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Correspondence

by James Graham 

Posted: 14 November 2007
Word Count: 375


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Correspondence

1

I write and write,
but you never answer.
I give you all your names and titles
- try hard to fit them in one line - and say,
'Your Royal Highness, I respectfully
but strongly urge you...' and, 'A brief
reply would be most welcome'.

But truthfully,
it's rather galling
to write these courtesies. Given one small jab
of a truth drug, I would write: To call
you gangster is unfair to gangsters. You cheat
and murder in the name of justice. In your country
women are chattels, and children die in infancy. Instead
of bringing your corrupt police to court (as you
will never do) it is Your Royal Odiousness who ought
to be arrested (but respectfully allowed
a team of lawyers
and a comfortable cell).


Maybe that's why
you never answer.

Maybe you can read
between the lines.

2

Excelentisimo: your police
have lists of names and numbers
and they ring these people telling them
they are going to die.
(Some do.)

Excelentisimo: I can't
abide your justice, but equally I object
to this title you assume.

Some things are truly excellent:
the voice of Billie Holiday,
Blake’s Songs of Innocence,
Picasso's pop-eyed stripey owl,
the life of Primo Levi - all these
are very, very excellent.

I urge you therefore to renounce
the use of this and other spurious
appellations. Do not carry
words into slavery,

Señor.

3

What are you, mister?

What is your place
in the taxonomy of life?

You are bestial, brutal, some would say.
Rattus norvegicus, then, Crotalus horridus,
Carcharadon carcharias? No, it's wrong
to bandy animal names like this.
Nether the rat, nor timber rattlesnake,
nor great white shark (unlike Your Excellency)
can help being what they are. Well:

maybe then a thing of fantasy,
a comic-horror fish, assembled
by some ichthyological Frankenstein:
Piscis noxius grandiosus,
ugly, bloated, giving off a stink,
a bolt through your anal fin,
manoeuvering in your element, power.

Too fanciful: you're still
of the genus Homo.

But you assert the lie, deny the truth,
as naturally as an oriole sings; you don't
resemble anyone I know; and therefore,
lacking better evidence, and to avoid
confusion, you are entered in the book:
Homo mendax violator: found
in every continent, prolific, hungry.










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Comments by other Members



James Graham at 21:57 on 14 November 2007  Report this post
It’s quite a while since I posted a poem, and there’s no time just now to come up with anything new, but this little sequence was ready-made, written a couple of years ago. One of my hobbies is doing Amnesty International letter-writing actions. It's well known that Amnesty members regularly write to heads of state and government ministers around the world, challenging their known violations of human rights. Amnesty letters are always courteous, though (speaking for myself) it often feels hypocritical to make them so. These poems represent letters that, for obvious reasons, I never sent. Number 3 isn’t bad.

James.

V`yonne at 18:03 on 15 November 2007  Report this post
Number three is marvellous. I love that
Homo mendax violator: found
in every continent, prolific, hungry.

The assertions that animals are ill done to in our comparisons with the despot. I also liked the vituperitive of the second stanza in the first.

it is Your Royal Odiousness who ought
to be arrested
:)

The formality of tone throughout is perfection...as if I'd know... but so it seems to me.

Oonah

Ticonderoga at 14:50 on 17 November 2007  Report this post
This strikes me as really being one long poem, which packs a mighty cumulative punch; the third part would be diminished in force by the absence of the first two, which build towards the generic 'mister' addressed to all the monstrous misters, including the two vividly illustrative examples given in the first two parts. So, they're not three separate poems, but building blocks in a cohesive and devstating indictment culminating in the mighty flourish of the admonishment of all the 'misters' festering around the globe. Truly, broadly - the best way - political poetry.
I like this very much indeed.

Best,

Mike

James Graham at 11:32 on 18 November 2007  Report this post
Thanks, Oonah and Mike. Glad you liked this. Not everyone does - a few people have said to me they felt it's a bit over the top, and someone at a pub reading said she thought there was a nastiness about it that could defeat its purpose. So I said that depends on what its purpose is. It would be delicious to tie Mugabe or Senior General Than Shwe of Burma (Chairman of the Peace and Development Council!) to a chair and make them listen to it, but it wouldn't make them feel any remorse. As for normal people who read poetry, is this piece really going to 'defeat its purpose' by making them sympathetic to the above-named and others of their ilk?

