The Poet Speaks (24 June 2011)

Daddy is feeling tired and must perforce keep today’s blog short.  Poor Daddy.  But here is a poem of mine that John Hegley found nailed to a wall (for Modesty is my middle name), and which he was gracious enough to commend as “tight and life affirming”.  Oh-ho, oh-ho. You don’t know the half of it.



Come, ye Sons of Art: An Interlude for Cultural Loitering


You treat world history as a mathematician does mathematics, in which nothing but laws and formulae exist, no reality, no good and evil, no time, no yesterday, no tomorrow, nothing but an eternal shallow, mathematical present.

Otto Hess, on current economic theory


Who are your role models?

Oh, an eclectic bunch of relics

And hard to circumnavigate:

Sir Thomas Beecham (No, don’t ask).

Goucho Marx, and Harpo.

John Stuart Mill and Dr Johnson.

Jonathan Swift, alongside Saki.

Hogarth, he’s in there somewhere;

Shaw, Wells, Russell, a dash of Blake –

Quentin Crisp and Katherine Mansfield.

Bugs Bunny.  Above all: Albert Steptoe.


Kindly give a thumbnail portrait of yourself.

A living fossil, susceptible to flattery.

A cynical and saturnine curmudgeon.

An ageing and eccentric bore.

A decrepit homunculus.

A tortoise steeped in a peat bog.

A polyp in the bowel of material production.

A senescent blatherer of overheard indiscretions.

A gadfly.  A Grotesque (and not even Rococo).


Why do you carry on, churning out reams of nonsense?

Because I believe that consciousness is a curse.

Because I believe you have to let me make the best of it.


You wasted your youth on Philosophy and Psychology.  Why?

So as to arm me with a lifetime of vaguely ominous platitudes.


You have a certain superficial education.

When did you resolve not to be an accountant, a financier?

Let me see.  That would be…when I read the research, showing that economists thought the same way as people with an Antisocial Personality Disorder.  “The ramifications of Game Theory”, didn’t you call it?


We noted your self-aggrandising glibness.

Mea culpa! If I’d spotted the gravy train younger, I could have made a flea-sized television pundit for our coffee-table classes.


A puddle of self-love being your defining characteristic: was there no place for you as a fashion designer?  An Executive Producer?  A celebrity?  A sociologist?

Do you know: all of a sudden, I feel quite proud to stick just where I am.




I was feeling rather jolly as I wrote this, and jolliness is a feeling to be treasured.  Yet behind it was a tacit complaint about a world now bereft of fundamentals, and awash with the froth of pseudo-knowledge.  Now, there is much to be said for pseudo-knowledge.  It permits today’s cult of celebrity and it frees you from the strain of having to think properly, or think for yourself. Best of all it makes Stephen Fry, Britain’s self-appointed genius and national treasure, as ubiquitous as it is his birthright to be.  As for vacuous reductionism: it has for a century been the lifeblood of scientists and mathematicians, bless them: and why shouldn’t it be?  It keeps their Asperger’s at bay and it keeps them off streets.   Without the tide of platitudes, what could we find to fill the aching hours of terrestrial television, let alone the satellite stuff?


It is today’s fusion of Reduction and Relationism (the two, by the way, being logically incompatible) that intrigues me in this Age of the Trite through which we live.  Lady Thatcher, it emerges, wants to be buried in St Paul’s Cathedral when Death, the ultimate door-to-door salesman, claims her for his own.    This is a curious volte-face, for the grocer’s girl who proclaimed that Society was no more than a collection of shoppers.  Surely her remains should be either recycled or dumped as landfill, whichever is the more profitable?


Neither has today’s pseudo-liberalism much to do with enfranchisement, still less with (to use that hideous patois) “respect.”  But in a world shorn of meanings, only one aim can be identified: the need to sell product to as many markets as possible, whatever the degree of manipulation or disingenuous flattery required.   Not that there can be such a thing as flattery, of course, or sincerity: the syllables are meaningless.  There is merely neuronal and electronic noise.  This is what marketeers call our global village, although to some of us living fossils perceive it as more akin to the machine mouth on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.


It struck me one morning that a virus has the best CV in which to prosper in today’s jostling world (although Darwin himself, a profoundly compassionate man, would have wept to see us). Three cheers too for pancreatic cancer: the brightest, the sharpest and – let’s get to the point – the youngest of our metropolitan entrepreneurs.





How fast can living things revert to mud?

The beggar on a street is halfway there.

And, thanks to you, our mouths – yours and mine both –

Are gagging with the old sepulchral muck.

Because my beauty was not like yours

You said I was corrupt.

Like you, though, I wanted only to survive.

I did not intend – I did not plan –

My gain should be your loss.  (They say one never does.)

Not that I ask for your blessing

Any more than you’ll seek mine:

With gallows humour, you used to joke,

I was a creature of limited thought

And immense powers of concentration.

Because (undisciplined, unaided) I didn’t know how

To die, you called me a social climber,

Troubled, in case I might be your one true son.

Let’s not play Pooh Sticks with

The Enlightenment game.

I had form.  I had purpose: I had ambition.

I know my rights.  I am a peacock,

A wet dream, the American dream.

What’s your modern fashion, to give the underdog

An innate moral innocence?

What’s with this sudden sanctity of yours,

Meaning that your way – and only yours –

Should be the one to live forever?



Who needs a mission, when you can have a mission statement?  You’re hired.


Stephen Jackson’s poems and images are taken from his book DEAD PEOPLE ON HOLIDAY

(ISBN 978-1-4500-3969-7)

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