Thursday, 9 September 2021

No remorse

Image by John Hain

This poem was inspired by a line from a Ricardo Reis (Fernando Pessoa) poem; Master, Serene (12.06.1914): ".., not have even the remorse of having lived."

No remorse

 ...and while we're at it, I said, I was

always the sociable sort, and that

if torn apart, you'd see through tears

that writ like rock through my limbs, 

and if you were to lock me out 

of life, I'd find a way

to resurrection. You need

to see my face to feel the full 

force of my contention. I have been 

enveloped, have hugged and kissed

and risked it all for joy, for – boy oh boy! 

I've been in bars and counted stars

hand in hand, been bold and gone,

and back I've come to earn my place.

I've wagged my chin with lots of mates,

I've joined with crowds against the state.

Now there you are who say you care, 

who'd have me stay six feet away 

in fear behind accusing stare above 

your mask, who'd lock me up and steal

my soul. But until I'm six feet under

don't think you can shame 

me with remorse for having lived.

Friday, 13 August 2021

Platonic dialogue - the cavemen

 A platonic dialogue - the cavemen

As Plato is ancient history, I thought it was time to bring him up to date. My dear reader, I present to you, for your delectation and diversion, an alternative take on the Allegory of the Cave.


Dear Conlaug, let us now examine the nature of things, for we have nothing better to do. Just imagine, hypothetically my son, that there exist people who live in boxes or cubbyholes that are piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side. Although each person names their cubbyhole home, imagine they all went to the same store, let's say to Aeki, to furnish their cubbyholes. There would be an element of individuality to each cubbyhole, but the degree of difference would be slight, because the store carries only a few lines in each category of furnishings. 

When boxed and not sleeping or cooking and eating, imagine those people spending all their time lounging and watching a box-shaped object that constantly displayed moving images, with sounds. Let's call it the picture box. Now imagine, if you will, those pictures portraying stories, much like puppeteers do for their audiences. Some of the stories reflect what the picture box watchers take to be the reality of others' lives. That is, the lives of others living in similar cubbyholes piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side in a neighbourhood strikingly similar to their own. 

Those ongoing stories portray the lives of people very much like the watchers themselves. The repetitive nature of such stories serves to ferment an idea of normality in the minds of the watchers. Now you must imagine that the marionettes enacting the stories are a rare breed of people. That is, there aren't many of them. Thus the development of plot lines in an ongoing story has to, of necessity, involve the same limited choice of characters, over and over again. Watchers become conditioned to discount the number of times a given character has been involved in a familiar scenario, because they unconsciously suspend criticality in favour of faith.

There is another from of story that portrays the actions of people unlike the watchers. That is, those stories portray extraordinary actions that watchers themselves never experience. Those stories, with their fantastic qualities, serve to contrast the mundane character of the former category, and are tantamount to escapism for the watchers. Imagine that, as with the ongoing stories, those incredible stories feature the same discreet cadre of marionettes. In that case, some performing marionettes become well known for enacting certain roles; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Watchers come to believe that those marionettes have a worthwhile outlook on life and that, if they say something, it's profound truth.

A third form of story purports to be the tidings of the day. That is, daily and nightly repeated tales of what is supposed to be happening, and to whom, where, when, why and how. That category of story is always presented by an older, mature and outwardly respectable-seeming marionette at every airing, such that the watchers become familiar with, and trusting of, such a marionette.

Imagine too, that from early childhood, from the time they can distinguish the images on the picture box, watching the picture box becomes habitual to those living in cubbyholes that are piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side. No-one forces the watchers to watch their picture boxes, but the habit is so ingrained that nobody fails to do so at every opportunity. It's practically hereditary and it's as if, once inside their own home cubbyhole and separated from others' home cubbyholes, over, under or alongside, watchers are conditioned to lounge or sprawl and watch, and absorb the picture box images. 

Every watcher has a picture box and every picture box displays similar puppet shows. That suggests there is a choice. However, it's a Hobson's Choice, because all the stories are so very similar. Can you imagine that?

“Yes, I can see all that, Setarcos,” said Conlaug, “but it's an odd image you're describing, with all those strangely stricken people.”

Well now, imagine also that there is a third category of people, separate from the watchers and marionettes. Those people are also watchers in a sense, but it's not the picture box they watch. What those people watch, very carefully, are the watchers. As it happens, those people are the producers of the stories that the watchers watch. Those people are akin to the puppeteers of old, and they are the ones who make up the stories, which their marionettes enact, according to their manipulation. Those people are as few as their marionettes, whilst the watchers are many. In fact, the watchers comprise about 99 percent of the population.

Naturally, the stories presented involve dialogue and narration, in addition to pure enactment. Imagine also that any interludes are filled with suitably dramatic music, such that there is never silence. The audiovisual senses of the watchers are always engaged. The puppeteers call the first category of stories cleansing theatre, the second escapism, and the third news.  

