Poem — Anne French

The poetry reading at the end of the world


It is a very big anthology.
Everyone in the world who ever wrote
a poem is in it. I am, as it
happens, represented by something I’d
rather forget (that’s what comes of being

unctuous to editors.) Don’t smirk; so
are you, with a love poem dating from
your varsity days which you’d entirely
forgotten, though you remember the recipient
every time you see a woman

under the age of twenty-five with long
dark hair and a white neck. You stiffen with
recollection (look, you’ve done it again).
In the poem you said that you will ache
and throb with metaphysical desire

forever, or at least until you die.
This may be the only thing you’ve ever
been right about. As you survey the lineup
you begin to appreciate the
advantages of being dead.


Now in strict alphabetical order
they are reading them. Everyone gets their
fifteen minutes. First there is a man with
a soft Irish voice who reads a poem
about having sexual intercourse

with a foreign woman in a foreign
city, where it is very hot in the
evenings. He makes you feel the sweat running
between your shoulder-blades. The woman is
small and cinnamon-coloured and entirely

naked for the duration of the
poem. He wants us to admire her
and envy him, with his tongue stuck inside
her cinnamon-flavoured foreign parts. Afterwards
he does the only thing possible

under the circumstances, which is to
smoke the kind of cigarette they have there,
slim and brown and spicy. We inhale with
him, applaud him as he opens the door
of his taxi, saying ‘Take me to the

airport,’ to the driver. We know it was
too perfect ever to be repeated.
Even to phone her would be sacrilege.
This is sophistication. This surely
is savoir faire. Next, a young woman with

long dark hair and a white neck reads us a
poem written from the point of view of
an historical personage’s wife.
She complains vividly and at great length
about his cruelty to her and the

children. We squirm with embarrassment (or
could it be lust, considering the neck,
etc?) every time a child dies
pitifully and mutely. Somehow we
discern her complaint concerns somebody

a little closer at hand; such as the
Irish poet – or even you, perhaps.
Don’t forget we all have to read eventually.
How will you manage with the neck
now? Or would you like to borrow this one?

Anne French

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