The Lay Preacher Ponders by Idris Davies

‘Isn’t the violet a dear little flower? And the daisy, too.

What nice little thoughts arise from a daisy!

If I were a poet now – but no, not a poet,

For a poet is a wild and blasphemous man;

He talks about wine and women too much for me

And he makes mad songs about old pagans, look you.

Poets are dangerous men to have in chapel,

And it is bad enough in chapel as it is

with all the quarelling over the organ and the deacons;

The deacons are not too nice to saintly young men like me.

(Look at Jenkins John Jones, the old damn scoundrel!)

They know I can pray for hours and hours,

They know what a righteous young man I am,

They know how my Bible is always in my pocket

And Abraham and Jonah like brothers to me,

But they prefer the proper preacher with his collar turned around;

They say he is more cultured than I am,

And what is culture but palaver and swank?

I turn up my nose at culture.

I stand up for faith, and very simple faith,

And knowledge I hate because it is poison.

Think of this devilish thing they call science,

It is Satan’s new trick to poison men’s minds.

When I shall be local councillor and a famous man –

I  look forward to the day when I shall be mayor –

I will put my foot down on clever palaver,

And show what a righteous young man I am.

And they ought to know I am that already,

For I give all my spare cash to the chapel

And all my spare time to God.’

 

by Idris Davies

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All Rules Are Incorrect by Boris Slutsky

All rules are incorrect,

all laws remain perverse,

until they’re firmly set

in well wrought lines of verse.

 

An age or era will

be merely a stretch of time

without a meaning until

it’s glorified in rhyme.

 

Until the poet’s ‘Yes!’,

entrusted by his pen

to print, award success

to this or that – till then

 

the jury will be out,

the verdict still in doubt.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(early 1960s)

translated by Stephen Capus

Shape Ships To Seek by Vladislav Khodasevich

Shape ships to seek some shining shore,

or, if you choose, chirp chants in churches.

But seize your chance – shout one shy cheer,

and shoot up starwards, sharp and sheer…

I shift the chairs – a cheerless chore…

What tosh you chunter in these searches

for shoes and spectacles, to be sure!

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1922)

translated by Michael Frayn

A Police Station’s A Fine Place by Velimir Khlebnikov

A police station’s a fine place:

it’s where the State and I have trysts.

It’s where the State reminds me

that it still exists.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1922)

translated by Robert Chandler

Nicholas Was… by Neil Gaiman

Nicholas Was…

older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.

The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in

their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not

actually working in the factories.

Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the

journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible

gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.

He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

 

by Neil Gaiman

from Smoke & Mirrors


In 1989, Neil Gaiman and Sandman artist David McKean collaborated on a hundred word Christmas card story titled “Nicholas Was.” Below is a short animated version created by 39 Degrees North Studio.


 

 


 

Middle Age by Mike Jenkins

Middle-age is when

you begin to get sensitive

about the crowd swearing at bald refs.

 

It’s when your daughter’s

History homework’s on Dunkirk

and she asks ‘Were you around then?’

 

You look in the mirror every morning

glad that you’re short-sighted

and haven’t got your glasses on.

 

Certain nouns slip out of memory

to be replaced by verbs

like ‘to sleep’ and ‘to lie’.

 

It’s when you want time

to go rapidly to the next holiday,

yet halt completely before you die.

 

It’s when your appalling flatulence

is exposed to your spouse

and you don’t even bother to say ‘Pardon!’

 

You acquire irritable and incurable

ailments in corners of your body

and consider using herbal remedies.

 

You decide you need a new challenge:

working without a tie, your naked

adam’s apple is swallowed by the boss’s eyes.

 

Middle-age is when you take yourself for granted:

treat your dreams as pieces of furniture,

get rid of them on a skip.

 

It’s when you’re addicted to routine

and you don’t admit it, keep on taking it

till you O.D. on those same old scenes.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from This House, My Ghetto

Blue Notebook, No. 10 by Daniil Kharms

There once lived a red-headed man who had no eyes or ears.

He also had no hair, so he was only in a manner of speaking called red-haired.

He couldn’t speak, since he had no mouth. He had no nose either.

He didn’t even have arms or legs. And he had no stomach, and he had no back, and he had no spine, and he had no innards at all. He had nothing at all! So there’s no knowing who we are talking about.

We’d better not talk about him any more.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(1937)

translated by Robert Chandler