“I see,” said Conlaug, reflectively.

Outwardly, watchers seem just like us, Conlaug, but you must also imagine that  watchers watch nothing their whole lives other than those stories on the picture box in front of them, in their cubbyholes piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side; stories that have been created by puppeteers.

“Could they watch anything else?" asked Conlaug.

Other than the stories presented by the puppeteers, what else would they be able to watch, do you think?

“I guess there is nothing else for watchers to watch?” mused Conlaug.

There you go! Watchers watch, and that's it. So, when the watchers are not in their cubbyholes that are piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side, don't you think that what they discuss amongst themselves, their primary topic of conversation, would be the stories that they recently watched? Don't you think they would compare what they watched and what they each made of it?

“I'm sure they would do just that,” replied Conlaug.

Furthermore, Conlaug, if what the marionettes in the stories were saying was echoed in the conversations between watchers, would they not come to believe that those voices were speaking of things in such a manner as the watchers themselves ought to speak of things?

“I'm pretty sure of that too.”

So, in as much as the watchers were concerned with outward reality, there would be no reality other than that which emanated from those forms of stories?   

“I should think so,” agreed Conlaug, seemingly convinced.

Think then, Conlaug, what would happen if  a watcher was suddenly released from his life in his cubbyhole that was piled up and side by side with others, and was told that all he had watched, since childhood, was designed to instil certain ideas and conceptions; to inculcate misconceptions and promote false beliefs? What if someone told him about the puppeteers and what they get up to? How do you think he would react if someone told him that what he had been watching was primarily fabrication and that he could determine the alternative for himself? 

Let's say that he was shown some examples of how the stories twisted reality or omitted key pieces of factual information, that is, lying by omission. Would he not be confused, and initially prefer to believe in what he'd formerly been watching as being more likely; more comforting; less challenging?

"Indeed, most likely he would, Setarcos,” responded Conlaug.

If that ex-watcher was shown the light, so to speak, it would be as if he had been kept in darkness all his life. If he was forcibly removed from his cubbyhole, that was piled up and side by side with others, and brought to a place where he could observe, at first hand, all that the puppeteers and their marionettes got up to, would he not suffer terribly and protest? Seeing the alternative would be quite a shock and likely to give him a headache, would it not, Conlaug?

“Quite likely.”

At first, he wouldn't be willing to believe what his senses were telling him. He wouldn't wish to believe the evidence of his own eyes. In the beginning, it would be easier for him to deny what he was seeing. Yet he would, over time, adapt his ideas to what he couldn't forever deny. Eventually, he'd be able to see clearly all that takes place. He'd be able to think outside of the box. He would be able to look around him and examine the sort of world he could inhabit. Wouldn't you agree?

“Yes. Yes, I think I do,” confirmed Conlaug.

Then the ex-watcher would consider the fact that it is the puppeteers who create the stories and the cleansing theatre series and the adventures and the news, effectively presiding over the whole experiential world of the watchers and how they should perceive it, that is, according to the wishes of the puppeteers. He'd come to believe that the puppeteers, a mere one percent of the population, were at the heart of everything he watched and saw and thought.

“Obviously,” said Conlaug, “that is the only conclusion he could come to.”

So then, when the ex-watcher thought about his home cubbyhole, above or below and alongside others, and the erroneous thinking to which he and his fellow watchers had succumbed, do you not think that he would feel himself blessed for his change of perspective and feel something akin to pity for his hitherto fellow watchers? 

“Most certainly.”

Imagine the conversations the ex-watcher would've had with his erstwhile fellows when he was confined to his cubbyhole, above or below and alongside others. Wouldn't the greatest praise have been reserved for those watchers with the longest attention span; those who could recite accurately dialogue from series' episodes, or spot product placements, or recite character genealogies going all the way back to series one, or name all characters played by a particular marionette, or to remember the last time there was a global event, what preceded it, and to guess better than all the others what would be likely to happen next? What do you think would be his view about all that? 

Do you think the ex-watcher would be eager to rejoin his former fellows in their cubbyholes, piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side, and that he'd again be envious of those who had earned the praises of the others? Or do you think he would much prefer to be living in the world of the puppeteers, even as a marionette, and experience whatever came his way? Which is it; that latter, or to return to live as his former fellows in their cubbyholes, above or below and alongside others?

“Well,” said Conlaug, “I believe he'd rather endure the unpredictability of life outside the box than to live like his former fellows in their cubbyholes, above or below and alongside others.”

Okay, well now, dwell on this, Conlaug; if the ex-watcher was indeed to have returned to his old seat in front of the picture box in his home cubbyhole, above or below and alongside others, would not his senses be underwhelmed by the humdrum monotony?

“Of course,” answered Conlaug, “I imagine that would be very much the case.”