I'm banking on most poetry readers enjoying a nice bit of vituperation.

James.

Ticonderoga at 14:20 on 19 November 2007  Report this post
The only way to hit targets like this is hard! The exemplar,in prose,for our times is Hunter S Thompson - read his obituary of Nixon at the end of Better Than Sex - and he demonstrates par excellence that a few well aimed buckets of bile are far more telling than balanced 'objective' language; what we lack now are people willing to make subjective, polemical statements which will actually make others listen, rather than thinking 'oh, more of the same'; those who object to strong statements like this really need to ask themselves a few questions about what they should really be objecting to and doing something about - i.e. the monstrous mistreatment, abuse and murder of their fellow human beings. Viva vituperation!!

Jordan789 at 05:22 on 22 November 2007  Report this post
Hello James. Your book still has not arrived. I believe maybe the powers in charge of shipping have placed said poem collection into a shoe box, layeth into a river, and given it a slight push with hopes my destination shall be reached.

Enough.

I think political writing and poetry is so difficult to write because it's so easy to stumble and slip into the old sayings. The words used to call a tyrant a tyrant, and a crook a crook, for years and years and forever have been non-too-different.

But I think you did okay here. I think you can cut some, but in here is some damned good stuff.


I would change the first one as such. I would cut the center stanza completely because I think it falls into the above issue of standard political spite. It becomes sentimental with brutality, the way a father might beat to death a man who has committed some act against his child. (No, seriously!) When I think poems should linger, bite and sting, like a good featherweight boxer. Punch, punch, dance.

I write and write,
but you never answer.
I give you all your names and titles
- try hard to fit them in one line - and say,
'Your Royal Highness, I respectfully
but strongly urge you...' and, 'A brief
reply would be most welcome'.

Maybe that's why
you never answer.

Maybe you can read
between the lines.

This, by itself, has a sting. It's slight, and it's subtle but it raises interest to continue. Previously, I think it might have pummelled, and continued to pummel throughout the remainder. That's too much pummelling, I think.

II.

Excelentisimo: I can't
abide your justice, but equally I object
to this title you assume.

Some things are truly excellent:
the voice of Billie Holiday,
Blake’s Songs of Innocence,
Picasso's pop-eyed stripey owl,
the life of Primo Levi - all these
are very, very excellent.

I urge you therefore to renounce
the use of this appellations.

III.

Rattus norvegicus, Crotalus horridus,
Carcharadon carcharias? No, it's wrong;
Nether the rat, nor timber rattlesnake,
nor great white shark
can help being what they are. Instead:

Piscis noxius grandiosus,
a comic-horror fish, assembled
by some ichthyological Frankenstein:
ugly, bloated, giving off a stink,
a bolt through your anal fin.

Too fanciful: you're still
of the genus Homo.


That has a sting!

Maybe?

best,

Jordan



James Graham at 20:05 on 23 November 2007  Report this post
Hi Jordan - I like your version of Number 1, but if you cut the human rights abuses out of No. 2 as well, you're leaving out all the main reasons why these excelentisimos have to be targeted. It almost reads as if they're being attacked just for being in power. But what I might do, which could work, is put 2 first, still with the police death threats plus maybe another couple of abuses, then put 1 second, in your shortened version. As I say, that might just work. Hope the book arrives tomorrow.

James.

DeepBlueGypsy at 20:40 on 23 November 2007  Report this post
I am inspired!
This simple phrase really got to me-
Too fanciful: you're still of the genus Homo.

The inhumanity of man. Crushingly sad. The decades of distruction makes me ill. My first thought was appreciation for your eloquence of speach that comes from a involved mind and filtered through a compassionate heart. Blessings- Divi

R-Poet at 16:39 on 27 November 2007  Report this post
James - I somehow missed this, posted 6 days before my piece that you described as having "delicious tone of irreverence". I now see why you'd be thinking that way!

PS It's a piece crying out to be performed!

Vituperative of Milton Keynes ...

... aka ... Steve

James Graham at 20:01 on 27 November 2007  Report this post
Thanks Steve. I always look forward to National Vituperation week.

James.

