Poetry Project

Pulling out the stop

A policeman's lot
Wendy Cope 

'The progress of any writer is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system.' - Ted Hughes

Oh, once I was a policeman young and merry (young and merry),
Controlling crowds and fighting petty crime (petty crime),
But now I work on matters literary (litererry)
And I am growing old before my time ('fore my time).
No, the imagination of a writer (of a writer)
Is not the sort of beat a chap would choose (chap would choose)
And they've assigned me a prolific blighter ('lific blighter) -
I'm patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.
It's not the sort of beat a chap would choose (chap would choose) -
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.
All our leave was cancelled in the lambing season (lambing season),
When bitter winter froze the drinking trough (drinking trough),
For our commander stated, with good reason (with good reason),
That that's the kind of thing that starts him off (starts him off).
But anything with four legs causes trouble (causes trouble) -
It's worse than organizing several zoos (several zoos),
Not to mention mythic creatures in the rubble (in the rubble),
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.
It's not the sort of beat a chap would choose (chap would choose) -
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.
Although it's disagreeable and stressful (bull and stressful)
Attempting to avert poetic thought ('etic thought),
I could boast of times when I have been successful (been successful)
And conspiring compound epithets were caughts ('thets were caught).
But the poetry statistics in this sector (in this sector)
Are enough to make a copper turn to booze (turn to booze)
And I do not think I'll make it to inspector (to inspector)
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.
It's not the sort of beat a chap would choose (chap would choose) -
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.

© Wendy Cope

Write a poem addressing your inner police system, or write from the perspective of your inner police system. (Or, as always, submit any other poem that arrives on the page.) Send your poems in the body of your email (not as attachments) to pieter@slipnet.co.za before Friday 31 January 2014.

Submitted Poems

Bad cop, no donut
Rabbie Serumula

Bad cop, no donut

I hear three voices in my head, my alter ego has a split personality
A cop, a con artist and a poet, they all live in commonality
The poet claims he’s not a drunk and doesn’t have a genetic abnormality
The con artist survives because of his remarkable adaptability
The cop is a no-nonsense type of fellow, very big on police brutality
The poet’s name is Rabz, the con artist’s name is Matt, and the cop is Skiet
So cunning, Matt once stole Rabz’s ideas while they were jaywalking in the street

Matt has a well-toned body, Rabz is slender and Skiet is fat
Skiet is a bully, Rabz is a nice guy, and Matt is the opposite of that
Rabz spends his days smoking cigarettes, writing poems and drinking beer
Matt is an identity thief, smooth criminal, and black belt racketeer
Skiet takes bribes, he specializes in making peoples’ money disappear
To Skiet, the notion of shoot to kill is very critical
He openly says “watch out, you will soil yourself criminal”

Skiet is a proud statistic in the 83% of South African corrupt police
He is all over the scratch like a dog with fleas
A recovering heroin addict in secret
If he confiscates a drug, there’s no evidence bag, he keeps it
The last time Skiet shot up was at the beginning of this poem

Skiet terrorizes Matt, who embezzles Rabz constantly
Skiet spits at the thought of Thomas A. Constantine
He would beat a deaf man for not obeying commands he couldn’t hear
His malice in the call of duty is sincere
Skiet is a bad cop, it’s not bogus
If you see him in my subconscious, tell him; bad cop, no donut
Now you know why Matt always gets away with his crimes
Why Rabz will remain in a cocoon for all time
And why my head is a bad place to be in sometimes

Unarmed Combat
Linda Zinzi Sealy

Your disablement has made you armless
But not harmless!
You engage in unarmed combat
And unarmed combat can kill
When weapons are words.
Not like those in the dojo
Who respect their opponents
And fight to a strict code of rules,
No hitting below the belt!

Your armlessness disarms and harms me.

Oh how I long for a pair of strong arms!

