonality lent by unpunctuated parataxis and “calligrammatic” lineation. ‘Yehuda Halevi to His Love’ seems to wryly ventriloquise the 11th Century Hebrew poet-philosopher, while the longer, obscurer piece ‘Jardin Anglais’ uses material from de Nerval’s Sylvie to set up a dialogue between conflicting historical voices, a ‘malentendu’.
     The book begins in a contemporary Paris kitsch with “sprinkle-glitter” and “seafood-platters”. Several of section one’s poems seem distant parodies of the bathetic amorous liaison typically encountered in Laforgue: the self-deprecating narrator struggling to seduce a markedly less literate (and in this case much younger) ingénue-figure. This ‘mid-life crisis’-type situation is mined for its comic potential, especially in ‘At the Procope’, when his young American dinner-date unexpectedly reveals hidden literary credentials in the form of

                                 “a snatch of Stevens- was it
        ‘The Idea of Order’? - indelibly tattooed
         On her back, just along the pantyline.”

 The lines ripple with wordplay: the double-entendre on the Americanism “snatch”; the adverb “indelibly”, seemingly tautologous until you consider that not all tattoos are permanent and indeed, in our throwaway culture, how few texts of any kind are indelible anymore – even those of Wallace Stevens, that lofty, metaphysical poet whose appearance along a girl’s pantyline seems surreally incongruous to say the least? What “idea of order” remains plausible in this kind of context?
      At the same time, as we read on through section one, a subtext develops implying recourse to frivolous sexual adventures is merely a diversion from the grievous breakdown of a more serious relationship (or marriage?) The mood rapidly darkens: the despondent parting in a Paris cafe sketched in ‘Recidivist’ hinges on two pregnant images. “The eternal Lipton’s teabag/laid genteelly on the saucer” works as an understated metaphor for something used-up or redundant, as well as carrying the cultural connotations of being the only brand of “English tea” available in France (and seemingly only ever drunk by the English abroad). Even more subtle is what the poem doesn’t say: that a Lipton’s tea-bag label is yellow, making it a tiny synecdoche of the ‘Yellow Studio’ that is an over-arching trope throughout the book.  The closing image - “The way your blue dress rises” - seems initially a straight visual-impression charged with misgiving, but it seems also to bear a buried memory of another wife poignantly mourned-for by an English poet, the “air-blue gown” of Hardy’s great ‘The Voice’: the rising-up is both the erotic uncovering of the narrator’s raw loss and his mediation of it through literary echoes and language.
     Section two steps back into the rural France of a middle-aged Horatian quietism not without its disquiets. Two exquisite landscape poems (‘A Small Field’ and ‘Loire, August’) and a concerted attempt to cultivate his own garden (‘pruned expectation’) give way to deflating incursions of loneliness and sexual frustration: he “check(s) the personals”, sees in a “full-bottomed urn” a former lover’s buttocks, sleeps guiltily with one of his young students (“the aging Don” is both university lecturer and ironic Don Juan). The Apollinaire versions shatter any further pretence at bucolic seclusion by bringing conflict and history back into the frame.
      This leads on to section three’s more measured and politicised slant on contemporary France, with side-sweeps at cloistered academia and its reductive over-analyses. The liberalism, both cultural and social (“the sensual life of art”), which France had represented to Romer as a young man is vividly mourned in ‘Farewell to an Idea’: he now feels “we are old, and exiled /into more frightening country”. Section four transposes this sense of political malaise to America in the context of 9/11: rather than simplistic condemnatory invective, however, Romer restores historical perspective to the “toxic darkness” he finds there, subtly alluding both to the pioneer-spirit of “the Founding Fathers” (ironically foisted into the setting of a Back-to-Nature weekend) and, via Coleridge’s “pantisocracy” and ‘The Tempest’, back to the United States’ conceptual origins in the French Enlightenment and Voltaire: this great intellectual tradition has disastrously terminated in the “autarchic” debasement of

                                    “a President
     sitting among children in a classroom
     with his reading-book upside-down.”

