They got it wrong who placed it out of sight,
Too far off, long ago, or far ahead,
Or just too other-world to shed much light

On how things are. That’s why they lost the thread,
Those old utopians, and went astray
So grievously when what we want instead

Is just a slight deflection from the way
Things normally go on, or how they look
When viewed close up and in the light of day.

The trouble is, those fabulators took
So far-out a perspective on their own
Bad here-and-now that it became a book

Unreadable by anyone who’d known
Just so much brute facticity as fell
Within that same capacious border-zone

Beyond which dreams as well as dragons dwell.
So those brave touters of a world elsewhere
Were apt to find they’d nothing more to tell

Us real-world dwellers save the fact that their
Fine promises would quickly turn to threats
Once history had done its timely share

To prove (as Auden said, without regrets)
How nothing came of hopes pitched heaven-high,
Or how utopian reverie begets

Its lethal opposite when facts belie
Some dearly wished-for way things might have been.
This, I surmise, is just the reason why

Those starry-eyed purveyors of a scene
Light-years from ours were usually the first
To wax flat-out dystopian, or careen

From bright-side twitter to resentment nursed
Through years of disillusion as the bad
Turned worse, then left them to project the worst.

So now the question is: how not to add
Another voice to the unending plaint
Of hope-denouncers crying ‘I’ve been had!’.

Best then we exercise a due restraint
And limit our utopias to a range
Of nearby other worlds without the taint

That comes of thinking everything must change
And then, when things don’t quite work out as planned,
Allowing disappointment to estrange

The actual world until that promised land
Takes on the lurid hues that Breughel chose,
Or paranoia gets the upper hand

And we’re in Orwell’s world where no one knows
What ‘actual’ means. One lesson thus stands clear:
That the utopian is that which goes

Just so far counter to the world that we’re,
Like it or not, at home in as to grant
Us passage back and forth through the frontier

That otherwise would stipulate we can’t
Do border-crossings lest some drastic shift
Of focus leave our vision so aslant,

Or real-world-steering compass so adrift,
That we’re an easy prey for just those kinds
Of paradox that Orwell thought a gift

To any crazed ideologue who finds
Their logic-bending power a great device
To still the stirring of rebellious minds.

So if the near-inevitable price
Of Morris-type utopias is to draw
This Orwell-type rejoinder, let’s think twice

Before embarking on a road that saw
So many pile-ups in so many dreams,
Or stark reiterations of the law

Which says that books with desert-island themes
May start like Stevenson but must conclude
Like Golding since those contrary extremes

Are sure to make the Treasure-Island mood
Of Boy’s-Own moral uplift seem a piece
Of downright moral idiocy when viewed

In light of Piggy’s plot-decreed decease
And the short road that leads from Golding’s tale
Of games gone wrong to Orwell’s thought-police.

Still, though the signs say all utopias fail
And by that failure breed some hell on earth,
There’s hope a change of angle might avail

To ward off melancholy at the dearth
Of counter-instances. The only thing
That’s half-way likely to redeem the worth

Of that long history whose failures cling
To our all our lives until despair takes hold
Is to catch our utopias on the wing,

Give over questing for an age of gold,
Seek small transcendences in everyday
Events, and so repudiate the old

Dystopian wisdom that would have us pay
No heed to such minutiae but attend
Solely to how high hopes at length give way

To low, dishonest fears that soon descend
Yet further and endorse the cynic’s bet
That all ideals turn putrid in the end.

First lesson, then: on no account to let
That sorry dialectic get a grip
Or that bipolar malady upset

The equipoise that otherwise might tip
Propitiously, though not toward some great
Tsunami-wave that says, Abandon Ship!,

Leave me to scuttle that old leaky crate
Your vita ante acta, and let this,
Your vita nuova, be to navigate

New worlds whose seaways old-world sailors miss
Because they figure nowhere on the maps
Drawn up when ‘u’ so quickly changed to ‘dys’

In all those –topias that filled the gaps
In their cartography. More it’s a case
Of some small shift or momentary lapse

In our coordinates of time and space
That gives us the first inkling of a chink
Through which we might just glimpse another place,

One that may vanish at a second blink
Yet lingers as a sense of zones unmapped
In any atlas since beyond the brink

Of any world where atlases are apt
To service just those travellers whose need
Is chiefly to avoid becoming trapped

In some new world whose guide-books supersede
All sources known to them. What others spy,
Though at first darkly, once they’ve learned to read

The signs is that they’ve accessed a nearby
Or not-quite-actual world, yet one that shares
With the old one they left a common sky

And history enough to make it theirs,
This autre-monde, since not so far apart
From monde quotidienne that nothing squares

With any landmark noted on their chart,
Or everything conspires to lock them tight
In fairyland where all dystopias start.