Stinking Breath of My Pen
Mbizo Chirasha

greasy propaganda apples for peasants
bourgeoisie for sweating corruption omelet
villagers for cassava and diet coke
streets for hip hop and toy guns
school uniform for phd studies and bible for my daughter
wreath for saint valentine
roses for saint paul
revolutions changed and revolutions unchanged
canister for fat breakfast
bullet for big supper
i am fasting the supper and breakfast
sun born with Vaseline on its forehead
moonrise with cancer on its breasts
tender skin of stars split by ghetto politics
kindas blowing condoms with lung wind
elders blowing balloons with broken hearts
another revolution
another liberation
another slice of politics
another rumble of hunger
another for the priest.
sweat drops, raindrops, tear drops
raindrops, teardrops, sweat drops
the breath of my pen stink

Road to Damascus
Mbizo Chirasha

Granite faith exfoliated by superguns and sanctions whirls,
on this earth succumbing into dry spell of peace,
War-crats and confidantes skinning freedom from its people
Kofi drinking coffee with revolutionaries and revolutionaries in
Aleppo cafe on his way to Damascus

Daughters eating NGOs, GMOs, condoms and twitter
Bullet scorching the feet of super diplomats and mediators
Wiki leaks castrating the reputation of this state

Opportunists and oppositionists eating asparagus and liver in candle
light dinners
Selfish pseudo prophets calculating political matrixes, salmonella
laced sugar tongued
Democrats cooking autocratic beetroot and propaganda pizza for media
rituals and puppets initiation.

Identity Apples
Mbizo Chirasha

I am a fat skeleton, resurrecting
from the sad memories of dada
and dark mysteries of aminism
I am buganda
I bleed hope
I drip the honey of fortune
Makerere, think tank of Africa
I dance with you wakimbizi dance
I am tanganyika
I smell and fester with the smoke of African genesis
I am the beginning
Kilimanjaro the anthill of rituals
I am the smile of Africa
my glee erase the deception of sadness
my tooth bling freedom
I am myself, I am Gambia
when others seep with bullets stuck in their stomachs
I sneeze copper spoons from my mouth every dawn
I am the the Colombia of Africa
I am the Cinderella of Africa
where mediums feast with the ghost of kamuzu in mulange trees
here spirits walk naked and free
I am the land of sensations
I am the land of reactions
coughing forex blues
I still smell the scent of Nehanda's breath
I am African renaissance blooming
I stink the soot of chimurenga
I am the mute laughter of Njelele hills
I am Soweto
swallowed by kwaito and gong
I am a decade of wrong and gong
I am blister of freedom vomited from the belly of apartheid
I see the dawn of the coming sun in Madiba's eyebrows
I am Abuja
blast furnace of corruption
Nigeria, the Jerusalem of noblemen, priests, professors and prophets
I am guinea I bling with African floridarization
I am blessed with many tongues
my thighs washed by River Nile
I am the mystery of pyramids
I am the graffiti of Nefertiti
I am the rich breast of nzinga
I am Switzerland of Africa
the rhythm of Kalahari sunset
the rhyme of Sahara, yapping, yelping
I am Damara, I am Herero, I am Nama,
I am Lozi, I am Vambo
I am bitterness, I am sweetness
I am Liberia
I am King Kongo
Mobutu roasted my diamonds into the stink of deep brown blisters
frying daughters in corruption microwaves
souls swallowed by the beat of Ndombolo and the wind of rhumba
I am the Paris of Africa
I see my wounds
I am rhythm of beauty
I am Congo
I am Bantu
I am Jola
I am Mandinga
I sing of you
I sing thixo
I sing of Ogun
I sing of God
I sing of Tshaka
I sing of Jesus
I sing of children
of Garangaja and Banyamulenge
whose sun is dozing in the mist of poverty
I am the ghost of Mombasa
I am the virginity of Nyanza
I am scarlet face of Mandinga
I am cherry lips of Buganda
come Sankara, come Wagadugu
I am Msiri of garangadze kingdom
my heart beat under rhythm of words and dance
I am the dead in the trees blowing with wind,
I can not be deleted by civilization.
I am not kaffir, I am not Khoisan
I am the sun breaking from the villages of the east with great
inspiration of revolutions
its fingers caressing the bloom of hibiscus

Sandra Hill

My pen lays down its ink
between the pale blue graves
lining my page. It trails my letters
along paths made soft and shaded
by those truer than me. It signs my
name beneath the names of those
braver than me. It marches
my words to the Union Buildings
behind those stronger than me.
And one day, one day it will
say to my policeman –
Voetsek forever.