    Stylistically, Romer taps into the abundant resources of American poetry to work through his perennial French/English dichotomy: whereas Section One had included an unexpected reference to Frank O’Hara’s ‘Having a Coke with you’ (‘Alas Without Constraints’) to signal its experiments with urban demotic, and the concluding lines of ‘Today I Must Teach Voltaire’ seem to borrow a tone and cadence of trans-political obloquy from George Oppen (‘He must explain to all of the children/this blazing love of death’), the excellent ‘Adirondacks’ takes a leaf out of Elizabeth Bishop’s magisterial later books, with its coolly defamiliarising outlook on a travelled-through landscape and its all-too-human inhabitants, obliquely summing-up a culture’s contradictions and discontents in a few off-hand, resonant images.
      What is so striking about ‘An Enthusiast’, the twenty four interlinking elegies for the poet’s father that conclude the book, is the way they explore intimately personal material in a manner quite new to Romer while at the same time drawing together and recapitulating many of the themes and images of the earlier sections. The tentative endeavour to posthumously settle differences becomes a continuous self-association with his father – whether in attachment to music, gardening (“my hedges gone haywire”), flirtatious encounters, religious belief, marriage – all these counterpointed by instances from preceding poems. Memory and imagination fuse as Romer reconstructs episodes in his father’s life from a “strictly private diary”, a writerly disclosure which once more unites them. Like Lowell’s ‘Life-studies’ (a memory-book ‘An Enthusiast’ has some formal kinship with, especially in its use of short-lined, irregularly-rhyming free-ish verse), there is also the attempt to read back current crises from family history: the repressed, privileged middle-class England Romer’s father was heir to perhaps lies behind the “silence, exile and cunning” of his son’s later defection to France and to poetry.
     In a final variation on the volume’s key-image, the ‘Yellow Studio’ of art becomes the “yellow attic room” of childhood, to be revisited in memory but not reclaimed, the poet reconciling himself to his father’s work of “clearance” out in the sunlit garden so that he can move forward and growth can begin again: the writing of these elegies has no doubt been a similarly cathartic labour for the son. Such subtlety and reluctance to polarise is typical of Romer’s art in this consistently-enthralling book – an object-lesson for less meticulous contemporaries in how to construct a complex, full-bodied book, not just a résumé of disparate pieces.
                                               (First published in The Wolf, 2008)

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Stupendous Cocky Turpitude: Prynne on Podcast

   Like many people, I don't find much time to read these days. I could bemoan the skittering atomistic banality-fest of post-historic consumerdom and our brains' doddering over-reliance on the mental prosthetics of cyber-gadgetry but then Horace was sighing alas that the fugacious years were slipping him by in 23BC. The amount of books on my 'Must Read' list (not to mention the perhaps even longer list of 'Must Re-Read'), however, seems to burgeon in exponential correlation to the dwindling of my reading-time - the resultant line-graph might bear some relation to the same chiasmus besetting contemporary poetry-volumes: never so many being published, never so few bought and read. We are stumbling towards a strange tipping-point in what passes for cultural production where almost everyone is "publishing" something - whether in the form of blog-posts, Instagram photo-feeds, self-published e-books, GarageBand "tracks" uploaded to SoundCloud - but no-one is paying much attention because they're too busy expressing the hell out of themselves. It's like a coked-up party where everyone is speaking at once, tipsily pleased with the sound of their own voice, and no-one is listening.
    Listening to podcasts on my smartphone  while driving is a makeshift expedient, if by no means an actual alternative to reading books. TLS Voices grabbed my attention the other day at the traffic-lights on Finchley Road with an unexpectedly apposite yoking of a non-mainstream poem with a contemporary news-story. Robert Potts' examination of Prynne's To Pollen in the light of the recent media furore over images of the drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi pointed up the continued incisiveness of the poem's invective, travestying from within a consciously doubling, slippery poetic discourse the linguistic duplicities and slippages that coverage of the two Gulf Wars was almost wholly composed of, laced with the kind of confused post-imperialist xenophobia which informs the rhetoric of many commentators on the recent migrant crisis .
    The silent redaction which transformed the word "immigrant" into "migrant" in permitted news-vocabulary pretty much overnight is a telling example of such semantic drift, although obviously in this case moving away from potentially negativising terminology. (The priggish undergraduate deconstructionist in me wants to signal the denied subjecthood hiding in the banned letters "im/I'm" and to bandy the phrase "interpellated by their elision" to denote the likes of Aylan Kurdi, immortalised now as a tiny dead body washed up on a beach.)