So let’s suppose it gets things roughly right,
The doctrine that plain actualité
Is what best helps to curb the errant flight

Of counterfactual reveries when they
Begin with some utopia like a star
That far outshines the pallid light of day,

But end in a deep night that’s just as far
From solacing us earthly types whose lives
Depend on daylight quotas up to par,

Yet whose good health and sanity survives
Only if no disaster – no excess
Of solar luminosity – deprives

Our kind of the nocturnal spells that bless
Their lucid watch so long as daylight lasts
With promise of benign forgetfulness.

Still this diurnal trope is one that casts
Too long and dark a shadow over all
Those mindscapes where utopia contrasts,

Not grosso modo but in sundry small
And hard-to-notice details, with the sheer
Self-evidence that holds our minds in thrall,

Or this-world actualism that helps steer
Us clear of fancying there might exist
A world elsewhere, though not so far from here,

In which stand plain to view those landmarks missed
On our last routine visit. This applies
So generally that to make a list

Of such scene-shifters or anatomise
The myriad ways they make the world anew
Would simply be utopia in the guise

Of some great tick-box list of ‘things to do
Before we die’. Among the options ticked
Most often are the ones where any clue

As to just how or why their message clicked
Like that demands that the enquirer go
Some lengthy ways around to contradict

The whole idea that only if we know
Enough about the X we’re looking for –
Its name, place, nature, all things à propos

Can we lay claim to offer any more
Utopian a perspective on the stuff
Of daily life than might supply a poor

(Since not produced with skill and care enough)
B-movie script or fourth-rate TV soap.
That’s no doubt why utopia gets a rough

Ride when the actualists test its its high hope
Against a crass reality that’s straight
From movieland and so restricts the scope

For world-refashioning to a change of state
Where everything stays pretty much the same
For fear that changes more extreme might rate

As zero-scorers in the current game.
Else they’d most likely be disqualified
From the word go since their utopian aim

Is so far skewed toward the other side,
The yonder-world of any here-and-now,
That it lacks any method to provide

The smallest indication as to how
The two realities might intersect,
Or the plain prose of everyday allow

The poetry of ‘what if?’ to inflect
Its metric with an accent that derails
The rhythmic beat our well-trained ears expect.

Still best not push so far that this entails
Expiry of the patient through mere lack
Of oxygen, or – if some switch-point fails

To keep our train reliably on track
Across those gaps – the pile-up that ensues
When hairline faults amass to form a crack,

Or sound and sense decouple and we lose
All contact with whatever once sustained
Their rhythmic interplay since words refuse,

Like rolling-stock, to keep themselves entrained
As some wild motion bucks the snaky line.
Thus any promise of new freedoms gained

By vers-libristes who wish to redefine
Verse-forms utopically is apt to prove
Delusive when these factors all combine

To crash their programmes, make them jump the groove,
And thereby (if unwittingly) reveal
How close the link between those things that move

Our minds by some slight detour from the real
That gains all the more leverage for not
Essaying some transformative big deal,

And those fine shifts of stress that hit the spot
More perfectly for never losing touch
With rhythmic subtleties that go to pot

Once turned loose altogether from the clutch
Of rhyme and meter. All this really means
Is that where poets used them as a crutch

They now fall back on other fixed routines,
Though such as tend increasingly toward
The private realm since nothing intervenes –

No verbal artifice that might afford
An escape-route back into the fresh air
Of public discourse – and the poet’s word

Becomes an idiolect that few can share
Since now confined to such a narrow sphere
Of self-preoccupation. So it’s rare

For words like that to penetrate the ear
Of some responsive reader by a route
That offers fine acoustics once it’s clear

Of all those baffle-boards set up to mute
The rousing accents of a voice provoked
Not by its own (distinctly sub-acute)

Soul-maladies or ego-bruises stroked
With every nostrum in the soul-quack’s kit,
But rather by what’s soul-and-body yoked

In any world with contours shaped to fit
Our non-Cartesian needs. This leaves no room
Either for false utopias that split

Ideal from actual so as then to zoom
Straight in on those slight defects that preclude
All real (hence non-ideal) bouquets from bloom,

Or so the anti-rhyme-and-meter brood
Of free-verse fanciers can rate the cause
Of liberty a good to be pursued

By flat-out opposition to the laws
Laid down by some (they think) restrictive code
Of mere good manners. What should give them pause

Is reckoning with the new-found freedoms owed
To those slight deviations, lapses, swerves,
And clinamina whose event bestowed,

Or so Lucretius thought, the jolt that serves
To send our thoughts off into worlds unknown
Just where the old familiar coastline curves

Back on itself, and so occludes what’s shown
To anyone whose line of vision takes
This as its point of entry to the zone

Where smallest change is often that which makes
The biggest difference. So these themes converge,
Utopia and poetics, since the stakes

For both concern the prospects that emerge
Not from some vast upheaval in the whole
Existing scheme of things, but on the verge

Of possibility where vision’s role
Is more to take a shrewdly cock-eyed squint
Than give the focused watcher full control,

Lest his fixed viewpoint disallow the hint
That there’s some angle on the way things stand,
Or vue de loin, from which they take a tint

Beyond the range of those routinely scanned
By users of a colour-chart that shows
Its shades and hues only from near-to-hand.