Jeannie Wallace McKeown

you spread yourself across my clean clear page
an ooze
coating paper fibres

then my pencil slides
unable to connect
my thought derails
repeating a phrase
over and over and over and over
the pencil slips

until the words are useless parodies
spoofs of thought, devoid of insight
your bland blanketing is impermeable
the page beneath you defiantly pristine

Jeannie Wallace McKeown

The stirrings of consciousness pulling
towards wakefulness
interfere with the rhythm of the dream.
Dream self looks down:
she is naked.
Daylight self sighs.

Dream self stands straighter,
smiles at the tourists in the riverside café
who wave as she walks the last stretch of the road.
Daylight self, looking through her dreaming eyes,
tolerates the momentary loss of control.

Cartography of Place
Jeannie Wallace McKeown

Truth may be that the middle was dark (although the lights were on)
dark enough to take a pickaxe to hack a road
somewhere elsewhere

life has a truth about luck:
it isn’t
nor is it the end
in this the sun lights the way where a road can be broken

quartzite, a fellow metamorphic survivor
the bush lies hot and bright
Thorns, fallen haphazardly
splintered bones sharply white against dust
a harsh landscape
puff adders sleep in coils
fat lazy excreta

leave your pickaxe
leave your spade
leave the machines which steal souls
find spaces
where your foot can step
follow aloe africana
melodies of the bokmakerie shrike
weaver birds build nests
to point south
to point east

Nothing is broken                            land nor you
you are on a route
you are making your way

Why The Muse Has Departed…
Ross Fleming

Dad watch this I can turn my eyelids inside
out dad just look away okay turn around NOW
bet you got a fright dad hey dad I don spose you
ever saw THAT before dad hey I bet you can't
stand on tip toe as long as I can dad come on
now just try dad he took my action man dad dad won't
you get it back sniff snort dad dad are you listening
dad why are your eyes closed can I stick my finger in
there dad... Dad open your eyes when I say GO
hur hur dad I know you're in there daaaad wakey wakey
egg n bakey you can't fool me nyeowl dad he hit me when
I wasn't looking dad why don't you speak to me hoooo dad its
unfair hey dad watch me do a double summy off the bed
daaad why do you always sleep when I'm talking to you dad
how would you like it if I didn't speak to you for a whole day
dad what's this dad? I don't know but here comes another one
caught you hey dad andy taught me that one dad can we get
a dog pleez dad watch me dad I can walk dogstyle wooo woooo
bet you can't howl like a wolf dad he's copying me dad its unfair...

Dad? Dad are you awake...

Hoo dad don't shout at me mom said you not to use your
golf words in the house dad can I play horsey on your knee dad
mommy what does purse off mean mommy?

Keith Edwards

There's a kind of consuming
has no name, does not satisfy
like a second or third helping.

That furnace orange at dawn,
the barred pinks in the evening;
those golden poplars at road's edge
rippling in the breeze - Monets
in motion - as you speed by:

these beauties seen times over,
'appreciated', all leave a feeling of
something unappeased.

Is this the corruption of getting
and having, of not less but
more is more?

The paradox of thrift will collapse nations.
For the suffering self what will rationed beauty do?

Those were the daze
Keith Edwards

Have I measured out my life in movie screens?
Part of it surely, for I had the means,
the time and see-everything compulsions in the sixties,
that heyday of art house auteurs.

'Film will change the world,' they said then,
'rock music too'. They believed it.
Spielberg and Lucas changed all that,
whored their talents, gave out the fiat:
From now on forget about the art house glories,
we’ll have grown-up Blyton and Hardy Boys’ stories.

