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The City

by Zettel 

Posted: 11 April 2006
Word Count: 165
Summary: I have shortened this and tried to focus it more

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The City

Cold wet streets
echo footsteps
of following fear
a hungry animal
prowling round my city
rheum-eyed wraiths
hunted and haunted
by neon glares
return rain-cold
recriminatory stares

Rag-huddled in cold
a life-worn once-man
in foetal embrace
protects his flame
guttering body heat
to the pestering wind
invisible to shame
and scurrying guilt
thanks Godís grace
him not me.

Bright lit tubes
suck in their fares
pump them like blood
through a hidden network
of arterial branches
to the cityís heart
spilling them back
onto pavements
past nameless eyes
to exclusive homes

Abandoned night-streets
not mean, but worse
indifferent to the pain
in tar-glistened rain
that finds no roots
to nourish or sustain
an excess of all but hope
the lost with no Visas
no Access to life
drown in company

Do not go gentle
into that good night?
rage at the twilight too
withering wisdom
walks unremarked
the alien city
old-fanged counts
cast no reflection
in our busy busy lives
passers-by - alone

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Comments by other Members

joanie at 18:22 on 11 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Zettel. I was swept along at the start of this; I loved the images and the alliteration in the first stanza. As the poem evolved, I enjoyed it but I felt it was going on too much - I thought it was too long.

However, I'm a bit lazy, I think; I prefer shorter poems.

I particularly liked: no Visas/no Access to life, a life-worn once-man, through a hidden network/of arterial branches/to the cityís heart.

I wonder about the Dylan Thomas reference; I enjoyed it but I almost thought that it sounded .... what? ...irreverent? I don't know!

The images are wonderful - I am right there! I enjoyed the read.


NinaLara at 22:17 on 11 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Zettel,

You have some great images here:

by neon glares
rain cold reflection
recriminatory stares

Rag-huddled in cold
a life-worn once-man
in foetal embrace

in tar-glistened rain

and I like the last stanza very much, though I think it needs a little reworking. I agree with Joanie that this poem would benefit from some cutting down. You have used the word street three times and city four times including the the title - perhaps this would be a good place to start condensing?

I enjoyed reading this. Thanks.


Zettel at 10:21 on 12 April 2006  Report this post
Nina, Joannie

thoughtful, helpful ideas. thanks.



James Graham at 10:54 on 12 April 2006  Report this post
The underground like a system of veins and arteries - a very strong metaphor, the sort of idea that makes you wonder why nobody thought of it before. The people are life-sustaining corpuscles in the city's blood stream, but the heart they feed and the life they sustain is that of a monster.

I picked up too on 'The deserted streets/ not mean, but...indifferent'. The 'mean streets' of old - back-to-backs in the industrial North, tenements in Scotland for example - were not indifferent. For the most part people didn't have to suffer poverty in isolation; there was some solitarity and mutual support. But in streets in your poem aren't streets at all in that sense; neighbours are just strangers who happen to live nearby. People 'drown in company' - in proximity to others but without real community.

These are striking ideas. The 'life-worn once-man' too, and the whole stanza about him.

I tend to agree that you could shorten this poem, but it would mean losing the ten-line stanza pattern. There are lines that maybe could be considered for the chop - 'I am hunted...stares', leaving the sharp image of prey and hungry animal to stand alone; possibly the stanza on 'commoditised sex' is artificially filled out to the ten lines, with 'the phoney farce of/simulated passion' which is fairly obvious; and maybe a couple of lines in the middle of the stanza beginning 'The deserted streets'. But I wonder if it's worth it to end up with a poem in irregular sections instead of regular stanzas?

Just one more thing - at the end, is it the old vagrants who are wandering Count Draculas, or is it personified Old Age or Death? The metaphor of 'sharp-toothed counts' is potentially as strong as any other in the poem, but it doesn't quite come off for me.


Zettel at 15:53 on 12 April 2006  Report this post
Thanks James - as ever thought provoking. I was conscious of this as needing more work. Your comments with the others gives me a fix on that and should help.




I have cut and focused this.


steve_laycock at 01:46 on 16 April 2006  Report this post
I'm going to read it again in the morning, but at this time of night after how much I've drunk this is bloody great!!

I know a drunk guy isn't always a great critic of meaning, but i tend to pick up on the accoustics of poems at this time of night and this sounds brilliant. Very fluid, lucid, with a driving rhythm that carries the weaker images, while the strong ones (mostly the first two verses (especially the second) and the ending) are brought into a wonderful moody tone by the beat.