Switch ‘u’ to ‘ec’ is one thing I’d propose,
Since an ectopic turn from this-world fact
To near-world counter-fact may then disclose,

By exercise of epistemic tact,
The tiny gap between them that subtends
Their angle by a measure so exact

That not a single contour smoothly blends
From world to world, no landmark blurs or fades,
Yet from each one ectopia extends

By just so far. Though it has lights and shades
In plenty still their spectrum’s so precise
As perfectly to match up with the grades

Of likelihood that, at a pinch, suffice
To navigate our passage through the shoals
Of actuality while playing dice

Not, like the Ancient Mariner, for souls
(His and his shipmates) otherwise in hock
To life-in-death, but more to shift the poles

Between which his tale moves and so unlock
By small adjustment what’s consigned to mere
Utopian reverie by all en bloc

World-shaking leverage of the homely sphere
We take for real. So might we best construe
Why Leibniz should regale us with the sheer
Vast plenitude of worlds he simply knew,
On a priori grounds, could leave no gap
Unfilled by possibilia, yet drew

The line at notions too far off the map,
Like Newton’s physics with its space-time frame
So absolute that, should God make a snap

Decision to create the very same
World just one second later or one inch
To left or right, then this would be a game

With rules so arbitrary as to clinch
The case for Leibniz. Let us then relieve
The cosmos of Sir Isaac’s chronic pinch

By claiming better warrant to conceive
How nothing’s absolute since all transpires
At various cross-points in the spacetime weave

Of relativity. What this requires,
To stick with our analogy, is that
We deem ‘utopian’ only what inspires

Some far-out voyaging from where it’s at
In our world hic et nunc, and don’t so deem
Whatever strikes us as a trifle flat

Since its departure’s that much less extreme
And aimed toward those margins of the good,
The just, the fine, or beautiful which seem

To set their sights on nearby worlds that should
Require no parting waves to the locale
Of actuality that long withstood

The old desire that nothing should corral
Our echt-utopian longings.
But it’s time
To leave off fashioning a rationale

For turning poet lest you think that I’m
Just multiplying reasons of the sort
Most apt to shift attention from the prime

Matter at hand. Let’s say ectopias ought
To spring from not-quite-nowhere and upgrade
The not-all-bad into what’s still far short

Of such high virtues as might be displayed
By denizens of some pluperfect state
Past hope or need of change. What’s then conveyed

Is less a splendid gesture to negate
The nunc stans at a stroke, and more the kind
Of focal shift by which the average rate

Or normal run of things that once defined
Reality turns out to have concealed
Perspectives that now strike the eye and mind

As if by miracle. So stands revealed
Another world just fractionally skewed
From the old axis yet with power to yield

Such a rare gift of insight as renewed
The ancient covenant between those twin
Though conjoint magisteria imbued

With mind’s sure knowledge of a sense akin
To vision, and with vision as the sense
That only some idea of ancient sin

Bone-deep in us could count a dire offence
Against soul’s purity. Ectopia’s just
That border-crossing stage where we commence

The perspectival switch that shows we must
First off adapt our past to present needs
Of world-refashioning, and then entrust

This fragile construct to a route that leads
Beyond the checkpoint zone of what compels
All sub-utopian thoughts. So one who reads

The signs may see how this projection spells
The end of any mindscape so composed
As perfectly to fit whatever gels

With extant notions of a world foreclosed
By just such fixed parameters as serve
To ward off any challenge to hard-nosed

Or hard-line actualists. So thought gains nerve
By measuring its strength against the lure
Exerted by a strictly bounded curve

Of this-world likelihood, yet must ensure
That none of its inventions break the mould
So thoroughly that their utopian cure,

Just as for cancer or the common cold,
Proves in the end a medicine so strong
It kills the patient. This, then, we may hold

The stock descant to every siren-song
Of worlds transformed, as well as the refrain
That always strikes up when the dream goes wrong,

Most often in a schadenfreudlich vein
Involving switches to a minor key
And wrong-note harmonies that mark a strain

Of ‘See, I told you so!’. Perhaps it’s glee
That all those splendid plans have come to grief
On their first run-through with the ABC