On the run
Graham Dukas
The progress of any writer is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system.’ – Ted Hughes

I’d like to tell you that I’m sitting on a chair
(that has impossibly thin legs)
at a small marble-topped table in a café
on a well-known street in the heart of Paris

where Edith Piaf may have once sang
for her supper, but of course that’s not true.
I’m actually sitting in a swaying bus,
making my way up a narrow road through the Andes

where the view from my window
of a river threading its way across a valley
miles below is shaken as the driver interrupts
his loopy steering for another shuddering gear change.

But no, really, I’m in a glade in a quiet forest,
shaded by oaks and elms, with an old tasselled blanket
beneath me and a picnic basket
overflowing with cheese, paté and wine at hand

and all I can think of is how much I regret
not having brought my folding backrest along.
And so it goes – a life on the run,
trying to outwit the ever-present poetry policeman

whose rules and injunctions follow me everywhere.
Here he comes again, a shadow moving
through the trees, and so I make ready to leave
for a remote Mexican beach he may not have heard of.

Pam Newham
For years I've earned my bread with words.
Thousands and thousands of them
on neat glossy paper caught
between the covers with their bland smiling girls.
Month after month these dutiful words
have click clicked across the page
(dieting, dating, dread diseases).
But all the while, hidden in clandestine cells,
subversive words plotted and schemed
until one day they did their "free at last" thing
and surged onto an unsuspecting page
written in pen.

Crystal Warren

the inner police
work to keep the words at bay
these lines outwit them

Changing of the Guard
Crystal Warren

You youngsters have it easy.
People now are so easily distracted,
Their thought jump around
And there is always, always
Some form of procrastination available.
Their minds are never still:
No solitude, no serious study, no inner silence.
It surprises me that any of them
Manage to write at all.

That shows how much you old guys know.
We have to work a lot harder.
Back in your day it was simple,
You didn’t even need distractions,
All you had to do
Was delay the inspiration
Until they were away from their desk.
But now, if an idea slips past
They simply write the poem
On their table or phone
And share it with the world
Before they even get home.

Gasp – what did you just do there?
Guards! Arrest this traitor.
You will lose your poetic licence for this!

Crystal Warren

I duck, I dive
I outrun distraction
Hide from doubt

I find a safe spot
Where I can think
In freedom

I snatch at words
Write as fast as I can
Before reinforcements arrive

I dread the sound
Of borders closing
As despair circles

I break through the lines
Poems exploding
Lines leading me home.

upon sitting down in the contemplation of requirements of political significance and social relevance in poetry
(or the voice in the sky that found a plug-in somewhere but scrambled the script)
Marike Beyers

and you
and you and
and have you
and have you not
for too long
                  not long
                  not that long
not you but yours
but long enough
and yours
and you
and have you
not said
and have you not
too much
                 not much
                 not that much
not you but yours
but enough
have you
and you and yours
not said
and you and
you and not
                 too little
                 the wrong
and you
and you and yours
made the tongues
not-you not-yours
would not
not let
and you
and you and not
you and yours
it it not
                 not yours
is it not time
not say
not time
                 time to
is it not time
to shut up

Megan van der Nest

A phrase hovers in the white noise
the beginning of a poem that I might have learned
in another universe

with cautious breath I watch
from the corner of my eye as it settles
somewhere just behind my left shoulder

but the movement of my thought
affrights it, leaves it stillborn shy

behind my eyes the static sings

You, the bird-thing
Christine Ueri

You, the bird-thing
on the barbed wire fences of my mind

You sit there, in your grotesque armour
like a knight
or a crusader
Vain, with tainted sword
and a black halo:
an enormous, blood-bathed Saint

Raising the right
Lowering the left
you narrow the distance

soar for a while
turn retrograde

Will l be fooled
and not see you in my shadow?
Your scrawny nothingness:
a batch of sordid feathers
to a beak that glitters coal

In the light, you rip . . . I hover


I have this notion that if we don’t stand up to the undermining voices that most of us carry around in our heads, we will not be able to do our best work.

