Here in the UK there was a radio series that explored a history of the world in a hundred objects. The objects ranged from the ancient, such as the Olduvai Handaxe made of volcanic lava that was part of a process of tool-making some 1.6 million years ago, to the relatively more modern, Victorian Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook, which had over 900 recipes and was probably one of the first cookbooks, and are so popular today (our local Waterstone’s six column shelves of cookbooks – WTF).
The poet Ted Kooser said that the mark of a good poem is one that makes you see the everyday, or the everyday object in a different way; to make his point, he references a one line poem by Joseph Hutchison, Artichoke: “O heart weighed down by so many wings.” As Kooser says, ‘Could you ever look an artichoke in the same way after reading that?’
In one of the first poems featured on Proletarian Poetry, Kei Miller did just that with corrugated iron, in his poem This Zinc Roof. “This clanging of feet and boots,/Men running from Babylon whose guns/Are drawn against the small measure/Of their lives; this galvanised sheet; this/Corrugated iron. The road to hell is fenced/On each side with zinc.” I am currently writing a poem about tyres, how, when kids, we used to roll them down the hills back home for fun, or when used as a form of execution, (‘necklacing’) in South Africa and Haiti where they are put round the neck of a victim, filled with petrol then set alight.
Paul Batchelor has taken an everyday object in a fantastic way with his poem “To a Halver”, which appears in his latest chapbook, The Love Darg; a halver is a half-brick, one half of an everyday object, that we are surrounded by, pass by, and sometimes take up as a weapon of protest or of gratuitous violence: “O half brick: your battened-down/century of faithful service in a pit village terrace/forgotten now you’ve broken loose; now you’re at large/on CCTV, flackering out of kilter till you bounce/like far-flung hail rebounding off the riot squad/or kissing the away support a fond goodbye.” Paul turns to the personal when one nearly kills his father following a Celtic/Rangers match, “when it was raining hammers and nails/after an Old Firm fixture – the decider: I exist/because you missed and broke his collarbone.” (more…)