How do you think the ex-watcher would react if he were compelled to once again join in with the conversations of the watchers confined to their cubbyholes piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side? If he was able to stick it out, he'd eventually come to participate fully as before, but it would take a long while, no doubt about that. His regression would be inevitable in that circumstance. However, in the meantime, would he not be ridiculed by his ex-peers, seemingly now his superiors, who would say he'd  returned from the other place with damaged perception? 

Wouldn't those watchers say that it would be a waste of time for anyone to even try to go to the other place, and that, if the ex-watcher tried to persuade them or forcefully take them, they would point him out, ostracise him, victimise him, and blame him for upsetting their equilibrium?

“Definitely,” agreed Conlaug.

Now, my friend Conlaug, we must consider this scenario in its entirety. We must contrast this world of the puppeteers and marionettes, which can be experienced at first hand, with that of the watchers in their cubbyholes, piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side, whose experiences are fed to them, by the puppeteers, via picture boxes.

So, if you accept that the hypothetical ex-watcher, who gained his freedom so to speak, and became enlightened, represents the ascension from the world of mere watchers to the world of puppeteers, that is, the world of mind, consciousness, thought and intelligence, you wouldn't be too far from understanding what I'm on about. That idea is the source of all that's good and bountiful in the world.

It is that idea of the good and bountiful that has given birth to the light in the world and its very masters; the puppeteers. That idea is also the only acceptable source of truth and thought and enlightenment in the world of the mind and consciousness, and it is to that ideal that people must adhere if they want to maintain their advantage.

“I concur,” said Conlaug, “at least in so far as I can.”

In that case, come, agree with me also that we shouldn't be surprised if those who exist in that state of enlightenment wish to protect their advantage. Puppeteers have no desire to liberate or enfranchise watchers. Puppeteers wish to live forever as puppeteers, which is quite natural, I suggest, if the picture I've drawn so far is correct.

“Of course, that's only natural,” said Conlaug.

Aha! Well, it's quite natural that puppeteers should think like that, but of course, it's quite unnatural to expect an infinite lifespan. I'm sure you understood that I was speaking in a collective sense. Inasmuch as puppeteers wish to live forever, that wish extends beyond the individual. That is, it's made on behalf of their class, which must survive. Now, in that case, Conlaug, would you find it strange if puppeteers, with all their acquired wisdom, behaved in a most superior and entitled manner when they came into contact with the baseness of the watchers? 

“I see nothing strange in that.”

So, anyone with a modicum of sense would be able to figure out that the separation of peoples can be approached in two ways; ascending from the darkness into the light, and descending from the light into the darkness. Therefore, we must accept that if the puppeteers begin to sense that some watchers are becoming perplexed with their lives in cubbyholes, piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side, and unable to understand something, they ought to, pretty quickly, figure out which of the two things is happening.  

They must determine whether some people are perplexed, because they are experiencing an epiphany, having sensed that they can move from a life of overwhelming ignorance to one that is glaringly bright, or because their conscience is awakened and they feel that some form of repentance is in order; that is, to descend to the darkness. 

The puppeteers will think of either of those states as unhappy and sad ones, and that the logical course of action would be to do their utmost to prevent either occurrence from materialising.

“Quite logical,” agreed Conlaug.

Well then, if all that be true, we must also accept that, from the viewpoint of the puppeteers, the majority of the watchers must stay firmly in their cubbyholes that are piled one on top of another and heaped up side by side, and remain bereft of all knowledge apart from that which they, the puppeteers, place before them as if it were the light; that is, truth and reality. Otherwise, my son, the advantages held by the puppeteers will be diminished, ultimately to the point of uniformity. The authority of the minority over the majority must remain the priority. Don't you agree, Conlaug?

“Yes,” stated Conlaug, “I do; I fully agree.”

What we have discovered, Conlaug, is that, despite the efforts of the puppeteers, watchers have within themselves the capacity to learn. They only need be given the opportunity to do so. It is also true that, just as someone cannot turn from darkness into the light unless the will exists, nor can this capacity that makes it possible for watchers to gain knowledge work unless all forms of oppression are removed. If people are to turn away from the place of being to that of becoming, they must generate the will and seize the opportunity; open their eyes to reality and the splendour of that which we call good. Is that not so?

“It is so,” agreed Conlaug.

One may suspect then, that there is an art which deals with preventing the accomplishment of that transition in a most effective way. That art discourages the will to embark on the passage, to realise ones capacity for transformation, to make the journey into the light. That art directs its focus entirely towards the oppression of the watchers. 

“Quite so, Setarcos.”

Then how shall we name that art, my dear Conlaug?

“I think I would give to the composite art of cleansing theatre, escapism and news the collective noun of western democracy, my Sage,” offered Conlaug.

