In yourself?—Where else? You write it out,
it seems just great. You type it out it seems
just crap. But yet, it’s there, somewhere, in all
the bric a brac collected into corners,
words or phrases caught and stored in moments
when you didn’t do the thing you should have—
or did the thing you shouldn’t have. The line
was taut, the strain was promising—you stood
your ground but then the snap, the glimpse of silver
vanishing downstream, the rod grown slack…

So where do you expect to find poetry?
In a newspaper? —No. And yes.
Sometimes there is a poetry box stuck up
the corner of the page to hold the words
in case they might escape, disturb the walls
of prose outside, which at that very moment
gets to grips with the serious issues and problems
of our society: who’s divorcing whom,
what Bono has for his tea, and whether or not
What’shername will win the Kerry by-election—
no piddling around with fancy imagery and how
we might as humans be congenitally inclined
to kill our neighbours, kill the planet, kill
ourselves—That’s poetry! This is prose. The stuff
that tells it straight. The real world of prose
to which the reader will return when his
(or her or its) brief dalliance
in the delicate garden of sweet poesy
(i.e. here in the poetry box) has ended.
Well, Lee Jaffe proved that 30 seconds
is the max that most us will stick
with ‘art’, not least amid the mothball smell
of words that don’t immediately make sense
and lines that arbitrarily end and never
make it to the margins. That’s enough
of that for now. Let’s see the crossword…

So, where do you expect to find poetry?
In a poetry book?—The auguries are good:
the lines don’t reach the margin’s edge (see
above), the headings are obscure, there is
a definite lack of sense, and everything
is very personal. Must be poetry. And
furthermore the book is put together
by a bunch of poets, and they must know
what poetry is—if they’re any good as poets,
and they must be if they’re in
the book. And sure enough they’ve put in lots
and lots of their own stuff, with grainy photos
of themselves in that familiar pose
in which they face the camera punching themselves
or holding their faces up with their hands while wearing
all the while withal that poet’s smile
that gives you to understand the muse is near.
So do not fear: these are guaranteed
to be the top-notch poems the cover says
they are. These are the professionals
after all. You know you’re not being had,
not being the victim of a sly attempt
to steal your feelings while your intelligence
isn’t looking. But look at the price! Hang on.
Might pick it up later on, second hand…

So where do you expect to find poetry?
At a poetry reading?—Well, it’s a poetry reading.
And with live poets who declaim
in that communicative monotone
aka The. Poetry. Voice.
That. Tries. To. Invest. Words.
With. An. Impor. Tance. They.
Would. Not. Possess, if you spoke them in
an ordinary way like this, you know what I mean?
And as a bonus at no extra cost
you’re treated to some very long, some very
convoluted introductions three
and four and several times again the length
of the poem itself, along with all the usual
personal and ultimately unchallengeable
(and therefore unverifiable) explanations,
qualifications, justifications. Definitely
poets. But so high your expectations,
so verily convinced are you that poems
will be found here at this Poetry Reading
roaming unfenced fields at will, instead of
being corralled in the ‘Poet’s Corner’ (see
above) under the picture of the Quill
or the usual baldy graphic of the Bard
in Ruff and Whiskers—oh so very full
are you of expectation that you feel
somehow a disappointment and a shame
to see these poor bedraggled creatures
of the broken line reach out to you
from underneath enormous smothering mounds
of personal baggage, crying to be heard,
desiring that their incoherent pain
will be remembered. Only thing: this chair
is very hard and there’s a draught behind me…

So, where do you expect to find poetry?
At the Open Mic?—Okay, but first
you have to find the Open Mic, that
transmigration of unquiet souls
doomed to roam from pub to pub forever,
chanting their interminable verse. The bouncer
at the International tells you, no
I haven’t seen them in months. Some kind of row?
And then the barman down at Slattery’s says
not since before the room was needed for
the lapdancers and that was weeks ago
but thinks they might be down in Brogan’s
you’d never know. But Brogan’s scratches its head—
Try the Duke. And after that you try out
several gay bars on the offchance
that what the general public think of poets
might be true. But no. It seems that, mostly,
poets are closet heterosexuals. Don’t
give up: eventually you’ll run them to ground
in some back room or basement slated for change
of ownership or renovation or
demolition and there they are—young poets
with not much of a clue but trying to work
towards something that might be poetry some day
in the far distant future. And old poets,
much wiser, experienced, and full of years
with not much of a clue but trying to work
towards something that might be poetry some day
in the far distant future. And you sit there
and listen to some guy eating the mic
and going on and on about where do you
expect to find poetry? Well, here,
dickhead. And if you have to write about
the writing about the poetry then you must have
nothing to write about. Still, good stuff—
a lot of it much better than your stuff,
and for once these people seem to care
about the audience and whether or not
they’re listening or dropping off to sleep—
well, that’s a change! But is it poetry?
On the late bus home a cola-can
is rattling across the aisle. You stop it, ask it,
Tell me this, o cola-can, does such
a thing as poetry exist? The can
escapes. ‘Maybe it does,’ it shouts, crashing
down the stairs, ‘but maybe again it doesn’t.’
Infinite the wisdom of inanimates…

So, where do you expect to find poetry?
In your kitchen?—Well, okay. You’re in
the kitchen, place where Life confronts us daily
with straight questions, and you’re filling up
the dishwasher and you’re listening to the news
and you hear a woman telling how
she had to leave her village, take her children
and whatever chattels she could carry
over mountainous terrain because
they came in trucks the night before and took
her husband and the other men away
but not away enough she couldn’t hear
the shooting in the fields. And all through this
her voice is calm, her broken English slow,
her sorrow held back, trembling in her words
the way you’d hold an injured bird and yes,
you think, this is the rod that bears the pull
and strain of what is indescribable,
of what is unimaginable. And no,
you never thought to find it here beside
the football and the weather report and whether
or not What’sisname will run again
for re-election. And you lay aside
the sweeping brush and dustpan, sit and listen
to her words that never saw the page,
her words demanding they be written. And
you know you’ll have to write them, though you know
she’ll never read them—maybe no one will.
And even if you only catch the gaps
between her words it might be poetry.