Of spellers who resolve to take a leaf
From no book save the one that lays down rules
Decreeing any other-world motif

Should pretty much conform to what the schools
Of head-screwed-on plain commonsense require.
So strict orthographers think none but fools

Would let their deviant letterings conspire
With other kinds of anarchy that spell
Ruin for all things in the line of fire,

Such as the plans that might have turned out well
In some quasi-alternate autre-monde
Had the utopians’ heaven not made hell

Its destination in the great beyond.
Still let’s take comfort from those other modes
Of fictive world-creation that respond

To challenge not by scrambling all the codes,
As the French think Joyce did in Finnegans Wake,
But more by travelling light on different roads

And holding Stendhal’s mirror up to make
Quite sure no detail of the passing scene
Go unreflected, or – should mirror break –

That every fragment, shard, or smithereen
Still capture some perspective on a world,
A monad (after Leibniz), or the bean

In which, said Barthes, the Buddhist saw unfurled
The limitless potential mises-en-scène
Of worlds and narratives that all lay curled

In embryo. The message here, again,
Is not some cynic counsel to make terms
With what the pundits and the anchor-men

Of brute reality would say confirms
Their expert diagnosis, even though
Reason itself revolts and conscience squirms

At having to accommodate so low
Or downright cacotopian a view
Of what reality might have to show

Once hope contrived some slackening of the screw
That circumstance forced down on it so hard.
Then thought-police had nothing more to do

Than make sure every access-point was barred
To those ectopic shifts of mind whose threat
Was all the greater since the winning card

Lay close concealed in every well-placed bet
On outcomes that appreciably improved
The gamesters’ chance of happiness. And yet

This wager ran no risk that might have moved
Their calculation out beyond the realm
Of such apt choice-procedures as behooved

Those whom no wild surmise could overwhelm
Since, when it came to reckoning the odds,
Their ship of dreams had reason at the helm

And placed no trust in what the fickle gods
Of future possibility might choose
To actualise, or what the awkward squads

Of dreamscape-planners might elect to use
In ways flat contrary to what they meant.
Such were the seers and vision-framers whose

Most splendid dream-constructions never went
So far as to deny themselves the trick
By which a blueprint of their true intent

Arranged things so the master-code would click
Always and only when the planners’ draft
Kept that intent in mind, and else would stick

Well short of where those wreckers aimed to shaft
The framers’ dearest wish. Still let’s not slide
Back into that dystopia where ‘graft’

Can never mean such work as occupied
The lives and best endeavours of those graced
With more than common power to set aside

Self-interest, but belongs to some debased
New usage where the word’s semantic stretch
Extends no further than to match the taste

Of grafters whose idea of what will fetch
Them max returns is one that well befits
A language so corrupt that a brief sketch

On lines historical will show how its
Once copious reserves of hope have run
Down low. Thus any rescue from the pits

Of word-and-world depravity is one
Whose likelihood’s in truth about as high
As hitting on some means to leave undone

All those past wrongs, or retro-rectify
The world’s accumulated woes though some
Time-cancelling exercise of thought whereby

Those travails ex post facto then become
The signposts marking out another path
That might yet bring deliverance from the slum

Of lives embittered in hope’s aftermath.
Else they’d be left to drag their lifetimes out
Under the shadow of a judge’s wrath

Whose dark decree they never think to doubt
Although its justice, or indeed the sin
Of which they stand accused, their most devout

Soul-searching efforts simply can’t begin
To fathom. Yet it’s here, deep in the gloom
Of Kafka’s courthouse, that we might yet win

Our first slight intimation that the doom
Pronounced on us for who knows what small flaw
According to what rule by who knows whom

Is maybe not so worthy of the awe
With which we (much like Kafka and his tribe
Of earnest exegetes) invest the law.

No doubt its heavy sentence may inscribe
Our flesh in ways that other grisly tale
Of his narrates so all the details jibe

With every notch-up on the torture-scale
That marks the point where some dystopic shunt
From metaphor to what it must entail

In literal truth compels us to confront
The horrors visited by legal force
On those poor body-souls who bear the brunt

Of law’s gross corporality. Of course
This point needs making if you grant the least
Credence or sympathy to cries whose source

Is all the victims of a world policed
By church and state through centuries of wars
Fought to placate some commissar or priest

Of either regimen. Still there’s no cause
To give up prematurely on the hope
That bids us not augment the loud applause

That tends to greet proposals we should cope
With this bad situation by the ruse
Of taking up some Kafka-scripted trope

And letting its grim purport disabuse
Our cynic selves of every bright idea
Whose rainbow hues once promised to suffuse