One way of doing this is through humour. As with Wendy Cope’s poem, a number of submissions made me laugh. Rabbie Serumula’s hilarious and edgy Bad cop, no donut gets a donut. It certainly works on the page, but I would love to hear it in performance, and how the poet might depict the split personalities. I like the way the shady dealings between the three personalities fuel creativity, yet is also the reason ‘why my head is a bad place to be in sometimes’.

In Why The Muse Has Departed… Ross Fleming captures a humorous scene most parents of small children know very well, and the contradiction of how hard it is to concentrate on one’s own creative life in those circumstances, and yet how that same interruption gave him what he needed to write an delightful poem.

Graham Dukas’s hilarious poem On the run sends up the idea that if only one had the perfect, romantic, in-the-footsteps-of-the-masters clichéd place to pen one’s words, one would be able to evade crushing defeat by one’s own inner saboteur.

In Unarmed Combat, Linda Zinzi Sealy plays with the idea of being ‘armed’ and ‘disarmed’. Here policing and rules can ensure that the fight is respectful and fair. I assume the poem is in response to the January prompt about the inner critic, yet it also reads as a conflict in an external relationship, where the ‘opponent’ is mysteriously (?emotionally) disabled. The longing for ‘strong arms’ at the end of the poem has a poignant double meaning. The assonance of ‘those’, ‘dojo’, and ‘opponents’ works well to allude to the gravitas of respect in battle. I suggest changing: ‘Unpoliced/ You engage in unarmed combat/ And unarmed combat can kill/ When weapons are words.’ to ‘Unpoliced, Unarmed combat can kill/ When weapons are words’, and deleting the line ‘Your armlessness disarms and harms me’ , which is a repetition of what we already know. I would also change the title for the same reason. Titles can be difficult – ideally they should enhance a poem, and not merely echo content.

One of the strategies of the inner police system is to persuade us that we will never write as well as our favourite authors, so why even bother. I know a brilliant guitarist and sitar player who gave up playing music because he decided he would never be as good as John MacLaughlin and Ravi Shankar. Alternatively, we can annex mentors to inspire us to stretch ourselves in our creative efforts. Sandra Hill in Homage does the latter. I like the assonance of the first half of the poem, and the way the tone changes humorously in the last line. ‘The pale blue graves’ puzzled me –perhaps this is my obtuseness, but if others are equally unclear as to what that means, it needs revisiting.

Jeannie Wallace McKeown’s poem Blocked explores the frustration of being unable to express oneself. I am interested in form and content, and how that experience might be better captured in the structure of the poem. I would start by cutting the poem by about 1/3, as there are words in the poem that are superfluous, e.g. ‘mocker/ taunter/ you spread yourself across my clean clear page’ could read: ‘taunter, spread across my clear page’.

In ‘Lucid’, Jeannie contrasts dreaming and waking states. Again, I would like to see form and content working better together. It’s more effective to demonstrate interfering ‘with the rhythm of the dream’ and ‘momentary loss of control’ than to tell us about it.

In her third poem Cartography of Place, Jeannie uses her instinct in orienting a poem about instinct in a satisfying way. I would cut the lines ‘a harsh landscape’ and ‘see?’

Keith Edwards has an unusual take on consumption in Unsatisfactions – where he makes the case for more beauty for ‘the suffering self’. I feel the poem would benefit from more attention paid to the descriptions of images of beauty – ‘furnace orange’ works well, but ‘the barred pinks in the evening;/ those golden poplars at road's edge/ rippling in the breeze - Monets / in motion’ is not original or striking enough to convey what the poet experienced. Writers have to work hard to find the right combination of words to convey lived experience to another. The title does not work for me.

Whereas the title of Keith’s other poem, Those were the daze is spot on – how modern movies as entertainment put us to sleep!

