In the ninth of our series of funny-serious poems, Helen Evans, Rachel Burns and Oliver Comins choose poems by U. A. Fanthorpe, Bobby Parker and Tishani Doshi
Helen Evans chose ‘Not My Best Side’ by U. A. Fanthorpe. She says, “This three-part poem, inspired by Paolo Uccello’s St George and the Dragon, always makes me smile. Disgruntled dragon, lustful virgin and unappealing hero are so wonderfully characterised by their monologues. None of them, frankly, show their best side. Pleasurable turns of phrase include the artist obsessed with triangles, “poor chap”; the virgin’s admiration of the dragon’s “lovely green skin” (and other assets); the “ostentatiously beardless” knight, “wearing machinery, on a really dangerous horse”. As the knight concludes the poem, it becomes more sharply subversive. “What, in any case, does it matter what / You want?” he tells the dragon and the virgin, “You’re in my way”. So perhaps dragons don’t need slaying, women don’t need rescuing, and the real danger comes from the “qualified and equipped” hero, with his “diplomas in Dragon Management and Virgin Reclamation” – and from the ‘sociology and myth’ that give him power.”
Not My Best Side
Not my best side, I’m afraid.
The artist didn’t give me a chance to
Pose properly, and as you can see,
Poor chap, he had this obsession with
Triangles, so he left off two of my
Feet. I didn’t comment at the time
(What, after all, are two feet
To a monster?) but afterwards
I was sorry for the bad publicity.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string? I don’t mind dying
Ritually, since I always rise again,
But I should have liked a little more blood
To show they were taking me seriously.
It’s hard for a girl to be sure if
She wants to be rescued. I mean, I quite
Took to the dragon. It’s nice to be
Liked, if you know what I mean. […]
Rachel Burns chose ‘Fruit Machine’ by Bobby Parker. She says, “I was first introduced to Bobby Parker’s writing in the poetry magazine, Purple Patch, run by the late Geoff Steven. Bobby’s poems caught my attention, not because I thought they were ‘shocking’ but because his depictions of the mundane existence of living in poverty were both absurd and painfully funny. When looking for a poem I was torn between ‘Thank You For Swallowing My Cum’ and ‘Fruit Machine’. In the end, I tossed a coin. ‘Fruit Machine’ is the first poem in Bobby’s collection, Working Class Voodoo. Bobby has a gift for portraying the absurdities of life on the margins. Humour can be found in the darkest of places.”
I withdraw my sickness
benefits from the post office
I could shit my pants.
turkey dinner and craft beer
with a picture
of a tiger.
Everyone I love is asleep.
If they’re not asleep
they were asleep.
I don’t think about factories
in the snow
or what song my mom has
stuck in her head
when she’s scraping
ice off the car.
I don’t think about the time
my dad couldn’t explain
he just sort of
into my shoulder.
I feed warm banknotes
into the beer-sticky slot
until they’re gone.
Later, I howl in your car.
Cold wind and rain.
Grey into grey
webbed with snot.
You beg me not to break
the passenger window
with my face.
Then you say
everything is going
to be okay, and that you love me,
you love me
you love me,
or no fruit machine.
Christ on a bike.
No one said
to be beautiful
but, for some reason, it is.
Oliver Comins chose ‘Petard’ by Tishani Doshi from her 2021 Bloodaxe collection A God at the Door. He says, “‘Petard’ first appeared in the Recent Work Press anthology No News, where it made me giggle in a boyish way. The long-lined tercets relate what could be a parable of folly in a heterosexual relationship. The narrative exposes the human motivation to avoid intimacy and to exploit it with behaviour that makes us strangers to each other and to ourselves. Reference to a tourist in Iceland joining the search party looking for her lost self adds another layer of (ironic) insight, before storm clouds looming over the poem’s mythic landscape are blown away by an auntie’s poised and wilful detonation.”
After you were banished to the desert for months, you came home
to find the house occupied. A stranger had moved in and befriended
the dog. Three families of squirrels built nests in the shuttered
windows, and termites were hard at work in the bathroom, building
a cathedral of sand. The stranger was in the planter’s chair reading diaries
and love letters you’d left behind. There was a vodka martini in a chalice,
wind chimes working their best John Denver rendition from the porch.
When the stranger saw you, he said, Wife, welcome home, and for a moment —
confusion. You were not one of those poet-saints whose homes and tombs
were as movable as their desires. You had not offered up these rooms and said,
You have no bed, take mine. You have no family, be mine. Supper was laid out
on a yellow tablecloth and there was even a vase of bougainvillea drooping
into the soup. It had been so long since you’d seen clouds, so the stranger and you
walked out to the beach to marvel at those cumulonimbi, which in every language
are harbingers, heaped and towering like volcanoes floating low above the sea.
The stranger opened his arms as though gathering an imaginary bouquet
of flowers, as if to say, Thanks for all this. It means a lot. Your heart exploded
with its own goodness and exploded again when it considered all it might lose
or might already have lost. You thought about that woman in Iceland who joined
the search party to look for a missing woman, who turned out to be herself.
How it is a search everyday. To wince or not to wince. How at academic
conferences on Hamlet you want to talk not about language being rhizomic
or vectorising the text, but about an aunt who lifts one cheek casually
mid-conversation, to let loose wind, as though it were news rushing to be told.