I wanted to address three different types of artistic pain in writing. The first is personal pain and trying to find the humour in sadness, which I think art should attempt to reach for and capture. The poem “Strange Soil” may or may not achieve this goal. When does a work of art become too personal? When is the sad funny? I’m not sure.

The second poem, “American Foreign Policy #2”, tries to focus on political pain, though it is a political pain that has become abstracted. The political, especially the neo-conservative ideology one finds in recent politics, often seems highly absurd, but with this knowledge comes a certain pained loneliness too.

The third poem “Phillip” is a ‘found one’ or rather a ‘heard poem’. It is an experiment in writing down someone else’s pain, someone else’s story. In performance it possibly echoes the theatre of American performer Anna Deavere Smith, and her method of collecting other (ordinary) people’s stories and re-performing them on stage. She brings into question the stability of the text, reinventing and subverting it, and I am interested in what happens when art takes the pain of others and uses it or re-uses it in another context.
The inclusion of these poems into a primarily academic/scholarly journal also raises the question of context, and I wonder how differently this makes these painful poems read.


Strange Soil

Where’s Pop?
Who’s got Pop?
‘What have you got there Jack?’
Pop’s in a tin
in the blue bag titled ‘Neocropolis Cremations’.

I’ve got Pop
in my hand.
some of him anyway.
Who knows what bit.

Perhaps it’s his liver or spleen.
May be it’s his accent,
Scottish and porridge thick.

It’s windy.
Some of Pop
has fallen on my shoe
and another bit
is floating in Aunty Kathy’s champagne.

Uncle Graham whispers,
‘I hope we’ve got
the correct council permit
for this.’

When we are left
we are left with litter.
What strange soil we become.


American Foreign Policy #2

An American friend tells me
she’s never heard of “dodgy.”
Oh, I say.
Well, we’ve never heard of America.
Really, she says.
Not even Nike?
What’s Nike?
Not even George Bush?
Have you never watched Gone with the Wind?
No, I say.
We are so removed from people here
We don’t care what anyone else is doing.
We just do
We want.
That makes us the most peaceful, democratic, well adjusted
not to mention happiest place in the world.
But America is the best country in the world, she says.
Oh, I say. That’s funny.
We think the same thing about here.
That’s dodgy, she says.



ma mait
ahv seen orrible things
grim things
a velocity of gunfire this one time
an a ded boy
a machine gun in is arms

leta we patrolled thet sam area
an there woz an old main
an old main                 dode
an ancient main
on crutches
an aah went up to him and sed
“what ahr you      you doing ere old main?
it’s dang-rous ere
it’s dang-rous”
the old main sed
“arm look-ing for ma son”
an ee discribed the boy who
woz lying ded at ma feet earlia
bat ah sed to the old main
“go ome
go ome granded
we aven’t seen anybody
an it’s dang-rous ere”

when we got tha suspects
not criminuls
just tha may-bes
they slep them
they slep them with tha bek of their and
like that
across their ies
and they slep them
ahv seen vicious mein      an tweny yearolds dode
an they slep them till their eyes are bleeding
an they kick them
all ova
till they ar a jelly

ma matha woz born in Wales
an becaime an air-ostess
and then a nurse
an worked in Rodesia an then SethAfrica
in Durban where she met ma fatha

er sister did the same
bat married a white unter
oo takes aMericans’ many
twenti thousand pands
puts them in a privet jet and flies them to Zanzibar
puts them in a sesner plane
flies for three hours then drives for three dezs
until they reach the borda of Uganda
an Tanzinier

they go aot
an kill everything
they shoot tha kets
wild kets    big gun
lions lepads and cheetas
for twenti thousand pands             they get to kill big gun

ma uncle’s sun    ma cousin Jasan
is a week child
got infections in is ed
and when ee walks is knees knock
but ma fatha              who is a docta
spends alot of many
all of is many
to fix Jasan’s ed an legs
so ee can go out an’ kill like is fatha
to shoot tha big gun

then lata ma atha cousins
come to stay
they accus ma fatha of
trying to fuck the gels
to fuck tha young gels
ma fatha is a docta an a good main
ee would neva try to seduce a young gel
wha would ee

bat they accus im
tha famly don’t use is name
an Jasan
oo shoots tha big gun
doesn’t speak to ma fatha
oo helpd im
an fixed is knees
Jasan just shoots an kills
an takes the aMericans’ many

ee’s tuff     ah’ll giv im thet

bat ma fatha would not fuck a young gel
so wear is the justiss in thet

so ahh go to visit ma cousins
an bigin fucking a chef
an months go by an we’re fucking             an she ses
“wozn’t it your fatha oo tries to fuck young gels”
she ses thet
right there         to ma face
an ahh left thet job              an the chef

ma fatha    a good main
an the weak white unter
oo doesn’t speak of im

one day ah’ll fogiv ma cousin
bat oo will forgiv im
for all the ded animals
an men is fucked
ahhv seen grim things dode
wear is tha justiss there?