a (lengthy) midnight poetry reading

at 23:56

Sunday, 27 January 2008

If you occasionally read my ramblings then you'll probably be aware that I am a scientist, with the soul of a writer, trapped in the decorated body of a complete slacker. I'm also something of a contrary little madam at times.

I attended a science and technology university (which I won't darken the name of here but a three second foray into google, or a quick look on my facebook profile (hi, random internet people! I have now officially crossed the line into geekdom by having you as facebook friends) will tell you everything you need to know) as such we missed out on some of my favourite people (arts and sociology students, oh how I love them) and had a rather unbalanced education. To try and counteract this every student was required to take a humanities module in their second year. This could be pretty much anything. Some courses were relevant (B took The History of Medicine and hated every minute), some were not (ex-flatmate M took Modern English Literature becasue she couldn't get on to my course of awesomeness). Some were easy (S took "Saying True Things", essentially philosophy lite, and walked it) and some were more work than our actual degree course (the ex Mr TheOdd took Level 3 German because he has a superiority complex layered with a serious desire to be a martyr and had to take on more than the rest of us combined).

I, however, took the world's best course: Creative writing. Side Note: I was mocked for this and told it would be no use whatsoever in my future life, three years on and I'm applying for a masters in Science Communication, working as a freelance writer and looking towards a career in journalism. Suck it.

My professor was an... interesting fellow whose personality didn't really mesh well with my own. Oh, ok, ok - I got bored and was deliberately antagonistic for my own entertainment. One topic we clashed on was the nature of poetry. For the purposes of thoroughly annoying and alienating the man who would be determining my final grade I insisted that I thought all poetry should be structured and would regularly accuse people of "just writing prose and throwing in random line breaks when [they] felt like it". He (rightly so) took me to task for this opinion, with a raised eyebrow and scorn in his voice; saying he supposed that I thought everything should be "filled with "o'er"s and "n'er"s and written in rhyming couplets".

My response?

I came in the next week with this:

The Deadmen's Ball

A spoken folk song that serves as a cautionary tale for young women who go walking alone at night.

She'd always fancied, that one summer night
She’d walk the forest in sun’s faded light
And lo! she went out, all gumption and gall
And that’s how she came to the deadmen’s ball.

The way twisted and turned and soon she strayed
Off the true path and into a glade.
She stood still staring amazed and appalled,
She almost fainted from the things that she saw.

A gaggle of creatures, unearthly and vile,
A cedar’s horned head, an imp’s fiendish smile.
A seven foot skeleton led the strange troupe,
Wearing a top hat and dressed all in blue.

His skull then spoke as he looked in her eyes
“Will you join us child? Are you just passing by?
You can’t leave now, the fun’s soon to start
You really should stay, its getting awfully dark”

She found herself sitting, afraid and alarmed
For though it was foul the creature had charm.
The Ringmaster turned and now faced the crowd,
Seeing him waiting, they all settled down.

He took a deep breath into long rotted lungs,
Addressing the crowd he practically sung:
“Roll up, roll up come one, come all,
To the auction of souls at the deadmen’s ball.”

The first souls came, to the Auctioneer’s stand,
Twelve drown’d sailors at last on dry land.
The skeleton cried “Let us lay them to rest!
The curs-ed crew of the Mary Celeste.”

Lot by lot the damned souls came
Waiting to stand on the Auctioneer’s stage.
She watched in horror, with mounting dread,
As a fury bought three and tore them to shreds

More and more trudged on to the stand,
And each one left with a master’s brand.
And all through the night the souls came on
She watched them in awe till the last was gone.

Still the crowd stayed rooted in place,
And that’s when she noticed his eyes on her face.
They carried her screaming up to the stand
Where the skeleton smiled and reached for her hand.

“Don’t worry, my dear” the creature said,
“Just a few moments more, then home and to bed.”
“All set to work!” The skeleton cried,
“Without a gown she’ll not be a bride.”

A harpy fetched her a gown, as blue as her eyes,
Spun from cobwebs and just the right size.
T'was as if they'd been waiting for this very night
When a deadman would take his own living wife.

The prayers were called by a chimera's left head,
while the right one nodded to all that it said.
As the vows were reached, and the end came near
The tail reached round to wipe at a tear.

The skeleton smiled and waved to the crowd
His voice was clear as he recited his vows
"I take this woman, and she must agree,
For how could she not want one handsome as me?"

He brought out a ring of wire and bone,
And taking her hand he made her his own.
Still he smiled and still she cried
As they left the stage a man and his bride.

Her home now is dark, not touched by the sun,
She wishes and cries but can’t change what’s been done.
Night after night she spends walking the halls
Cursing the day of the deadmen’s ball.

So if you decide, one summer night
To walk the hills in the day's final light
Stay on the path, don't wander away
Bad things happen to the women who stray.

At all costs avoid any people in glades
Who gather in darkness rather than day.
And if a man dressed in blue, is facing a crowd
Though he asks you, never sit down.

And the next week? I wrote a motherfucking Sestina. Told ya I was a rebel.

He can't have been that pissed at me though: I did get one of the two Firsts he awarded that year.


Anonymous said...

You creepy minx!

Within the first few stanzas I was thinking of Brian Froud's Faeries book.

I am forever envious of those gifted with the ability to craft a tight rhyme. Not even the strongest of muses could coax out a couplet from this dry well.

In other news, the British method of grading is baffling, but I have to assume Firsts is a good thing?

Alex the Odd said...

Thanks Manda! Normally I am rather anti rhyme but my desire to be occard overcame my normal reservations.

Aaah yes. UK university grading:

1st = A
2:1 = B
2:2 = C
3rd = D

...roughly speaking. Something like 60-80% of students get second class honours (thats a 2:1 or a 2:2) and it's pretty evenly split between the two grades. I think about 10 people got a first for their over all degree grade (out of a year of 150)... I was not one of them ;)

Guess I shouldn't have made a habit of walking out of/not attending exams I couldn't be bothered to sit. Ooops.