Writer? Right… Er?

Michael Ormond

The finest poem I have ever read goes like this:

Olive Oil
French bread
Green Veg
Chicken bisto
I love you
Even though
You are a
Cunt head

This brilliant poem was written by my wife following one of the small flare-ups that real life relationships are made of. Structurally it satisfies me. Ten lines seems like a nice length and it is half the number of words which is pleasingly symmetrical. Each line is about the same length which gives it balance. It is not quite Haiku, not quite shopping list, not really anything, but nonetheless magnificent.
It reminds me of a note sent into Jason Bitner’s Found Magazine, where messages grow to become more than the sum of their words through the mystery surrounding their intention, loss and subsequent discovery. When I first read it I almost dropped it to see if it would be published by Found and so I could read what the person who stumbled across it would have made of the things unspoken: What had I done? Why am I a “Cunt Head”? What is meant by the enigmatic “Green Veg”? Despite this mystery not being present – I know the story behind it – this doesn’t, as it might, spoil it for me.

Having said I know the context, I could not say what the argument was about, it died long ago as all but the sharpest do, but in these 10 lines the emotion felt as our pulses returned to normal and our hackles dropped is preserved perfectly as though plastinated like one of Gunther Von Hagens corpses. The fatalistic sense of “I love you/Even though” echoes the futility of permanent love in a world where ephemeral things like shopping need to be done.
As is clear this poem was written as a shopping list, not as a poem at all. In this sense it is a call to action, not to fight a brave war, to resist persecution or follow some higher cause but to just do what people all over the country do everyday, to walk round to the shop and buy some items to eat. It is as though it’s saying “stand up and be mundane”! The items themselves seem to contain meaning, even though I know there was none intended; they were not chosen for any sort of poetic purpose, merely because they were required. In this sense the poem pulls on real life in a way that seems to give it roots.  Olive oil, camembert and French bread are all middle class, romantic items that speak of a picnic on a hill side in Provence, but the vague Green veg/Chicken bisto/Plonk? juxtapose this with a normalcy inflicted on all of us, even those who can picnic in Provence. It seems that with a Sainsbury’s round the corner we can all aspire.
As I walked around the shop I pulled this list out of my pocket and looked at it for the first time. I was quite literally acting out the words, picking the items off the shelf and placing them in my basket. It was as though I could have gone to an aisle called love and plucked Amanda’s resigned (and therefore so real) love and put it in my basket. This gives this small note a multidimensional element. As poetry elevates words to emotions and possibly these emotions spur people on into action, these words had taken a short cut, they called for both actions and emotions. Not just the action of purchasing the items on the list but also the action of making up and all the emotions that come along with it.
Even the sign off “You are a/Cunt head” seems poetic. The use of the C word, so vilified by women in particular, but in this instance penned by a woman, adds vulgarity to the list of sentiments expressed. The poem (as it has now become) starts with the exotic but swerves (as the exotic so often does) towards the banal, just as the vulgarity of sex can grow into the sweetness of love. In this sense it is a palindrome, where the result sits inside the parentheses of the origin. This speaks to me of change. From Provence to Derby (where we live). From sex to love. And maybe back again?
There is something I know of the setting too that makes this poem deeper to me. I was there, I saw it happen and as I walked around the aisles I was the happening. It seems odd to talk of a poem happening, though many poems must indeed happen, not only in terms of their inspiration (a storm, a kiss, a death), but also the moment that these things exit the mind of the poet and become words. I had seen both, had felt both and been both inspiration and execution. This element of the poem is so specific to me that it is irrelevant. Were this to be published in a book this would not be able to be on the page, only here as I explain it does it have any significance. Maybe therefore it should have none? Maybe it must stand alone as a poem.

Or maybe it’s just a shopping list. What is it that makes this a poem? Did a poet write it? Am I attributing things to it that are not meant? Does this matter? At which end of this was the poetic force applied? Was it pushed into poetry by the thoughts of the poet, or pulled in poetry by the reader? Clearly in this case I know that it was not meant as a poem, or at least this is what my wife claims.
And herein lies the final reason why this is the best poem ever written, or at least ever read by me, since that is all I am qualified to say. Like oil swirling round a puddle that is ‘beauty in the eye of the beholder’, or the note of a new born lamb that a listener interprets as’music to their ears’ lack of intention in art is nothing new. Nonetheless this innocence of purpose adds a reliable flavour that couldn’t be created from hours of slogging over a notebook and slowly picking out words. The process, as always, is part of the outcome and in this sense these poetic instructions from my wife seem to be entirely accidental and all the sweeter because of it.

Michael Ormond lives in Derbyshire and combines his writing with mysterious employment involving MRI scans, the insides of people’s knees and a rapid prototype machine.

One Response to “Writer? Right… Er?”
  1. Magda Healey says:

    Wonderful. Reminds me of an iconic Polish poem by a 1950s Andrzej Bursa.
    It goes roughly like this:

    Children are nicer than adults
    Animals are nicer than children
    You say that this kind of reasoning
    Will lead me to claim
    That the creature I like best
    is the protozoan Paramecium

    so what

    I certainly prefer paramecium
    To you, motherfucker

    [substitute your favourite grave insult for the m/f, though it scans well]

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