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by Cliff Hanger 

Posted: 05 February 2017
Word Count: 196
Summary: Moving this over from flash. Any thoughts or ideas for development welcome.

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I grasp the ticket and step
into what they call the real world.
The singer shouts ‘put your
hands in the air,’
I sit on mine. A voice hisses
‘stand up, you won’t see or hear.’
Only I’m used to listening to
marram grass melodies
and tuning into the faint peep
of sea birds, half a mile away
or attending the percussive gloop, gloop
of water trying to escape rock pool traps;
So, I hear very well.
And I’m accustomed to observing
an unfurling bolt of glossy black, sequined, night sky
and watching as the waking sun pricks at its folds
until it’s dip-dyed lemon by the light;
So, I see very well.
The crowd rocks in a great sea swell
churning trash and organic matter together.
They’re so content to surrender themselves
to the swirl, I almost long to try it.
Then I remember what a kind hearted
friend had to say about my troubles and
how they’re probably down to those human
rights and how much damage it seems to do
treating everyone as equal,
so I tremble at how easy it would be
to stretch silent, swaying hands
out into a salute.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 21:05 on 06 February 2017  Report this post
A remarkable poem. On first reading in Flash I could picture two crowd scenes at once – like a hologram or whatever it’s called, an image that changes if you look at it from different angles. It’s a concert, probably a stadium gig; but look again and it’s a political rally, even a Nazi rally. The latter is strengthened on a second reading, in the light of ‘my troubles’ and ‘human rights’. Of course, the scene is at a concert, but it soon grows to resemble something more sinister. On yet another level it’s a generic crowd, representing the surrender of personal autonomy to a crowd mentality. Thousands of people, each a unique individual, make the same gestures and noises: they may be relatively harmlessly expressing their adoration of some celebrity singer, but there’s a fine line between that and uncritical adoration of a celebrity ‘leader’ and his ideology. There’s a hint of compulsion too: ‘put your hands in the air’ and ‘stand up, you won’t see or hear’ read like commands, and the ‘sea swell’ of the crowd is a force difficult to resist. This is why I say the poem is remarkable: based (I guess) on a personal experience, it becomes broader and deeper the more we think about it.

Then we have the narrator’s lyrical description of the real world, as distinct from ‘what they call the real world’:
I’m used to listening to
marram grass melodies
and tuning into the faint peep
of sea birds, half a mile away
or attending the percussive gloop, gloop
of water trying to escape rock pool traps

Beautiful lines – partly due to your choice of quiet, almost inaudible, sounds in contrast with the sounds the crowd are there to hear, but also your musical imagery in ‘melodies’, ‘tuning in’, ‘percussive’. I see these lines as ironic (in the context) as well as lyrical. There’s another subtlety: music connects the crowd scene and the scene by the shore, then the sea connects that in turn with the crowd again. That’s clever – but it’s meaningful too, for example as the narrator’s perception of the crowd as a ‘sea swell’ tempts her more strongly to perform that salute.

Here I’m doing what I often do, which is to tell you my understanding of the poem and ask you to tell me if it’s close to your own or not. If you disagree with either the broader points or any details, let me know. I think I can see possibilities for revision, here and there, but I’ll give these more thought and get back to you.

PS. ‘How much damage it seems to do/ treating everyone as equal’ – that’s one of my troubles too. For me it’s the Russian Revolution, which I believe began as a real effort to build an egalitarian society, but damage was done that eventually proved fatal. I’ve a feeling you mean something rather different, though.


Cliff Hanger at 09:23 on 07 February 2017  Report this post
Hi James

Quite a few strands of thought came together around Bazz's prompt. Things I've been mulling for a while and this is probably my most personal poem as a result. It's interesting that you were discussing with Mickey about emotional disclosure and catharsis. Trying to come to a personal understanding through writing was definitely the driver here.

The lines at the end about human rights and difference are a direct quote and are part of a currency of casual prejudice (if it can ever be casual) that seems to be part of a sudden cultural shift going on around me and affecting me directly. The complexity is that this is not from bad people in fact they are genuinely kind and caring. That's what I'm exploring here. That maybe we're hardwired to go with the crowd and that mass culture can legitimise certain ways of thinking or speaking. Good and bad. I've always wondered how mass movements like Nazism gained momentum but I think the evidence is before us at the moment. I used the concert as the mechanism to connect directly to the mass behaviour in say a Nazi rally but it could equally be the unquestioning group chanting of lines from the bible or any other mass mantra. Compulsion to fit in is also a part of this. 