Our thinking with the confidence that we’re
At any rate still able to discern
Some hopeful glimmer from the far frontier

That’s comes close up once the ectopic turn
Brings realists at last to take the point
Of hope’s solicitation. So we learn

The lesson offered up by every joint
Display of how reality both ticks
Us off should we be tempted to anoint

Some current patch-up job or short-term fix
Our promised land, yet counts us either nuts
Or wicked if we kick against the pricks,

Refuse to tolerate the ifs and buts,
And so make sure this second time around
For the old farce is when its stage-door shuts

So firmly there’s no chance it might be found
Next season starting up in some cut-price
Location where theatre in the round

Is just the most convenient device
For keeping everyone (as Foucault taught)
Panoptically surveyed. Then they’ll think twice

Before objecting that they’ve all been caught,
Audience and actors, in a playscript penned
By some bad dramaturge whose only thought

Is how to bring this freak-show to an end
While keeping that bunch well and truly hooked.
Then they’ll come back in droves and so extend

His current season to the date he’d booked
With a theatre-manager whose sole
Concern, like his, was that the audience looked

No further than the sorts of bit-part role
Their own lives shared not only with the lot
Of walk-on characters, but with the whole

Troupe, leads included. For the only plot
This management approves is one that leaves
No room for thoughts or actions beyond what

A strictly-trained répétiteur conceives
The playwright to have had in mind, or if
There’s just no telling, then what he believes

Best suited to avoid a nasty tiff
With management or critics who adopt
The sort of moral tone that lets them sniff

Out any hints the actor may have dropped
Of views utopian or so heterodox
That surely this production will have flopped

Within a week. Yet Brecht found ways to fox
The censors West and East by making his
Utopias so thick-hedged around with blocks

To ready comprehension, like a quiz
For dialecticians of the yet-to-be,
That they enjoyed a measure of showbiz

Success as well as letting people see
The very mechanisms that conspired
To hold them back from ever breaking free

Of just those mechanisms. Though what fired
The zeal of old utopians cannot gain
Much purchase here the spark’s not yet expired,

As anyone who’s watched Brecht’s plays with brain
Half-way engaged will surely testify,
Since their great strength’s the courage to refrain

From dénouements too upbeat to apply
In any world like ours. Instead they seize
On just those moments when things go awry,

Yet do so in a way that guarantees
The audience will divide not just along
Class lines, or gender lines, or both of these

Plus other boundaries that pass among
Some fractured collectivity, but more
By finding room for that discordant throng

Of inner voices that all know the score
Note-perfect as their single line unfolds
And lets them harmonise the frail rapport

Of personhood. So the one thing that holds
Their selves together must be just the cracked
Old carapace that wishful thinking moulds

Into the unity they always lacked,
That myth of soul’s autonomy that Brecht
Laid bare (think Galileo, final act)

Through sundry kinds of Verfremdungseffekt,
Though often (think instead Der Gute Mensch
Von Sezuan
) to make sure we then reflect

On how good deeds in naughty worlds can wrench
Hope from despair. So there appears that slim
Last chance to dissipate the lingering stench

Of hopes betrayed, or turn around the grim
Dramatic irony that else dictates
Their constant quashing at the merest whim

Of what old dramatists put down to fate’s
Inexorable workings. Here they show
Up clearly in the sudden switch of states,

From woe to weal or (likelier) weal to woe,
Produced by agents whose appointed task,
Less grandly, was to keep the status quo

Secure against all slippage of the mask
Long worn by bourgeois justice lest a glance
Behind it spurred the multitude to ask

How they’d been led this less-than-merry dance,
And (Brecht would add) why those high-tragic types,
From Sophocles on down, could so entrance

The groundlings as to make them feel that gripes
Like theirs were downright trivial when weighed
Against a tragic view of things that wipes

Clean out of mind those histories that laid
On lives destroyed their less-than-tragic mark.
Here stands the record of those hopes betrayed

In detail more than adequate to spark
The poor to revolution rather than
The rich and poor alike to think how dark

Man’s doom or destiny since time began,
And then (for tragedy requires no less)
Resignedly abandon any plan

For world-renewal. Here their sole redress
Comes, if at all, not by the casting down
Of class divides but when they acquiesce

In the bestowal of a martyr’s crown
Or tragic victim’s willingness to cede
The chance of well-earned activist renown

In poor exchange for what some high-class creed
Of timeless values or eternal truth
Cajoles them to accept as what we need

More urgently than (say) a plan for youth
Employment or for reckoning the lost
Life-chances of the jobless. It’s uncouth,

That Brechtian take on tragedy’s high cost
In wasted lives, but maybe it’s our best
Or only way to get behind what’s glossed

Point-beggingly in all ideas to test
The claims of tragic uplift by appeal,
Though purely circular, to what’s expressed