Bravo! Conlaug, we'll make a puppeteer of you yet.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

The Journeyman Poet


The journeyman poet

...takes a spokeshave for the rough cuts,

strewing metaphoric litter

in the wake of his intent.

Whittlings poke like spondees

through the sawdust of his soul,

where caesuras choke for elbow room.

Words in good order are nailed as a rule,

while chamfered lines are planed

and stanza'd shapes set square,

mortised and tenon'd, and clamped.

Varnished, the whole takes its place

in the penetralia of his inward eye.

Writing is joinery of a literary kind;

poetry carved from a craftsman's mind.

Friday, 2 July 2021


Thanks to Percy Shelley, I once wrote a poem called Geordiemonstrous, about the Angel of the North. I thought it was time I wrote I wrote a poem about a Scottish landmark.


I met a sculptor home from Helix Park

who said: I sired those Kelpies out of shades, 

reared up side by side. Lit up in the dark,

their shadows harness thoughts of horse-powered past:

when collared teams pulled, ploughed and left their mark, 

their feathered hooves all iron shod; when bred

by men for draught on roads, on paths, in parks

where Clydesdales nodded up and down the rigs.

Perhaps they're also redolent of lore,

smell of shape-shifting spirits, serpent-maned

enticers, equine demons haunting lochs?

All our Celtic legends have long since waned,

but if you still conceive of wraiths abroad,

then always take the bridge and not the ford.

Sunday, 30 May 2021

On the distress that followed upon my catching certain media

This poem, my umpteenth sonnet, surfaced after reading John Milton's Sonnet 11, otherwise known as his Tetrachordon Sonnet, formally entitled On the Detraction which Followed upon my Writing Certain Treatises and informally known as A book was writ. You can find Milton's sonnet here, on Bartleby

I was drawn to seek out Milton's sonnet after it was mentioned in a book by Sir Walter Scott (A Legend of Montrose), and because that book featured the legendary Alasdair MacColla. Alasdair Mac Colla Chiotaich MacDhòmhnaill, whom Scott refers to as “the young Colkitto”, was a Major-General with the 1644-5 Royalist campaign of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose. John Milton was a vocal supporter supporter of Cromwell and his reference to “Colkitto or Macdonnel” in Sonnet 11 is essentially derogatory. 

My poem is not about Milton, Scott, Colkitto or Montrose, but you may detect signs of a paradise lost.

On the distress that followed upon my catching certain media

A tale was told of late; bold Propergander, 
and spun tight, in content, form and style. 
The subject new, it burst on air with guile, 
fooling good citizens. Now that's a wonder. 

The news agents cried, "Deadly virus! What can
we do to save mankind?" And most in line
stood sobbing, "Help!" While I thought, "OK, fine,
what's next, our freedoms and our rights down the pan?" 

Lockdown, mask up, stay home and stay apart. 
Egregious rules to all free folk voiced shrill, 
like Goebbels in his prime, by Dr. Smart,
who has no soul and cares not who he'd kill. 

And what we've learned is this pandemic's art
has been the sound of notes from Pharma's till. 

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

The Covid Years (Exordium and Terminus)

Here's one for the times. With thanks to Zager and Evans for the inspiration. My timeline is decidedly shorter, but neither mine nor theirs is/was supposed to be accurately predictive in terms of the datelines. You may have differing views on the so-called vaccines, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of satire. Time will tell.

The Covid Years (Exordium and Terminus)

In the year 2020,

man had PCR tests a-plenty.

The propaganda made the healthy

think that they were sick.

In the year 2021,

it was a crime to hug someone.

Locked down, masked up, every measure overdone.

A quarantine for everyone.

In the year 2022,

those left untouched were just the few

and singled out, they wore a clue;

the star that every Normal knew.

In the year 2023,

when Pharma's vaccine money tree

was felled, there weren't many left to see

the end of their immunity.

In the year 2024,

the queues out by the Reaper's door,

the vaccinated, rich and poor,

cried Hail the scythe! while Others swore.

In the year 2025,

with just those Others left alive

and struggling daily to survive,

there was little hope that man would thrive.

In the year 2026,

with Satan called an *

for spoiling man's genetic mix,

the bodies swamped the river Styx. 

Down all the years that followed then,

the cycle circled round again,

while poets spoke of ancient men

and their viral god – Covidienne.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Missing Brigadoon

Missing Brigadoon

Feels like I'll never again 
get to mix with Gordon Jackson soundalikes.
Flannels and rolled-up shirt-sleeves. An idyll
in sepia. Highland gatherings. All year

I've been trying to steer through the fog;
paths hidden in plots and charts. A village
in lockdown. Fears of isolation 
for another hundred years. 

Beyond Dinnaeken lies the low road;
neither Google nor TomTom much use. 
Seems Brigadoon swept a plaid
o'er the shores of Loch Dhubh; its spell 

proving fatal to my search. Perhaps
it's best left to the imagination.