The tension between formulaic and creative writing is tackled in Uprising. Pam Newham’s lovely poem could be made stronger (that old bug bear of mine: form and content), by showing us in the way she uses words how the shift from one form of writing to the other takes place. Also the poem could do with some cutting, which in itself, would add that creative edge. A rough suggestion to illustrate how a tough edit can sharpen a poem (see the original above)(and forgive me Pam; obviously throw out what you disagree with…)

For years I've earned my bread with words.
Thousands and thousands caught in the gloss
between bland smiling girls and Rolex.
Month after month, click click,
(dieting, dating, dread disease).
Clandestine, in cells, subversive
words schemed; one day out they surged
in ink, onto an unsuspecting page.
In the first ‘untitled’ poem by Crystal Warren, I would substitute ‘at bay’ with ‘imprisoned’ which carries the image of policing through to the idea of ‘lines’ being a hard won freedom, yet alluding to the bars that want to imprison creativity.

In Changing of the Guard, there is a good idea that needs polishing for clarity. For example, who are the different ‘they’s in the second stanza? And who is the traitor?

The urgency of the refugee / war imagery in Crystal’s second untitled poem is effective. Interesting how the threat of the reinforcements arriving to close the borders to creative freedom is set up against the image of ‘poems exploding’.

In Marike Beyers’ upon sitting down in the contemplation of requirements of political significance and social relevance in poetry (or the voice in the sky that found a plug-in somewhere but scrambled the script) I like the risk the poet takes in using repetition and short lines to depict the tug and tussle of the argument around how to engage the poetic voice, how to write effectively about things that matter, in whose name we may write, who owns the voice and the words, when to say something and when to be quiet.

The question of how to capture a poem’s beginning when it arrives is the subject of Blank by Megan van der Nest; the narrator’s thoughts are too clumsy, and the poem too shy and delicate. I like the inherent contradiction – Blank manages to pen the subtlety of a lovely poem, even while the poet despairs that she is not able to do this.

You, the bird-thing by Christine Ueri is an intriguing, inventive and layered poem. Reading it straight after Blank, and with this month’s poetry project topic in mind, I assume that it is about the love / hate relationship we have with our own creativity, but perhaps the poet had something else in mind. Poetry can be like that - we bring our own projections to bear. Unlike in Blank, the inspiration brought by the bird-thing is aggressive, vain, blood-bathed, sordid. Yet there is a compulsive dance between the poet and the bird-thing, an ambivalence, and a knowledge that the bird already exists in the poet’s shadow. While the bird-thing has movement, and rips, it is the poet that hovers, perhaps fearful of paying too much attention to the dark side of her writing. The poem contains some lovely assonance and alliteration which helps to ‘narrow the distance’ even while the poet appears to want to escape.

In Stinking Breath of My Pen Mbizo Chirasha throws handfuls of powerful images at the reader like hand grenades, yet his weapon is his pen, alive with breath, but he is not going to perfume our boudoirs, he is going to get us uncomfortable with the stink and rot of poverty and corruption. I like many of his juxtaposed words and phrases that create striking and original images, like ‘sun born with Vaseline on its forehead/ moonrise with cancer on its breasts’, ‘greasy propaganda apples’ and ‘lung wind’; I also like the assonance of ‘canister for fat breakfast’. The poem could perhaps do with some editing or reworking to make better linkage between the role of saint paul, saint valentine and the priest and the rest of the poem.

I love ‘Kofi drinking coffee with revolutionaries’, ‘dry spell of peace’, and ‘Daughters eating NGOs, GMOs, condoms and twitter’ (for example) in Mbizo’s next poem Road to Damascus. His careful attention to words, their meaning, how they are commonly used, and their potential explosive nature when they are mixed is inspiring. For me, there are times when the word abundance does not work as well, for example ‘Granite faith exfoliated by superguns and sanctions whirls,’ as when my mind is presented with the image of granite losing its skin, or a phrase like sanctions whirls, I stop and try to figure it out, and this interrupts the flow of the poem. Not that a poem shouldn’t make us work at meaning, but in this case, with both examples, my mind couldn’t get it and it becomes a distraction and a detraction.

Mbizo’s poem Identity Apples feels like a praise poem listing the influences on and attributes of our continent. It is a poem that I would like to hear in performance.

Which makes me wonder, Pieter, whether it would be possible for poets to submit video clips?

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