National Poetry Month: Day 14

Croydon’s Burning

Summer’s hot and full of dust
and ash is reason enough
to wrap a scarf around your face
go out on the rob
like the rest of the street isn’t
already a heaving, scattering throng
it’s hot and the days drag on
Nothing to wait for but the way
the calendar pages turn
street’s a boredom-primed powder keg
TV Cameras already descending
Vultures who didn’t see the steps
faltering up to this explosion
didn’t see the long-burning fuse
they’ve only come to report
see the city and surburbs alight:
It’s just news: Croydon burns tonight.

Topical poetry has long been a popular use of the medium: indeed, poetry was an excellent way of spreading news to outlying areas when most of the population was illiterate and printing presses yet to be invented or popularised. In remembering the precise pattern, rhythm, rhymes, and wording, the reciters of the poems ensured that the information was not distorted from person to person the way it might have been in another format which was subject to the problems of playing Telephone. No doubt copying errors were made in re-recitation, but it also aided the memory.

In the advent of Caxton and Gutenberg, topical poetry didn’t die off but transmuted from reportage to commentary, rather in the way that newspapers have done in the advent of their digital counterparts. Satirical poetry has always been popular, regardless of whether the poems in question are highbrow or decidedly scatological in nature.

Charlie Brooker began including topical poetry in News Wipe in the form of Tim Key’s performance pieces which not only mock the news but also self-parody, making fun of the practice of writing serious poems about recent events (like mine!). When Mr Brooker joined his colleagues in creating the variously-named 10 O’Clock Show10 O’clock Live, he brought over the idea of topical poems and began performing poetic monologues himself, as evidenced in this excellent rhythmic collection of couplets with occasional bursts of quatrain to create tension:

Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF


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