Northwords Now Issue 36

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Poets' Paradise

by David McVey

God rarely allowed anyone else into his Holiest of Holies but he made an exception for the Dead Poets. He knew what disgruntled poets could be like.

Every dead poet who had ever lived, anywhere in the world, was crowded into a vast space under tasteful pearly lighting. Giant screens enabled the more distantly seated poets to view the platform party. That year’s President stood up to give the welcome.

‘I won’t keep you long,’ he began, ‘we have a lot of business to get through and summer’s lease, if I may say so, hath all too short a date. Firstly, I want to thank Our Lord for letting us use these premises for our AGM. As you know, our club rooms are now too small for our needs; poets keep dying and joining our ranks, so it is most gracious of Our Lord…’

A mutinous murmuring broke out from a group huddled around the main entrance with their backs to the meeting.

‘Who are they?’ asked the President.

‘That’s Keats and MacDiarmid and the rest of ‘em,’ said his Vice-President, Maya Angelou. ‘When they got here they were kinda disappointed to find out there was a God and Heaven and all, so they spend their time trying to forget it. But they can’t forget it if they’re in the Holiest of Holies. They don’t wanna come in.’

‘Mewling, puking infants,’ muttered the President.

‘Shall I go and read them some of my Psalms?’ said King David, bringing forth a flutter of laughter from the vast audience. When the room was silent again, the President continued. ‘We have a special guest who will speak to us later,’ and here he gestured towards a small woman seated further along the platform, ‘So please give a warm Dead Poets’ welcome to Liz Lochhead!’

There was great roar of applause which took a long time to die down. Then, a bald, grey, bearded, dead Scotsman near the front shouted, ‘Wait a minute! She’s not even dead! First we let women in, now it’s the living!’

‘Now, now,’ said the President, ‘this is Paradise, not your grim Poets’ Pub! Women are full, equal members in our society.

‘Aye,’ shouted Robert Burns, ‘the mair women the better!’

‘I wish I was back down there,’ said the grizzled poet to the man on his left.

‘I prefer it up here,’ said his neighbour. ‘I can see, for a start.’

‘Och, Milton, it’s no all about you.’

‘Is there nowhere at this meeting a man can get a drink?’ shouted a curly-haired Welshman.

‘You’ve been asking that every week since you got here, Thomas,’ Milton shouted back, ‘You have eternal bliss - what do you want drink for?’

The President restored order with a few bangs of his gavel. ‘Now, my friends, we have two issues we must address before Ms Lochhead speaks to us. Firstly, the low level of poetry reading here in Paradise and, secondly, our capacity problems. Where can we hold our future meetings as poets keep dying and our numbers continue to swell?’

‘I always used to say,’ mused John Donne, ‘that any man’s death diminished me. Now, any poet’s death increases us.’

‘Our Lord has been most gracious on this occasion,’ resumed the President, ‘but we need new permanent club rooms. A cockpit, you might say, that can hold the vasty fields of France.’

‘What’s he on about?’ muttered a cool, young but dead performance poet, ‘What’s France got to do with it?’

There was a little more discussion and then an Accommodation Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Thomas Hardy, who, after all, was an architect. ‘Their meetings will be a right bundle o laughs,’ whispered Robert Burns to Robert Fergusson.

‘And so to the issue of poetry reading,’ the President continued. ‘In Paradise, our potential readers are, after all, dead…’

‘…sailors, home from sea, and hunters home from the hill…’ Robert Louis Stevenson whispered to himself.

‘…and you might think that their existence couldn’t be further enhanced. They have eternal life and eternal bliss. Why would they read poetry?’

‘To make them feel miserable?’ said Burns. ‘Some poems dae that.’

‘Yes, Rab, though in any poetry-reading campaign we had better say “Poetry enables us to taste emotions beyond our normal experience” or some flannel like that.’

‘Michty, Will - we’ll need a marketing copywriter. Nane of us would write mince like that.’

‘I would,’ chirped a little man who had worked all his life on greetings card verses.

By the time the discussion had risen and flourished and begun to die down, they had agreed to institute a Paradise Poetry Day. There would be public readings, free pamphlets and special programmes on Heaven’s own TV channel, with additional coverage on the Red Button.

‘Bit depressing, isn’t it?’ said Sylvia Plath, ‘If some people aren’t reading poetry, can this really be Heaven?’

‘Nobody reads poetry among the living, now, either,’ said Sir Walter Scott. ‘Of course, at one time, everybody read mine…’

‘That was verse, Wattie!’ chortled Wordsworth. ‘What you wrote wasn’t proper poetry!’

The poets settled down to hear an inspiring address from their guest speaker, and then the President announced the end of the formal meeting; ‘If you’ll all proceed to the lesser Holy of Holies, a finger buffet had been prepared. This is a great networking opportunity so make the most of it. And I’ve arranged for flights of angels to sing thee to thy lunch.’

The poets flowed in a seemingly endless tide towards the exit. Above them flew angels, terrifying in their dazzling bright holiness, praising in stereo surround-sound; ahead of them they smelt the welcoming aroma of mini sausage rolls and vegetarian vol-au-vents.