Sunday, 30 August 2015

A New Dance No Tango

  Here's something for Carnival weekend. This has been the tune of the summer in my car, at least when my teenage son's on board. 
   The lyrics are as catchy as a mnemonic and have a loopy momentum whereby (to echo Yeats) the content seems driven by the desire to find the next rhyme:
   "You might see me in a Lambo,
     Camo snapback: Rambo
     Five hundred horses: Django
     Two-two chicken: Nando"

  If that's not poetry I don't know what is.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

British Figures

Untitled Nude, Tom Phillips 2015

                                                     Men of War, Nicola Hicks 2015                                              
Finnan Smokers
     John Bellany, Finnan Smokers 1992

(from the exhibition The British Figure at Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road until 29th August)

Sunday, 26 July 2015

In Search of Missing Persons


    Fernando Pessoa has always been one of my favourite poets. His theory of heteronyms - the concept that a writer could hive off different aspects of his sensibility and imagination into a diversity of poetic voices and registers - is central to the key Modernist trope of fractured identity and multiple selves. In all he invented a total of 136 heteronyms, some with their own biographies, astrological charts and visiting cards, as though his very authorial presence were a work of fiction. Indeed, Pessoa goes so far beyond related strategies such as Poundian personae or Yeatsian masks that he seems eminently post-modern, his entire work posited on the elaborate deferral of subjectivity and the unstable, arbitrary nature of poetic style and language, debunking the egotistical sublime of later confessional modes. Similarly, Pessoa's multitudinous, refractive oeuvre gives the lie to the received platitude that poets should develop a "mature voice" and stick to it, supposedly expressing autobiographical epiphanies in a simplistic traffic between lyric-I and experience recollected in tranquillity.

    Fernando Pessoa the man (1888-1935) is as elusive and self-eliding as his poetry might suggest. The biographical facts we have are remarkably few - after early years in Durban, he spent most of his life in Lisbon and never married or had children. His remorselessly bleak prose-work The Book of Disquiet (fathered by the heteronym Bernando Soares) invokes a penumbrous, liminal existence trapped between the futile tedium of office-work and the isolation of sitting in cafes or in a rented room alone, its narrator a desperate, reality-doubting marginalist combining aspects of Malte Laurids Brigge with the anti-hero of Knut Hamsun's Hunger. The shabby, uninspiring streets of Soares's Lisbon seemed a world away from the colourful, exhilaratingly sunlit city I visited the other week, where old and new architectures vibrantly offset each other and the hilly layout provides dizzying perspectives down narrow backstreets where Pessoa might once have conducted his nocturnal flaneries.

 From our hotel near Saldanha it was a relatively short walk to the Casa-Museo Fernando Pessoa or should have been, were we not distracted by such sights as the Basilica da Estrela and its garden of welcome shade (36 degrees heat that day), an indoor artisanal market and the antique-shops around Rato with their intriguing arrays of bric-a-brac and retro artefacts.

  The Casa Pessoa has the excellent policy of half-price entrance fees to teachers, no evidence asked for, and to students - again no proof needed on this occasion. We were met with a lengthy introductory lecture in English about Pessoa and the house now dedicated to him, rather over-zealously delivered by the tour-guide and a little hard to take in after our walk in the sweltering heat. It was the poet's residence for the last 15 years of his life and houses his library, which contains a high proportion of English books. What surprised me was the fact that - as the guide described it or as I understood him - Pessoa wrote so much in English, perhaps as much as "50/50 between Portugese and English". Some of the work in English remains unedited and unpublished - and is certainly little-known in the English-speaking world.
    (The next day I managed to find a little volume of selected English poems called No Matter What We Dream in a bookshop  and bought a copy. Although some of the work penned by heteronyms like Alexander Search and the Mad Fiddler prefigures the more familiar Portugese poems in its themes and imagery, a lot of the texts read like slightly wooden pastiches of English models and the editors are right to say "Pessoa's English was bookish, old-fashioned in diction and generally lacking the grace of a native speaker".)

    That the Casa Pessoa is a well-curated and important museum is beyond doubt: it incorporates interactive technology to good effect and utilises animated video-clips to draw children into Pessoa's world. It also acts as a cultural hub by having a room for poetry-readings and musical performances and as a study-centre by having the library not just as an archive of the author's book but of translations and critical works about Pessoa from many countries.
What repeatedly struck me as I walked around the museum was admiration that an original and in many ways experimental poet like Pessoa - certainly not a mainstream or populist figure - should be so amply respected and memorialised in this way, bespeaking a literary broad-mindedness seldom encountered in England. (I was trying to think of an equivalent British poet but there really isn't one.) Unknown outside avant garde circles and largely unpublished during his lifetime, Pessoa has ultimately become (alongside Saramago, bacalhau and the fado divas of the bairro alto) one of Lisbon's cultural icons - deservedly so given the distinctive quality of his writing yet strangely ironic when we consider the depersonalising, self-disguising nature of his aesthetic. Like the last line of his poem 'The Cat' (printed on the wall of the restaurant at the back of the museum where we ate lunch after our visit), Pessoa seems always to be saying " I know myself: I'm missing".

