The ants are marching ten-by-ten,
Running through my brain,
Where nine little Indians
Are dancing for the rain,
With eight green bottles
That they’re trying hard to fill,
And seven for a secret
When Jack falls down the hill.
Six geese are laying,
Though they’ve nothing yet to show,
With no knick-knack or paddy-wack
Where five men went to mow.
This little piggy stayed at home,
When the hickory-clock struck four
But three in the bed, in my empty head,
Find counting such a bore.
So two chirping crickets
Are all that’s left behind,
As one lonely tumbleweed
Is blowing through my mind.
Have I told you all about my block ?
Many times, you say ?
Well, this time I’ll tell it better,
By telling the telling-of – very meta !
Oh, it’s easy for you to mock
My rhymes gone quite astray –
But lack of words befalls us all,
The silence always comes to call.
And it’ll be you who’s short on stock –
You’ll see, one bad day !
Of course, I once was just as bold
And laughed at all the wordless old.
So spare a thought for those you knock –
That’s me ! I’ve lost my way.
So let me tell you of my drought –
It’s all I’ve got to talk about.
Pass another mince pie, then,
And oh, another tot ? Why not !
Now don’t hold back, I’ll tell you ‘when’,
Is this the only one we’ve got ?
We’ve plenty others, I could swear,
At least a dozen…Gone, you say ?
Ah well, I’m sure I had my share
When you came round the other day
But no, of late I haven’t written much,
Who wants that slog ?
I’m not concerned I’ve lost my touch –
They’ll flow again, just like this grog…
I say, this is a cosy time,
A cosy time, I always say,
Who cares about the bloody rhyme ?
I’ll write some verse another day.
Def’nitely, though, come next year,
Give or take a month or two,
But well before the Spring is here
I’ll knuckle down to something new:
Sonnets, ballads, villanelles
I’ll drink to that ! Hang on, I’m dry –
Here, fill me up, a double Bells,
And ooh, is that a mincemeat pie…?
Do I find I have nothing,
Not one-thing worth saying,
Just faffing and milling.
I must stretch out my nothing,
My say-nothing saying,
In space that needs filling…
I’ve been here before,
And I’ll be here again,
And again evermore.
And each time is longer,
And each time is worse –
So churn out a poem on lacking the verse.
The song is the same,
So is the tune –
And my thoughts are a hiss
And my spirit is flat.
Looks like it’s a long afternoon
Like the time before this,
And the time before that.
I’ve said all I said,
And I’ve said it before,
And my muse is still dead
And my think-nothing head is a victim of war.
We blow through our haul,
Then find we’ve got nothing
Where once we were tall.
Our thoughts hit a wall:
From red meat to salad,
From flying to fall.
What can I say,
What can I say
When you come round to call ?
Shall I read you the ballad of sweet Fanny Adams,
Or sing you the song of sod all ?
I used to walk with Grecians ev’ry day:
Callíope would whisper in my eager ear
Of battles fought for kingdoms won for heroes slain,
While Clío often passed my way
With tales of nations ancient, far and near,
And Thália could make me laugh a hurricane.
Melpómene just loved a fallen king,
While Érato was swooning over some romance,
As pious Pólyhýmnia was lilting psalms.
Eutérpe, now: that girl just loved to sing !,
Which always caused Terpsíchore to up-and-dance
While even swot Uránia had starry charms.
I used to dream with Grecians ev’ry night.
And thanks to them, I wrote as fast as ink would run
My songs and tales and poems, all my brain could hold.
And all of it was doggerel and trite !
For all of my ideas, there was not a-one
That captured even half an ounce of what they sold.
I’m better now – a lifetime lived and well,
Of sights and thoughts and loves and wisdoms heard,
Has brought me to the seasoned man I am today
But I am now, alas, beyond their spell –
For all of my ability to turn a word,
I cannot think of anything I need to say…
The names are given in their Greek form, which is slightly different from the Latin alternative we may be more familiar with, hence the accents to spring the correct syllables.
I wonder, does it start with hoofbeats,
Or the rush of flapping wings ?
The hiss of gas ? A perfect fifth ?
Or pistons, switches, cogs and springs ?
That moment when the muse comes calling
Bringing insight in her wake –
She gifts her targets sparks and notions,
Just to see what they will make.
And some folks are raptured, and some folks are seizured,
And some folks will cherish and others will fear it –
And I can but look on and ponder their wonder
And try not to envy their genius spirit.
And if I can’t join in their synching,
Can’t speak in their tongues, or can’t waltz in their dance,
At least I can urge them to write down their thinking,
And not to leave mem’ry to chance –
So scurry and scramble to get the sprites pinned,
That jingle or joke or invention or gen –
For how many mousetraps are lost to the wind,
When somebody spoke or for the want of a pen ?
I’ve long since stopped expecting the tap,
Or the draught from angels’ wings
I’ll never be a chosen one
Who gets to feel such precious things
For I am nothing transcendental –
Too much static on the line.
I’m not complaining – so it goes,
I guess we can’t all be divine.
So I have to prod it, and I have I to wring it,
And I have to plead with my brain for a vision –
For I can but whittle upon some idea,
And patiently bring it, I hope, to fruition.
But keep chasing down on that inkling,
And tinker about in the back of the mind –
And most of all, keep turning up at the thinking –
Ah well – back to the grind.
Your whispers and trances may get your thoughts firing,
But mine just meander and dawdle and wend.
My only damn flashes are sparks in my wiring –
But maybe my work is as good in the end ?
I sit here so poised, just a-waiting to write,
Waiting for fresh inspiration;
And I sit and I wait for the flash and the light,
And the spark of the birth of creation.
But thoughts and ideas and visions I lack,
Just feeble attempts from a half-hearted hack,
I haven’t a notion that’s worthy a crack:
An impotent writer’s castration.
I sit here so poised, just a-waiting to write,
Waiting to fill up the hollow;
And I sit and I wait, but though try as I might,
I guess that I’ve nothing to follow.
My ev’ry polemic is written and done,
My anger is shouted, my wit had its fun,
My dreaming is dreamt and my grief seen the sun –
Whenever I’m stumped for an effortless rhyme,
Whenever the words won’t fall easy,
When wheezing about on the gravely climb –
So that’s when the words come to tease me;
Late-night linguistical lethargies seize me,
Whenever the trumps are the harder to find.
And oozing from creases all over my mind
Come scuttle the lazy, the sham and resigned: “Who needs a poem to rhyme ?” so they whisper, “Nobody else is much bothered these days.
You labour at making all endings the crisper
But is it all worth it, the pittance it pays ?
Every poet, from preacher to lisper
Has long since rejected this overgilt craze.
Why must it be you who won’t flinch at their goosing ?
Still clinging to structures when others are loosing.
Oh, haven’t you seen all the standards reducing ?
And haven’t you seen all their rhythmless fame ?
All of the while, so your petty obtusing,
Is leaving you sleepless and out of the game.” And so on, and so on. I hear them, I hear them;
At three in the morning, it’s hopeless to clear them.
For all of their carping and mocking and chiming,
And trying, so trying to foul and coerce.
But still my resistance I’m loading and priming
To shoot down their posy and prosy-like verse.
If only, if only I unearth some rhyming,
Some trove of concordance to echo my timing,
Some anything, anything with the right sounding –
Some something to stifle my wheedle’ing head.
Something to root for, to bring their confounding,
Something of proof that will shutter their hounding,
Anything splendid and outright astounding –
Anything quick, or the voices will spread !
I must end the poem, I must end the pounding,
To let this poor poet at last go to bed !