I'm pleased you picked up on the sea swell. I consciously shyed away from making the crowd mentality monstrous (although I personally don't understand it) because I think that's an oversimplification. As you've pointed out collective consciousness can also set out as a force for good and be hijacked or evolve quite differently.  I was also looking at what it means to describe the 'real world'. I'm often accused of escapism but I find that when you're not distracted by the sensory overload that comes with a town based life, your awareness and powers of observation definitely expand so there is more than a touch of irony in the way I wrote that. 

I wasn't sure about using 'I' so directly in a poem but couldn't find another way of putting it or distancing myself from the narrator. 

Looking forward to your observations on how I might amend things.


James Graham at 14:36 on 08 February 2017  Report this post
Having gone over the poem line by line, I’m happy to say there’s only one line that I feel is not one of your best.
an unfurling bolt of glossy black, sequined, night sky

I often feel when doing this kind of crit (and this is no exception) that it’s just nit-picking, pointing out insignificant details which could quite easily be left alone. But I’ll do it anyway, and you can either tweak the line or leave it as it is.

To describe the night sky as a ‘bolt’ of cloth is good, and I do see that it’s part of an extended image – the sun ‘pricks at its folds’ and it’s ‘dip-dyed’ by the light – so that image should remain. However, even as I write this I’m looking out at the night sky (with some light-pollution from the town) and a couple of words at least seem not quite right. I don’t think it’s ‘glossy’, even on a starry night; the word suggests it’s shiny, giving an impression of too much light and not enough contrast with the morning light that follows. Then ‘sequined’, evoking (for me, anyway) a ballroom dancer’s dress, seems rather out of place after your lines about marram grass, sea birds and rock-pool traps. You embellish the night sky in a way that jars a little after those superb lines. I think you need a line describing a night sky that’s neither glossy nor sequined.

Yes, I do think that line could be improved, but as I say there’s no other line in the poem that I think you need to fuss over. One I didn’t mention in my last comment:
churning trash and organic matter together

It adds a very fine touch: the metaphor of the crowd as a ‘sea swell’  becomes much more specific as we realise that they, like the ocean, carry (kick about underfoot) a conglomerate of litter as well as organic stuff.

I recognise those examples of ‘casual prejudice’ expressed not by hard-line bigots but by ‘kind hearted’ people who seem to have ‘caught’ their prejudices like a virus. ‘Those human rights’ implies both disdain for the idea of human rights and ignorance of the real issues around human rights. That, and the remark about equality, are shallow opinions picked up from the media and shallow conversations with others who already have the bug. There is a new culture which disparages human rights – the right to health care, education, clean drinking water, free speech (I’m a member of Amnesty International) – and also disparages any project (political project, at least) to relieve extreme poverty and justifies the accumulation of extreme wealth. This part of the poem makes complete sense – and oh yes, how easy it would be to perform that salute.

This is a poem that should certainly be ‘out there’, published in a quality magazine (http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/ ) or entered in an up-market competition such as that of the Poetry Society. Thank you for  posting it in the group.


Cliff Hanger at 17:12 on 08 February 2017  Report this post
Hi James,

You're not nit picking but spot on. I did wonder if that line was a bit over the top and having read it closely and reflected on your response, I can see it how it displays lumpy thinking. I'll think of how best to tweak it. 

Thank you for your generous assessment.



stormbox at 17:36 on 17 February 2017  Report this post
Hi Jane,

I have been meaning to comment on your poem for a while now to let you know how brilliantly these lines transported me to the coast:

Only I’m used to listening to
marram grass melodies
and tuning into the faint peep
of sea birds, half a mile away
or attending the percussive gloop, gloop
of water trying to escape rock pool traps;

I'm with you too in my dislike of forced entertainment, and my distrust of being influenced by a mob or crowd. Why people get swept along by the easy fury of the latest trend on twitter, or celebrity endorsed scandals is beyond me. So thanks for sharing it, I found this to be a powerful poem that I could readily identify with.


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