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A Prayerful State

"But to poetry — you have to be willing to waste time. When you start a poem, stay with it and suffer through it and just think about nothing, not even the poem. Just be there. It's more of a prayerful state than writing the novels is. A lot of the novel is in doing good works, as it were, not praying. And the prayerful state is just being passive with it, mumbling, being around there, lying on the grass, going swimming, you see. Even getting drunk. Get drunk prayerfully, though."
   Love this quotation from Robert Penn Warren, very appropriate for poets like me who are also teachers just beginning their summer holidays. 'Prayerful state' sums it up beautifully, although I would hasten to add there's invariably a focussed, active work-phase after the initial passive one when you're waiting for the words to emerge.
   Some prayerful drunkenness tonight, then...

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

I'm A Believer: Robert Wyatt

  A thrilling and rarely-seen performance from Top of the Pops from 1974 with Nick Mason of Pink Floyd on drums and Fred Frith on guitar. However, as this passage from Wyatt's authorised biography Different Every Time suggests, seventies TOTP was not only a hotbed of tacitly-accepted underage molestation but of outrageous disablism too: there was a "squabble centred on Robert's wheelchair, apparently deemed unsuitable for family viewing. 'The BBC were astonishingly stupid about it'  says Fred Frith, who recalls the disagreement lasting throughout the day. Richard Sinclair even remembers having to prop Wyatt up in his chair at one point, when someone insisted on removing the arms. The BBC  did eventually allow him to perform from his wheelchair...but TOTP was a nasty surprise for Robert: 'It was the first time anyone had made me feel unsightly. And it was a shock. I thought other people must think that, but they don't say it. It did upset me.' "
   As the author of this fascinating biography, Marcus O'Dair, puts it when discussing Wyatt's choice of the Neil Diamond-penned, Monkees pop classic, "whether Robert anticipated it or not, a line about disappointment haunting his dreams had a very different resonance when delivered from a wheelchair".

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Make Some Noise

 Made it along to Café Oto in Dalston the other week for an evening of 'Brighton noise-poetry', an oddly alluring tag for a scene bigged-up in a recent piece for The Wire magazine by one of its proponents, Daniel Spicer. I'd missed the article but had friends who were involved in the performance; the proposition of a live amalgam of poetry and noisy/improvised sounds was inviting too as this kind of interface has always fascinated me.
    We're all aware of poetry's archaic origins as words (or vocalisations) set to music: Nietzsche goes further and suggests that "the poet cannot tell us anything that was not already contained, with a most universal validity, in such music as prompted him to his figurative discourse". We all know the other quotes about literature aspiring to the condition of music and poetry atrophying when it gets too far from music but when we turn to famous poems that purport to be composed in musical forms - Bunting's Sonatas, say, or Zukofsky's "A" or (ho-hum) Four Quartets - you discover, despite a foregrounded musicality of language, that the form is being employed more as a structural analogy than as an actual acoustic principle (as, more impressively, Joyce used the fugue in the 'Sirens' episode of Ulysses) and that on the whole, when compared with the vastly more complex arranging and orchestrating of impalpable tonal textures and ideas which composers have to deal with, poets are little better than apathetic scatterbrains merely writing down the ready-made verbiage they find around them and sometimes counting the syllables and inserting homophonic parallels. Equally, compared with the expressive skill and dexterity born of years of dedicated practice displayed by a concert pianist, a jazz drummer or a Tuvan throat singer, most poets are complacent loafers who merely stand there and read out their lines from a sheet in the funny, over-earnest voice we're all supposed to use.
    Not to say that interesting things haven't been done in trying to marry music and poetry in areas outside the mainstream, white, academic field: I'm thinking mainly here of jazz-, rap- and dub-poetries as well as the sound-poetry of writers like Bob Cobbing and Tracie Morris. Of course, playing with the inherent rhythmical currents and cross-currents of language and being alert to oscillations between sound and sense are what makes poetry compelling in the first place so there is considerable potential to explore links between this and musical collaboration, although the challenge for me remains in transferring the density and complexity of language associated with more page-based poetry (ie. poetry that does not yield all its meaning on a first hearing but bears repeated re-reading and contemplation) into a live context with other auditory materials (as well as performance dynamics) to compete with.
   Although bracing and far from run of the mill, the Café Oto night was a mixed affair for this very reason. Several of the acts fell down on a lack of balance between voice and musical backdrop, both on a sound-engineering level (ie. you couldn't always hear the words) and on a conceptual level, where to me the music was more engaging than the spoken text and therefore distracted me from connecting with the texts properly (extraneous noises, during quieter pieces, were also an issue at times.) The duo Map 71 more successfully welded jagged beats to Lisa Jayne's declamatory utterances, closer in delivery to a female Karl Hyde than any other poet I could name. Alan Hay, sans backing, came across as a performer whose poetry held one's interest on its own merits: mercurial, disarming, with a Frank O'Hara insouciance and fluidity about it though equally tinged with an O'Haran downbeat edge.
   Compared to Hay's aslant beret and goatee, Keston Sutherland came on in conspicuously unbohemian guise: short hair, Todd Swiftian glasses and a pair of those reddish chinos usually only seen on Clapham Common or perhaps at Henley regatta. I'm an admirer of his work, in particular relishing the development from the more demonstrably Prynnean stylings of his earlier poetry to the more recent 'Ode to TL61P' where a more articulately transgressive energy is hit upon. Live, in collaboration with the grime-like beats and discords of THL Drenching (don't ask me what he was playing), Sutherland presents like the Professor of Poetry that he is having an apoplectic seizure and venting random tranches of garbled post-Marxian theory in every direction: ranting, spitting, stuttering and jerking his arms as though to vocally reinforce the already disjunctive intransigence of his texts, delivered at relentless breakneck velocity.
   I stepped out into the chilly Dalston night bewildered as to whether this was one of the most cutting-edge performances by a contemporary poet I had seen or a bizarre and impalatable mismatch. Or both. What it certainly wasn't was a complacent loafer merely standing there reading his lines from a sheet.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Guest Poem: The Modern by Chris McCabe


