Poems

Troilus and Criseyde

By Geoffrey Chaucer

My translation of Book I, lines 1-56 was awarded third prize in the 2016 Stephen Spender Prize. You can read it on the Stephen Spender Prize website, or download the beautifully produced prize booklet.


The Illusionist

The theatre’s gilded like a magic box.
The lights go dim and someone takes the stage.
‘Good evening everyone, I’m Darren Fox.’
We know he’s not. The real one’s still backstage.

The lights go dim and someone takes the stage.
He looks the part. We gingerly applaud.
We know he’s not. The real one’s still backstage.
‘And here’s the man you’ve all been waiting for!’

He looks the part. We gingerly applaud.
The curtains part. The curtains close again.
‘And here’s the man you’ve all been waiting for!’
‘Thank you all for waiting in the rain.’

The curtains part. The curtains close again.
We troop back slowly to our starting spots.
‘Thank you all for waiting in the rain –’
‘Sorry Darren – pillar blocked the shot.’

We troop back slowly to our starting spots.
The cameraman walks sideways through the crowd.
‘Sorry Darren – pillar blocked the shot.’
‘I know. It feels a bit disjointed now.’

The cameraman walks sideways through the crowd;
we part and close behind him like the sea.
‘I know it feels a bit disjointed now.
The whole thing will look seamless on TV.’

We part and close behind him like the sea.
He reappears through the left-hand door.
‘The whole thing will look seamless on TV.
I know the repetition’s such a bore.’

He reappears through the left-hand door.
His eyes are covered; both hands firmly tied.
‘I know the repetition’s such a bore.
Please take your time, examine every side.’

His eyes are covered; both hands firmly tied.
The dazzling spotlights keep us in the dark.
‘Please take your time, examine every side
and let the camera see it, clearly marked.’

The dazzling spotlights keep us in the dark.
The volunteer does everything he’s told.
‘And let the camera see it, clearly marked.
That’s right, just there. Now cut along the fold.’

The volunteer does everything he’s told.
We half expect to see him levitate.
‘That’s right, just there. Now cut along the fold.
The time has come. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait…’

We half expect to see him levitate.
A moment’s pause that seems to take an age.
‘The time has come. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait…
And look whose name is written on that page!’

A moment’s pause that seems to take an age.
He takes the sheet and holds it up as proof.
‘And look whose name is written on that page!
I’d like to ask you all to raise the roof!’

He takes the sheet and holds it up as proof,
although the mechanism isn’t clear.
‘I’d like to ask you all to raise the roof:
Please give a big hand to our volunteer!’

Although the mechanism isn’t clear,
we’re still transfixed by what we’ve all just seen.
‘Please give a big hand to our volunteer!
Just wait until you see yourself on screen!’

We’re still transfixed by what we’ve all just seen:
a show that never actually took place.
‘Just wait until you see yourself on screen.
The stops and starts will vanish without trace.’

A show that never actually took place
will be assembled in the cutting room.
‘The stops and starts will vanish without trace.
When Sibyl gives the signal we’ll resume.’

We’ll be assembled in the cutting room.
‘Good evening everyone, I’m Darren Fox.
When Sibyl gives the signal we’ll resume.’
The theatre’s gilded like a magic box.

First published in The Rialto no.80


The Future

‘The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed’ – William Gibson

We are living in the future,
you are living in the past.
Your desires no longer matter:
fall behind or catch up fast.

Asteroids are mined for water,
robots handle household tasks,
strangers swap electric scooters,
lovers wear full-body masks.

Gadgets learn to soothe and flatter:
passive phones, aggressive cars.
TVs gossip, fridges chatter,
bedside lights turn supergrass.

Smart drugs upgrade old grey matter,
smart phones hold their owners’ past,
sharp consumers sell their data,
switched-on poets leave no drafts.

Clubbers wear electric glitter,
monitor their lungs and heart,
satellites patrol the gutter,
homeless authors top the charts.

Tech and pharma take us further,
turn us into works of art:
seniors glow with youthful vigour,
test-tube mice glow in the dark.

Unmanned drones can fly forever,
laser snipers find their mark,
SeaBots home in underwater,
every target simulcast.

We are living in the future,
you are living in the past.
Our desires are all that matter:
catch up quick or fade out fast.

First published in Magma no.55


Rain

            falls with twilight –
the city’s fingers drumming
on our umbrella


Turn Again

For Anton

Until that flawless afternoon in Hampstead
I’d always said I’d never live in London,
an attitude inherited from Devon
and never questioned till you turned and said
“I’m moving next month, getting a flat with Steph.
Why don’t you join us? It’ll be great”. Your question
hovered above the swimming pool in sunshine:
a springboard into who I’d be instead.

Into a rainy night in Battersea
a fortnight later: filthy sloshing streets
and lighted towers vanishing into black,
the streetmap’s flapping pages left behind
to show how quickly I could change my mind,
how lightly give my word and take it back.

First published in Magma no.35


Bookmark

For Paul

That day you were incessant,
pestering, encroaching on my time,
a fly that kept landing
and landing on the page
and had to be brushed aside.

To you I was incredible,
sat on my arse with a book
while you waited with a ball
and a carpet of flawless grass
rolled out to touch the sky.

Now I have all the books I want
on shelves beyond harm’s reach
and time to read them twice
but the field has shrunk to a photograph
and we’re both too big to fit inside.

First published in Magma no.27

Copyright Mark McGuinness 2003-2016