In the second of our series of poems to make you smile and make you think, Matthew Stewart, Annie Fisher and Christopher James choose favourite poems by Maria Taylor, Luke Kennard and Billy Collins
First off, Matthew Stewart chooses ‘Hypothetical’ by Maria Taylor.
A friend of mine asks me if I’d sleep with Daniel Craig,
would I make love to him or kick him out of bed?
Before I have time to answer, I’m in bed with Daniel Craig.
He’s stirring out of sleep, smelling of Tobacco Vanille,
he flatters my performance, asks if I’d like coffee.
‘Hang on,’ I say, ‘I did not sleep with you, Daniel Craig,
this is just a conversational frolic.’ My friend stands
in the corner of my bedroom. ‘You’ve gone too far,’ she says.
I’m pulling the duvet away from his Hollywood body
at exactly the moment my husband enters the room
I say, ‘Yes, this is exactly what it looks like, darling,
but it’s hypothetical, a mere conversational frolic.’
He’s threatening me. There are lawyers in the room.
My children begin to cry. I don’t even like Daniel Craig.
It’s too late. The sheets are full of secreted evidence.
There are forensics in the room, covering my body
in blue powder, checking my skin for finger prints:
they match Daniel Craig’s. He doesn’t even know
he’s slept with me. My marriage is a dead gull.
My neighbours come into the room shaking heads,
oh dear oh dear oh dear. My husband has drawn lists
of all the things he wants to keep: a plasma screen,
an X Box, a collection of muesli coloured pebbles
from our holidays in Truro, ‘When you loved me!’
he snaps. My children will see a therapist after school.
Daniel Craig is naked in a hypothetical sense,
telling me we can make this work. My friend smirks
behind a celebrity magazine featuring lurid details
of our affair. There are photos. We are on a beach
in the Dominican Republic, healthy and tanned
both kicking sand at a playful Joan Collins.
‘I don’t even like Daniel Craig,’ I tell the ceiling.
Matthew says, “Maria Taylor’s ‘Hypothetical’ is terrific fun but with an unsettling streak running through the entire poem. It’s a play on what might or might not be possible, questioning the foundations on which we build our relationships, merging fantasy and the everyday. As such, it’s typical of her knack for challenging our view of reality. What’s more, it offers us a delicious blend of sex and humour, which only adds to its attraction. The erotic is often painfully funny, and Maria Taylor’s poem makes me wince and grin in equal measure.”
Annie Fisher picks ‘My Friend’ by Luke Kennard.
My friend, your irresponsibility and your unhappiness delight me. Your financial problems and your expanding waist-line are a constant source of relief. I am so happy you drink more than I do and that you don’t seem to enjoy it as much. When I hear you being arrogant and argumentative, my heart leaps. Your nihilism is fast becoming the richest source of meaning in my life and it is my pleasure to watch you speaking harshly to others. When you gossip about our mutual acquaintances I sigh with satisfaction. Your childish impatience delights me. The day you threw a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket was the happiest day of my life. Sometimes you say something which reveals you to be rather stupid — and I love you then, but not as much as I love you when you are callously manipulative. Your promiscuity is like a faithful dog at my side. When you talk about your petty affairs, you try to make them sound grand and important — I cherish your gaucheness and your flippancy. At times it seems you are actually without a sense of humour: I bless the day I met you. You bully people younger and weaker than you — and when others tell me about this, I am pleased. Sometimes I think you are incapable of love — and I am filled with the contentment of waking on a Saturday morning to realise I don’t have to go to work. I often suspect that you do not even like me and my laughter overflows like water from a blocked cistern.
Annie says, “I love the delicious pomposity of the voice and the way the whole thing gathers speed without drawing breath — no room for line or stanza breaks. I love how it glories in the unspoken joys of schadenfreude, nudging us knowingly in the ribs and reminding us of something we’d not readily admit — that our friendships are not always all they might appear to be; that we are comparing ourselves all the time; that our spoken words conceal mean-spirited thoughts. It’s a good antidote to Carol King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ which always makes me feel guilty!”
Christopher James picks ‘Nostalgia’ by Billy Collins.
Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.
Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.
The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead …
Christopher says: “This is a brilliant play on the ‘those were the days’ line; everything was always better 20 years ago, even in 1360s. It’s a great idea and perfectly executed, and it’s all in the detail, from the made-up names of the dance crazes to the throwback fashions (‘our hats were extremely soft’). It’s finely judged satire, rings so true, and it’s all so absurdly plausible. The ending of the third stanza (out of six) is literally dead pan: ‘It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead’.”
More funny-serious poems to come. f you’ve got one that you love and want to recommend, send us a link and 100 words on why you think it’s so good.