Just through those highest forms of art that deal
Exclusively in matters far above
The grasp of dwellers in the humdrum real

Or hopeful types who, when push comes to shove,
Would rather pin their trust to earthbound plots
Like Brecht’s. These show how any claim for love

As world-transformer should join up the dots
In such a way that no-one gets to stake
Their truth on some world-picture that allots

To agape alone this power to make
A real and lasting difference since the drive
Of eros, city-builder, cannot slake

The spirit’s thirst though mind and body thrive
In its salubrious region. That old lie
Is just the one by which the gods connive,

Along with their new converts on the sly,
Our this-world actualists, to stop the word
‘Utopian’ from ever getting by

Or carving out a niche in the preferred
Lexis of those self-deputized to watch
For any slightest hint of such absurd

Attempts to ratchet hope another notch
Beyond the current norm, and – should the signs
Point that way – do their level best to scotch

The snake by doses of between-the-lines
Dystopian irony or warning notes
In which a certain levity combines

With a selection of hope-dashing quotes
From sundry sources. Thus they plan to stuff
Utopian claptrap straight back down the throats

Of those naïve, obtuse or rash enough
To use them straight or sans the de rigueur
Scare-quotes intended as a firm rebuff

To hopers whom no danger-signs deter,
Since they’re the ones who take their bearings still
From a true North whose heading they infer

Not by some gyroscope-assisted skill
In navigation, but by a shrewd mix
Of Bloch’s fine Hoffnungsprinzip that thought ill

Of nothing in the Zeitgeist‘s bag of tricks,
However bargain-basement, if it held
The last least chance of giving us a fix

On some utopia whose glimmer spelled
Its possibility, with (so you’d think)
Its polar opposite. That’s what compelled

Adorno to suspect that any link
Utopians might discover or construct
Between two such completely out-of-sync

Realities as one the hopers plucked
From the far distant world of their ideals,
And one (his own) that had those hopers fucked

At every turn, undoubtedly conceals
The yet more hideous world-to-come that gave
Orwell and Co. their ready-made appeals

To that dark recess deep in Plato’s cave
Where all our fears and lost illusions join
To tell us the deliverance we crave

Is counterfeited in the common coin
Of every dream gone sour. Yet we should bear
In mind how Teddy saw fit to purloin

From Ernst a striking image here and there
That wrests some gleam of hope from the debris
Of ruined life, and tells us that the pair,

Despite their long estrangement, came to be,
If not of one mind, then agreed on this:
That while (Adorno’s point) the giddy spree

Of hope untouched by dread was sure to miss
Its mark and leave us helplessly exposed
To Hitler’s progeny, still the abyss

Might yet be circumvented if not closed.
What’s more (Bloch’s point) the prospect may demand
That, while its awesome depths should not be glozed,

As once by Trilling’s students, with a bland
Remark like ‘Some abyss!’, its looming threat
Is better dealt with if we take our stand

In that ectopic margin where there’s yet
A foothold for the realist, but as well
The space for opportunities to get

An angle on the actualist cartel
That fixes things so no utopian tinge
Of nearby other-worlds can help dispel

Our bad reality, or else unhinge
The doors of our perception that swing shut
On any world beyond the outer fringe

Of this-world fact. For so it is we cut
Clean out of our perspective every odd
Small detail that might lift us from the rut

Of habit-dulled perception as we plod
Along known paths whose vistas strike us mute
With ennui, not amazement, since we trod

Them map in hand so often that they suit
No purpose better than a postcard home
With scrawled inscription ‘Thought the view was cute,

Wish you were here’. Yet (Bloch would say) just comb
Through all those shoebox-hoarded cards and then,
Quite possibly, amongst the polychrome

Beach-scenes and scatty notes that people pen
For lack of space, you’ll hit on something like
The detail that made someone look again

And snap whatever scene happened to strike
Their jaded eye. For Barthes, this was the trait,
The punctum, that provoked a sudden spike

Of jouissance through its power to fascinate
And pierce the photo-viewer with a sense
Of déja vu that simply won’t translate

Out of that idiom so that rules of tense,
Grammatically construed, might say just where
Our memories stop and future dreams commence.

