Monday, February 9, 2009

In the Can with Donald Justice

News from the BBC today of a competition in the U.K. to find poetry to be displayed in the public toilets of Shetland. The competition is to be called "Bards of the Bog."

A local librarian said, "It should brighten up folk's day, and maybe they'll be inspired to pop into the library and borrow more poetry."

Hopefully after they wash their hands ...

Toilets are perhaps the last place in the world where poetry may find a captive audience (though I wouldn't put it past people to be on their Blackberries while on the loo). Still, I wonder if any contemporary poet can top the classic stall verse that begins, "Here I sit/broken-hearted." Perhaps it could be expanded from a quatrain into a full sonnet.

Or they could just turn to Donald Justice's New and Selected for a poem that adds a painfully existential angle to a simple trip to take a leak.

Unflushed Urinals

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX lines written in an Omaha bus station

Seeing them, I recognize the contempt
Some men have for themselves.

This man, for instance, zipping quickly up, head turned,
Like a bystander innocent of his own piss.

And here comes one to repair himself at the mirror,
Patting down damp, sparse hairs, suspiciously still black,
Poor bantam cock of a man, jaunty at one a.m., perfumed,
xxxxxxundiscourageable ...

O the saintly forbearance of these mirrors!
The acceptingness of the washbowls, in which we absolve ourselves!


Anonymous said...

Years ago (Oh, the past is another country), in a bar in Houston named Corky's (rhymes with corgis!), a saw on the men's bathroom wall, written in a big, loopy script with a marking pen, the words "I fucked your mother." Underneath it, in a small, neat hand, a ballpoint pen had been used to write "Go home, Dad. You're drunk." Blank verse, yes, but so funny...

M. C. Allan said...

That's hilarious. Now and then bathroom walls can produce gems. A while back there was some debate about preserving the graffiti on the stall walls in the bathrooms of the Bodleian library at Oxford. I still remember wanting to go from stall to stall because the wall etchings were so hilarious. There's a funny write-up about it here: