At the end of May 2015, I moved to London and arrived as a slobbering, cheerful idiot (now I think about it, that phrase would make a cracking epitaph). Just shy of two months later, my general happy-go-luckiness is mixed with an increasingly Marxist perception of the city.
Trying to maintain an optimistic view of the world whilst you look at it through a Marxist lens is like calling yourself a monogamist when you’ve seen more bedsheets than a Dunelm distribution center. There’s a slight paradox at play, and the curtains will have to come down on one of these philosophies.
I’m not sure what sparked my sudden seriousness. I haven’t been to any socialist party meetings, my housemates don’t sit round the dinner table discussing Maoism, and besides frequently bumping into strangers sporting unrestrained facial hair, no one has prompted me to think about Marx. I can only conclude that London life itself is the cause.
Anyway even as I walk in solidarity alongside my brother and sister commuters, comrades in the class struggle and all that, I still have to restrain myself from slapping the shit out of everyone who suddenly stops right in front of me to check their phone. Seriously, forget the air pollution, the yearly knife crime epidemics – London’s biggest threat to your well-being is the likelihood of tripping over some idiot and their iPhone. These people are unavoidable; even as you try to step out of their way there’s some bizarre gravitational pull that brings them into your path.
I genuinely believe “Commuting” should be a certifiable cause of death. It’s certainly had a twitchy effect on my psyche, and this is in less than two months. I no longer question why the woman sitting next to me is wearing a tesco bag for a hat and mumbling to herself – I just wonder when my time will come.
I wanted to write a poem about what is, for me, the most bizarre and unnerving element of the commuter experience. I get the national rail into London Bridge, which, perhaps due to a general lack of underground travel options where I live in the south east, gets pretty flipping busy. In the morning, as you get off via the Shard exit, you are surrounded by a swarm of people making their way to and from some 15 platforms. It’s the human equivalent of a wasp nest…and yet the quiet.
I can walk hundreds of meters without hearing a word, barely a sound besides the clopping of heels on concrete. And here are all these people. It’s quite creepy.
Anyway, one morning a nice line or two popped into my head and I thought “oh yeah, I could write a poem juxtaposing the bustling, roaring excitement of the city with the weird anti-social silence of the commuters and make a really profound statement on the isolating effects of capitalism. Man, society will be so grateful.”
As soon as that thought entered my mind I knew the project was over. Whether its due to my own poetic incompetence or the nature of creativity, if a concept comes too early in the writing then the poem just can’t grow naturally. It’s like an embryo trying to develop into a foetus before the penis has barely penetrated the vagina.
If I may continue to veritably develop this simile, my own experience of writing poetry – which is admittedly fairly limited, or, at least, amateurish – is comparable to my conception of how one raises a child. You start out with the potential for a fully realised being in your hands, but you can’t predict too soon, nor try to enforce, what they will become. Instead, you must facilitate the child’s growth, guiding it along its own path to its own meaning. It will inevitably make mistakes, some which will leave a permanent mark, but, given the history of mistakes throughout humanity, you can make peace with that. And though you want what’s best, you mustn’t crush it under the weight of your own expectation.
Following this philosophy, I let the poem find herself. Yeah, she’s a bit lame, for some reason insists on rhyming and a chorus, and she has fook all prospects. But she’s harmless and pleasant enough. Besides, she’s the only poem that lives with me now – most of the others are back at uni – so that deserves some brownie points.
Below the evening
skies of snow,
a blizzard of bodies
flurries then flows
to silent rhythms –
watches and home.
Wordless and weary,
Rolling on rivers,
twinkles like Christmas
bells in flight.
A hushing breeze
for dreamless bones –
wordless and weary,
The drooping stars
doze on the street,
while melting moons
lap at our feet.
a hollow dome –
worldless and weary,