Tina at 08:33 on 14 December 2007  Report this post
Hi James very late to this and more interested now in the why and fact of writing this than in the words themselves.

I think I have to disagree with some of the above comments because I dont think that ANY words will change the moral fibre/ attutides and integrety of such men. They are borne of a time, they operate in a vacuume called me, they have no sense of regret or wrong because their solipsim is complete. However, I do think its important to write such letters almost like some kind of gospel to another way of thinking and behaving.

I don't know if you have this porgramme up in Scotland but there is a very interesting and chilling drama on TV called 'The Company' about the CIA - full of political intrigue/ betrayal/ injustice. Last weeks episode about the Bay of PIgs uprising was excellent. Dictaors such as those you cite are almost characatures compared with the iron fist of politics and government incomeptence/ inadequacy and what my gran called mealy mouthed reactions.

There now I am getting in the mood.

ANyway I liked your rantings - exquisitely expressed in some parts as cited above by others.
Also enjoying the book which has already been on two trips with me.

Regards
Tina



J1mbo at 21:04 on 18 December 2007  Report this post
James,

There is a lot here. I agree with Mike that there is a cumulative punch to the poem, and that the third part is enhanced by the previous sections.

The tone is very aggressive. It seems that you are past trying to convince psychopaths, but simply want to cause an emotional hurt to those who have hurt others. This aggression is communicated through unsent letters, unsent because they say what cannot be said, shaped into a poem which has now, in fact, been shown to others.

Although I agree with Tina - there is no way to cause such individuals to show regret or remorse for their actions, you are, through the language you are using, showing them that you are smarter than they are.

There is a sense that you are devaluing everything that they believe in by showing yourself as a more confident intellect, therefore also more content with your moral standpoint. This perceived lack of intelligence on their part shows that they are lacking; a human can choose not to kill its prey, and so they choose to be animals (in the worst sense of the word).

While they may not regret, they may regret that they can't regret.

Hope that makes some kind of sense.


James Graham at 12:06 on 19 December 2007  Report this post
Tina and Jimbo, thanks for these thoughtful comments. I'll reply very soon, and post a few comments on new poems in the group - including yours, Jimbo, which is quite impressive on first reading. Back soon.

James.

James Graham at 12:58 on 23 December 2007  Report this post
Your comments on this poem have been genuinely thought-provoking. In a sense it’s true dictators are easy targets, as they are self-satirising caricatures. Yet in another sense they’re not easy targets, as no satire will influence them to change their aims and practices. So perhaps we have to see satirical writing (or, say, political cartoons) as a consensus thing. Reasonable people like ourselves read it and agree that men like Saddam or Pinochet are bastards and we hate what they do. At best, satire doesn’t make the men of power change their ways but it does help the rest of us to hold on to civilised values.

Speaking of caricatures, there’s an interesting case in point. Anyone who has seen the film The Last King of Scotland can see Idi Amin as a prime example of the way power can turn a man into a grotesque. But Amin is probably trumped (believe it or not) by Jean Bedel Bokassa, dictator (later self-styled Emperor) of the Central African Republic from 1965 until 1979. The lengthy catalogue of his grotesqueries includes having people thrown to crocodiles, the severing of hands for theft (a practice enthusiastically supported by a taxi-driver I was in conversation with not so long ago), his insistence on personally carrying out tortures and executions, his hobby of collecting wives from around the world - whom he referred to as his Romanian, his Vietnamese, his Swede, his Ivorienne, etc. When French forces invaded to depose him, they found two dismembered human bodies in refrigerators in one of his palaces. This is Homo mendax violator all right. But Bokassa also proves that nothing in this world is quite as simple as we think. When he was six years old, his father was beaten to death by a French colonial official, and his mother committed suicide a week later. He spent the rest of his childhood in the care of missionaries, and his youth in the French army in Indo-China and elsewhere. An atrocity was committed against him while he was at a very vulnerable age. None of this justifies his crimes - but it surely has to alter our perspective on his crimes somewhat. And looking from yet another perspective, the democratic French government must share his guilt because, fully aware of his cruelties, they supplied him with cash and arms for fourteen years - just as America kept Saddam going. No…it ain’t simple.

There…told you it was thought-provoking.

James.


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