Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Lessons of money

This I wrote in 2001, in response to training at work before the introduction of a new accounting system.

(recalling Henry Reed)

In the 1940s
a poet could look down his nose
at an NCO, I suppose,
who said The reason being is,
and a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized.

Irritation nowadays
with those whose task it is to train
us would spurn any such disdain
for an unsyntactic phrase,
though a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized,

and they all said it, I think.
Learning computerized accounts
I woke for varying amounts.
Some if not all of it would sink.
And a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized.

History ran up the shore.
Whether money’s grant or profit,
tax or gift, the movement of it
calls on all our powers to track.
We struggled in the wake
and wash of ledgerspeak.
Debt was not cut at Okinawa.
And a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized.

In the run-up, the thing seemed to swell with historical change.
Up and running, not very, it comes to show,
like a blooper of snow-ploughs bought for the wrong sort of snow,
no human trends outside the usual range.
And a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized.

The Henry Reed allusion is to his 1940s sequence 'Lessons of the war', a response to his training in the Army.  I suppose I had better specify, since my refrain makes no sense otherwise, that the accounting system in which I, and many others, were being trained in the summer of 2000 was Cambridge University's CAPSA accounting system, since then upgraded and rebranded.

I believe I stretch things rather in conflating a capsa -- a cylindrical container for scrolls -- with a vase.  The attraction of the Vasa pun was too great, and is, I hope, covered by poetic licence.

The Okinawa allusion is to the 26th G8 summit, held in Okinawa in the summer of 2000, and the subject of demonstrations by the Jubilee 2000 movement for the cancellation of third world debt.

The poem was published in Cambridge University libraries information bulletin 51, Michaelmas 2002.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The subjunctive and a rondeau, after recent Twitter conversations

These two poems tie in with a couple of recent Twitter conversations.

'Lines on the loss of the subjunctive' dates from 2003. I threw it into a recent discussion, on the Language Log blog from the University of Pennsylvania, about the future or otherwise of the subjunctive mood in English. A bit of a sideline to the discussion as a whole, in which many of the participants are dauntingly well-informed -- have a look!


With the subjunctive, we are losing
a way to show the difference
between two thoughts we'd be confusing
as polar opposites in sense.
"She insists that the house is clean"
(she does, despite all evidence)
is strained if also used to mean
she makes you clean it, no pretence.
"She insists that the house be clean"
conveys the other not the one.
This plaintive pedant rests his case,
lest it should tire him in the sun.

'Flip' was written in 1998 for Rondeau revue -- one of several anthologies that Poetry Now (Forward Press in its present incarnation) devoted in the late 90s to verse in established forms. I'm always up for that kind of challenge, and produced my rondeau fairly quickly. It's on page 105 of the book.


Credit discredit. Like some board
game battered in a long-stay ward,
but it's played everywhere. The game
flicks pain to good and good to blame
or power or weakness or reward.

Both sides of this game's cards record
the moves, but how each player's scored
turns on which side lands up, which name,
credit discredit.

Fine honesty, or mere discord;
beauty, or waste; faith's risks, or fraud;
thankless unstinting, as you claim,
or blackmail; discipline, or maim:

make up the rules, play them when bored,
credit discredit.

For the rondeau as a form see Wikipedia here; for what looks like its Scottish cousin, see Wikipedia here. The Twitter conversation that brought all this up was with Karen McAulay, who has blogged an eighteenth-century poem, possibly by an ancestor-in-law of hers, in a metre that's close kin to that Scottish cousin.

Head, Andrew (ed.). 1998. Rondeau revue. Peterborough: Poetry Now.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Irrationally sinister

This dates from 2004, and was published in Streetwise 59, summer 2005, p. 6.


A jib-crane and an England flag.
Strong breeze, November dusk,
the crane still, the flag flying,
the building site in its betweenness.

Irrationally sinister:
a jib-crane and an England flag.
Perhaps it was the web report --
BBCi, from Iran,
the jib-crane's engine starting up
in early dawn, the killer hoist,
choking, twitching, in the wind.

Irrationally sinister:
a jib-crane and an England flag.
Perhaps it was the TV thriller --
a man fixed high up on a boat,
brush in hand, hasn't painted once
in the last hour. A dressed-up corpse.

Irrationally sinister:
a jib-crane and an England flag.
Perhaps it was the photograph --
a boat-train and a Swedish flag,
not sixties-new, as I thought then,
but from before the First World War.

And we know what old photos are.