Thursday, 27 November 2014


In a recent post, I mentioned a short series of new poems, “Maquettes for a Season of Fury”, without alluding too specifically to the nature of the series. In effect, they're political poems. They are, however, neither chest-thumping diatribes nor maudlin reflections on social issues per se. For the most part detached in voice, they examine real-time issues either through the actions of those people who are directly involved, or through dramatic representations of the issues at hand.

Two of the poems, with Ukraine/Russia themes, went through a number of submission rounds, not dozens, but a few nonetheless, and then an American journal accepted both, stating that they “thought the poems were wonderful and couldn't wait to publish the work”. Comments aside, it's a wry pertinence that acceptances follow the same long route as buses: you don't see one for ages, and then two show up at once.

As such, on a practical level, such writing is a hard sell. Editors tend to shy away from controversial issues, such as sex trafficking, or the 'rightness' of a war, or institutional racism, in favour of neatly turned-out, ironic, observational poems that offer insights into the Interior Life.

A similar charting occurs on the Scoville Scale, which is used to measure units of heat in chillies. Some people state happily that they like spicy food – curries or similar – but clearly there is a differential between expectations in respect of 'heat'.

A splash of Tabasco Sauce rates a respectable 2500 Heat Units on the Scoville Scale. For your poem about said Interior Life, a spice-loving editor may decide your Tabasco-rated poem is just the ticket; congratulations. Unfortunately, much of the world lives at 'the Hot Gates'. If a poem about the lives of those knee-deep in shit and blood is going to offer resonance with these lives, you will have to move up the scale somewhat.

A poem about twelve year-old girls passed around like after-dinner sweets by middle-aged men, for example, may require your writing to sharpen-up to the level of a Dorset Naga, at 923,000 SHUs. And further still, the idea of setting your verses in a torture room in a remote town in Uzbekistan may require the commitment level of a Carolina Reaper at 2,200,000 SHUs.

In the world of chillies, heat is a defence. The plant that is chewed-at and trampled responds by increasing its levels of capsaicin, a potent chemical (pure form 15,000,000 SHUs) that survives both cooking and freezing, but apart from the burning sensation it also triggers the brain to produce endorphins, natural painkillers that promote a sense of well being.

When you're hot, you're hot.

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