Thus studium might infallibly declare
(As Barthes once thought in old high-structuralist mode)
How photographs, like narratives, all share

Subjection to the self-same master-code
That it was semiotics’ task to break
Once and for all, until his late texts showed

How vain that dream of method in the wake
Of one especial punctum. This provides
A handy instance, for post-structuralists’ sake,

Of what new forms that turning of the tides
From a fixed past to open future might
Conceivably bring forth once thought decides,

With Aristotle’s blessing, that the right
Way to interpret sentences of form
Future-contingent is to deem them quite

Exempt from the determinist’s strict norm.
Then it may yield us just the means required
To sift those few utopias from the swarm

Of other worlds that most should be be desired
By creatures, like ourselves, whose best chance lies
In figuring how to tweak what’s not hard-wired

About our lives and worlds, then improvise
As freely as admits a due concern
For the fine-tuning that alone supplies

A sense of just how far the world might turn
Toward some orientation more benign,
Or helps us frame perspectives to discern

Its advent. Still the Umwelt should incline
No further from its axis than permits
Trans-world explorers licence to assign
A system of coordinates that fits
Both worlds, the actual and its nearest-by
Ectopic counterpart that subtly pits

Against it what the keenest may descry,
Since only by such miniscule degrees
Of deviation can the practised eye

Perceive slight shifts beyond the expertise
Of strict one-world cartographers whose pet
Projections offered ample scope to squeeze

Out every landmark save those few that met
Their routine gaze.
If this experiment
In rhyme-led reasoning has maybe let

Some light through and redeemed the efforts spent
On formal artifice, that’s because rhyme
Is just the kind of opportune event

In language, as in thought, that makes ‘sublime’
An adjective quite fittingly deployed
For serendipity of verbal chime

As much as for those detours through the void,
Those chance deflections of the atom shower,
That Epicurus, like his follower Freud,

Took as a perfect image of the power
By which our intellects may learn to dump
The false persuasions that would have us cower

Before fake deities. The atom’s jump
Then figures, ‘metaphorically’ perhaps,
But aptly, as an intuition-pump

Which shows that no absurd ‘god of the gaps’
Is needed to explain the endless strife
Of opposites or laying-down of traps

By each for other in the kind of knife-
Edge lethal dialectic that embroils
The pleasure-principle and what its life-

Denying opposite drags through the toils
Of that harsh principle by which, Freud claimed,
Libido at the crisis-point recoils

Into a drive that’s ultimately aimed
Toward its own extinction. Still that’s just
One view, a grim one, of the doctrine framed

By Epicurus and received on trust
By stoics as by Freud in sombre mood,
And apt to fire the anchorite’s disgust

At all things merely bodily and lewd.
Whence the inventions put around by those,
Like Jerome, in whose tale Lucretius brewed

An aphrodisiac that induced the throes
Of death, not sensual transport, and so brought
His life (quoth Jerome) to a fitting close.

What got the pious brethren overwrought
About Lucretius’ hexametric spin
On the same lessons Epicurus taught

Was not, perhaps, so much the fear that sin
Might prove too tempting once we learned to do
Without thoughts of an afterlife wherein

Accounts were settled, but their sense that through
Its rendering in verse that doctrine took
A form that let the chance events accrue –

The errant tropes or turns that cocked a snook
At plain-prose virtue – and so found a way
To grab the reader’s interest, or a hook

(Like those Lucretian atoms) lest it stray
Beyond the finely calibrated zone
Of randomness that regulates the play

Of chance within strict limits. These alone
Permit the atom-swerves to intertwine
And so define a switch-point from the known

To whatsoever dawns beneath the sign
Of hazard, chance, contingency, event,
Turn, trope, trouvaille, or that which makes a line

Of verse ring true as if by accident.
For – Jakobson’s my witness – nothing but
Cosmic coincidence or heaven-sent

Alliterative chance explained the glut
Of complex verbal patterning that’s found
In any line or chunk you care to cut

Out for analysis of how the sound
Is echo to the sense. That’s why (his phrase
For it) the poetry of grammar’s bound

To strike the keen-eared linguist who essays
The task of saying what it is about
Some haunting passage that at length repays

The time and effort that it took to scout
Each level of poetic artifice
And then, lest anyone profess to doubt

The evidence, show how we’re prone to miss
Some crucial point or nuance of the sense
If we leave out of our analysis

Those phonematic levels that condense
The structural resources of la langue
Into a preternaturally intense

Act of parole. This rises into song
Each time that verbal discourse undergoes
A switch of focus from what moves along

In linear-horizontal style, like prose,
To what occurs when (Jakobson’s idea)
The axis shifts and then we juxtapose,

So to speak vertically, whatever we’re
Well practised at selecting from the class
Of contrasts or resemblances that here

Require the language-faculty to pass
Beyond those more prosaic sorts of tie
That have us mostly view things through a glass

Darkly. Ectopia’s sign-posted by
That same poetic function which decrees
(Here Jakobson again) that we apply

Its axis-shifting principle to tease
Out through analysis what makes the grade
Not just in poetry designed to please

Fastidious tastes, but in the sort that made
Such a big hit of slogans, nonsense-rhymes,
Catch-phrases, jingles, and tricks of the trade