I really like it

Zettel at 15:05 on 16 April 2006  Report this post
Keep drinking Steve - music to my ears.



NinaLara at 17:12 on 16 April 2006  Report this post
This is stronger and more focused! It does seem to flow better and the images jump out and grab me more than before. Great reworking.

Just a couple of things ... do you think you need recriminatory at the end of the first stanza? I think 'rain-cold stares' says it all. 'Thanking God's grace, him not me' doesn't quite do it for me .... which may well be personal. I think this is the weakest point of the poem.

Zettel at 18:16 on 16 April 2006  Report this post
Thanks Nina

God's grace reference is - there but for the grace of God go I. The same thought always comes to mind wheneve I see a beggar of any age etc especially in London where the the obscene affluence within which this poverty persists hits hard. Recrimatory I guess because there in a sense one feels guilty about these circumstances yet helpless too. Everything conspires to render all the street-dwellers not just the old ones - invisible. The old ones just hit hardest because one feels they have no choices left - this is where it ends.

Thanks for the comments


steve_laycock at 00:38 on 17 April 2006  Report this post
Wow, yeah, it's even better sobre. It really reminds me of some of Bob Dylan's stuff - I'm doing an essay on him at the moment and i read this last night with Masters of War on in the background - it fits the rhythm really well.

I really love:

"rheum-eyed wraiths
hunted and haunted
by neon glares
return rain-cold
recriminatory stares"


"Rag-huddled in cold
a life-worn once-man
in foetal embrace
protects his flame"


"scurrying guilt
thanking Godís grace
him not me."

scurrying guilt is great!

I bet this would make a fantastic performance piece, so many good words put together make it an accoustic delight!!!

The third and fourth verses might benefit from another look - i didn't see the earlier drafts so I don't know what you've done. Wasn't too keen on the "nourish or sustain" line - it seemed more contrived than the other rhymes that all seem to fit really neatly and naturally.

Really good, though

Zettel at 12:54 on 17 April 2006  Report this post
Thanks Steve

always wanted to write a song but I don't see how you start just with the words. I've written new lyrics to existing tunes to get the rhythms (e.g. you cant stretch vowel sounds in poetry but happens all the times with songs). My efforts at American Pie and Soldier Blue are in the archives.

I'd love to try to put lyrics to an original tune - if I coud get one.

I wanted the organic imagery in (3) as a way of underpinning the thought that the old and poor were within but not part of the 'life' of the city. (4) I guess had two images - first that these people were a piece of plastic away from visibility and second that even the natural life-giving rain, in the city neither gives nor sustains life.

Thanks for the comments



James Graham at 17:52 on 17 April 2006  Report this post
Much stronger now. The first verse especially is much improved - every line counts. The intensity is sustained right through the poem...except it seems to fizzle just a bit in the last two lines. 'In our lives' seems to need an adjective, something in the range of meaning of blind, sealed, isolated, dissociated. The line needs a 'spark', a word to make it distinctive.

And maybe I'm being very dumb about this, but who are the 'passers-by'? Rightly or wrongly, I read it as all of us - i.e. those spilling out of the tube on their way to their 'exclusive homes' as well as the 'once-man' and others like him. The last line would be stronger for me if it read, 'We are passers-by'. (The 'unknown' idea runs all through the poem and doesn't really need to be said here.) But maybe that's not what you meant.


Zettel at 22:36 on 17 April 2006  Report this post
Thanks again James. You are obviously right about last but one line. The repetition seems to give a better rhythm than a single word.

I realised I did not really know who the passers-by were!

Of the two possibilities I have plumped for the second one because it fits better the idea of exclusion. And the last word seems apt as I realised that the thought runs through the whole poem. So it seemed the right one to end on.

Thanks for the help.


James Graham at 19:31 on 18 April 2006  Report this post
Seems to be pretty much sorted now. The total effect of the poem is very intense, and it's good in detail too - good individual lines and passages.


Zettel at 23:28 on 18 April 2006  Report this post

Thanks for the help. A better poem for your input. I'd like to think the process of improvement is also cumulative. I hope I'm learning.

Thanks also to the rest of you. The motivation to write as good a poem as possible and improve it is enhanced by knowing others will read it and comment.



Mr B. at 19:50 on 29 May 2006  Report this post
This was an evocative piece with a venal quality. I loved the neutral description of something that felt so dystopian.

Nice one!


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