A couple of days ago I heard that one of my poems had been included in a textbook of 'creative writing' used by Massey University students. As someone who had to contend with the nightmarish poetry sections of School Cerificate English exams (name the theme of this poem; name three metaphors the poet uses to achieve his effect; name one rhetorical feature of this poem) I have rather mixed feelings about this development. I do, however, have faith in the ability of Jack Ross, one of the luminaries of the creative writing programme at Massey, to temper the tendency to scholasticism that is implicit in even the most well-intentioned textbook. And, let's face it, how could even the most recalcitrant and pretentious avant-gardist cope without textbooks and anthologies to react against? Here's a new poem:
Language is like a labelling gun, someone had told them. The boy goes from room to room taking aim. In the sunroom he labels a rocking horse; in the lounge he shoots a fir tree. She apologises to Sam, and to the guests, and hurries him upstairs to bed. Before the light goes out he takes possession of DOOR, BAD BEAR, and A FUNNY BUG. In the dark he tries to count her footsteps on the stairs, but the numbers run out after eleven. When the footsteps run out too he jumps out of bed, switches the light back on and steps into the wardrobe, where Mummy thinks she has hidden the book on his socks and undies shelf. He sits beside the bed and opens the book carefully. A is for ASTRONAUT. B is for BROWN BEAR. C is for CAMPER. D is for DOOR, which swings open to show Mummy holding a funny-looking glass with blood in it. 'Put that book away and go to bed, dear, or Daddy will be angry, and you'll never be an astronaut.' 'Can't we read it first Mummy?' 'For fuck's sake Simon! Shit! I mean no, no, sorry my dear, Mummy has to go and help Daddy help his friends, or Daddy will be angry. You understand. Now keep the light out. Sleep. Why don't you pretend you're sleeping in the tent?' The light goes off and the door shuts, but this time he doesn't count the footsteps. He lies on his stomach and closes his eyes, and listens to the big voices and the ringing glasses down where the stairs run out. He can't sleep. He doesn't want to sleep. He reaches under the bed and feels for the book with one hand, pushing Boring Bear and the rest of the Boring Toys out of the way. This time he stands beside the light switch for a few seconds before flicking it down. Straight away he hears footsteps on the stairs. Heavier, this time. His father's. Daddy's. He is not afraid, this time: he knows what he is going to do. He takes the book and opens it at his favourite page, at F is for FOREST. Big trees capped with snow stand straight and close together, and brown bears gather beside a river that is as fast and white as the Hooka Falls. It is Hooka Falls, he thinks. His father shouts something from the top of the stairs. He puts F is for FOREST on the ground, and straightens his back, and puts his feet together, and bows his head, so that he's standing the way he has to stand at the start of Keas meetings. He closes his eyes. He puts one foot then the other forward, shouting 'F is for FOREST' as loudly as he can. He opens his eyes and sees his feet instead of the big trees and the bears. He hears the small sound of the book's spine snapping, of a doorknob turning. D is for DOOR. D is for DADDY. He begins to cry.