Such as (his favourite) ‘I like Ike’ at times
When hucksters try to get the folk on board
With a well-crafted sound-bite that so primes

The listener’s subconscious that he’s floored,
Once it wears off, to get a fix on what
The hell it was that struck that errant chord

Of rhyme against all reason. Still it’s not
Good form for me at this point, having penned
Three-hundred-odd rhymed stanzas on the trot,

To bring my poem to a pyrrhic end
By now declaring rhyme the kind of freak
Linguistic happening that should offend

Our rational selves or count as just a weak
Capitulation to the rhymester’s spell
Worked up into a full-scale verse technique

That poets use, but demagogues as well,
Along with advertisers, since they know
How easily these sound-effects compel

The drowsy mind to just go with the flow
Of sound-suggestion like the nonsense-verse
Of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear and Co.

Maybe they wanted us to ask: what’s worse,
A bit of suchlike rhyme-led stuff that makes
No big deal of the poet’s ancient curse,

The arbitrary sign, or that which takes
It bitterly to heart and so aspires,
Like Tennyson, to capture all the aches

Of love and loss as if performed by choirs
In a verse-music of such perfect pitch
That between signifieds and signifiers

No bar remains. The secret’s in that switch
From chance to choice, or (pace Mallarmé)
From some odd string of vocables that hitch

Up purely through a random coup de dés
To what turns out the true don de poème,
Though not by pushing hazard all the way,

But more by seeing how the ills that stem
From over-estimation of the mind’s
Possession of a sure-fire stratagem

For conquering chance are nothing to the kinds
Induced by over-emphasis on all
That makes us slaves of circumstance or binds

Our lives to how the throw of dice might fall.
That’s why Mallarmé thought the only means
Of giving creativity some small

Though crucial edge on verse-forms like machines
(Hence the great crise de vers) was to decide
That free-will wasn’t worth a hill of beans

Since the pure hazard-concept, if applied
With quasi-mathematical finesse,
Would more than compensate the wounded pride

Of inkhorn classicists who liked to stress
How far this was from living up to their
High creed. So they refused to acquiesce

In the idea that poetry might share
With chance the possibility that each
Sheer master-stroke of genius or rare

Thrice-welcome turn of happenstance should teach
No more than how the self-same root’s contained
In ‘happiness’ and happen’. So we reach

A simple truth without the sorts of strained
Folk-etymology that claim to plumb
Truths more authentic through a wisdom gained

By dwelling on those etymons that come
Back to remembrance only when we cast
Aside the whole accumulated sum

Of errors in the light of which our past
And present stand accused under the sign
Of Seinsvergessenheit. No theme so vast

(Nor, for that matter, subtext so malign)
As Heidegger’s is ours in making out
This case: that nothing says we can’t combine

An edge of optimism with the doubt
Implanted by those multiple defeats
That gave dystopia its current clout,

And take our stand where age-old failure meets
The turning-point toward a world where chance
Reveals the hold’em hand where it competes

With mere necessity and looks askance
At any bid, like his, to make it seem
Ananke‘s closest kin and so enhance

Its hope-defeating power. That’s why the theme
Ectopian had better set its sights
On some point short of the far-distant gleam

Where echt-utopia shines out from the heights
Above wanhope’s abyss. Yet it’s just when
The darkness falls that hope’s eclipse invites

At first a sombre reckoning, but then
The will to find a stance less crisis-prone
That might acknowledge how the tongues of men,

However harsh or disparate in tone,
Should find in this old Babel a fresh source
Of hope renewed and not in some unknown

To us since purebred speech that would enforce
Full-scale Apartheid of the language-tribes
By constantly reminding them how coarse

Were pandemonian tones. This then prescribes
A flat conviction that all plans to build
A new world-language-tower where the mixed vibes

Might form one perfectly harmonious guild
Must bite the dust since what these hopers bring
To it by expert draughtsmanship or skilled

Construction does no more than press the sting
Of failure home. And so the message reads
That no world-betterment can ever spring

From Shangri Las beyond our selfish needs
For Lebensraum in language as in land,
In which case any shrewd contractor heeds

The parable and lets the tower he’d planned
Stay safely locked inside the planner’s brain
Or on their sketch-pad, while he takes in hand

Only such groundhog projects as maintain
A discreet profile tucked in well below
The circumjacent skyline. Still my main

Idea at every turn has been to show
How often it’s utopia’s après-coup,
The tower destroyed, which then affords us no

Hope-raising trope for how we might make do
With a slight switch of focal length that lacks
The radiance of a fine utopian view

Yet yields up suddenly, between the cracks
In actuality, what grants our eye
A view ectopic, slant, or parallax

Of a new world beneath the common sky.