This Be The Verse
BY PHILIP LARKIN
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Despite people’s assumptions to the contrary (owing perhaps to a tendency to dramatically prelude articles with poetry, and the superfluous use of words such as the upcoming and previous adjective), I’ve never been that voracious a reader. I’ve started, then abandoned more books than I’ve probably completed, and average only single figures in any given year, but I’ve always had an innate fascination with the written word and as a kid breezed through the entirety of the reading list in my earliest educational settings weeks before the curriculum’s projected end. Given these extenuating circumstances I was put out to pasture in the only environs befitting someone of these perceived talents, and entrusted to the empty library while the rest of my class trudged through the uneventful adventures of a boy and his dog.
Off to the side of front doors facing the unmanned desk of the Reception Area in the school’s foyer between the sports hall on one side, and a narrow, diminutive-sink lined corridor leading to the faintly babbling classrooms on the other, this ‘library’ was little more than a creche of about five or so shelves arranged so as to form an enclosure, with a gap in one corner to allow egress. It was shoved up against the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the playground and field outside.
This free time was peculiarly prohibitive, the isolation of the ordinarily bustling school and the stillness of the weekday world outside elongated what was likely only twenty minutes into an eternity, so in an attempt to pass the time, and perhaps pre-empt any retribution for discovery of my idle abuse of this privilege-limbo that was still preferable to sitting in class, I fingered my way through the hundred or so torpid titles until I scanned a spine that sparked my ‘Ben and Lad’ addled imagination.
Prising the tall top of the tightly impacted book toward me from between it’s neighbours, I pulled until it fell, large and matte-black to the carpet, landing with a slap. Looking up from the cover was a coat-wearing skeleton, standing in a window frame with an offering of red roses in it’s clasp, under the heading: ‘NIGHTMARES Poems To Trouble Your Sleep’. Flicking through the collection predictably populated with the obligatory Vampires, Werewolves and Witches, I stopped on a scratchy illustration of a bald man sat nonchalantly atop a climbing frame sternly glowering down at a procession of children quizzically looking up at him from within the supposed safety of a schoolhouse, and read the text beneath.
The gruesome ghoul, the grisly ghoul,
without the slightest noise
waits patiently beside the school
to feast on girls and boys.
He lunges fiercely through the air
as they come out to play,
then grabs a couple by the hair
and drags them far away.
He cracks their bones and snaps their backs
and squeezes out their lungs,
he chews their thumbs like candy snacks
and pulls apart their tongues.
He slices their stomachs and bites their hearts
and tears their flesh to shreds,
he swallows their toes like toasted tarts
and gobbles down their heads.
Fingers, elbows, hands and knees
and arms and legs and feet–
he eats them with delight and ease,
for every part’s a treat.
And when the gruesome, grisly ghoul
has nothing left to chew,
he hurries to another school
and waits… perhaps for you.
While Larkin’s declaration was in its day revolutionary and remains salient, there’s nothing quite as fascinating as the profound up-fuckery that occurs to everyone irrespective of (and sometimes in spite of) anyone’s intention or ability to intervene. In this column I’ll be examining those cultural moments when the dark and larger realities oozed through the cracks in your supposed safety and irrevocably embedded themselves in your psyche.
Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.