Rimbaud’s stickleback skull
claws from a Lambeth puddle

his scales riffle hologrammatic

over Apollinaire’s ID card

as if he, Guillame, could head
to Royal College Street

and X-ray his jawline for the dead kid’s bones

rattling down inside his clavicle,
He walks from an Islington redbrick
checks his notebook for directions
Retour à Angel
Tube en face passé
Demander Clapham Road

as if London is the metric of the mind
French poets arrive
by night-boat to Victoria

Southbound to Clapham

for fog & depression
for “great tits & a behind”

Rimbaud for a bullet’s vowel
his pink cock in some milk


who puts the crows in trench coats

hooded like Germans

on Grosvenor Road SW1

a pink balloon scrotums the rails

- Owen strewn maitre d’ - Apollinaire snotted by Eros -
chaffinches arson their waistcoats,
natural gases in the bowels of a tree
- Picabia Napoleon’d in a sling -
Celine plugs his wounds with London soot -
the fog through which
Mallarme said
God cannot see -

O Tommy, Tommy Boys

it’s 1-nil carrion 2-nil corvus

(reprinted with the publisher's permission)

   To stave off post-Election blues I'm pleased to feature a poem this weekend from Chris McCabe's Speculatrix, one of the most compelling books of poetry to have appeared last year, with its surreal take on the historical layerings of London and its repositioning of contemporary culture as a macabre Jacobean revenge-tragicomedy. 'The Modern' plays with a juncture I'm particularly interested in: the presence of French poets like Rimbaud and Apollinaire in London during the years of Modernism's inception (also notoriously catalysed by the First World War) and the influence they drew from locales radically altered or non-existent in today's city. 

Monday, 4 May 2015

Poems For Sale

   Due to the proverbial 'technical hitches' (in this case a euphemism for a frank lack of internet know-how), I've just realised that the Paypal button I added to this blog allowing people to purchase copies of Human Form hasn't been working.
  So I'm officially relaunching it now - the book is now available for the reduced price of £7.99 directly from me and with free UK postage and packaging. You can also contact me at: oliverdixon91@gmail.com
  Here's a taster from the book, including the lines Tom Chivers adds to the page about Human Form on the Penned in the Margins website:   
So many things have come apart
in my hands or somehow gone astray

they could form a museum,                                                                  
a mausoleum of errings and shortfalls.

Like the one we drifted into when at a loss
that unrepeatable afternoon

we explored the historical market-town
in the rain. The vitrines of stuffed curiosities –

faded hoopoe with its punkish mohawk,
a pangolin like an outsize fir-cone

 endowed with limbs – amounted you said
to a ‘colonial mortuary’. The crude diorama

of a blacksmith’s forge – ventriloquist’s dummy
about to smite a horse-shoe while his wife

 and child look blankly on – was so unlife-like,
I wondered what a diorama of our lives

might resemble, a tableau vivant of Post-Everything
Ennui: mannequins of the three of us

watching adverts, waiting for the sky to clear,
my finger poised to hazard a futile suggestion

(like exploring an historical market-town)-
locked into our stances for the duration.