Given the kerfuffle caused by the recent publication of Craig Raine’s ‘Gatwick’ in the London Review of Books, I thought it might be interesting to invite competitors to compose their own poem about an encounter in an airport.
Raine’s poem brought the Twitter bullies out in force to broadcast their disgust at an elderly poet sharing his lustful thoughts about young women. Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s submission imagines a scenario in which one of them wreaks her revenge: ‘We’ll see whose arse is large next time he comes/ To my desk in the airport. I’ve got chums/ With latex gloves and penetrating ways,/ Prepared to hold and search for many days.’ Others who impressed in an entry that was a nice mix of the poignant and the comic were Roger Rengold, Brian Allgar and Jayne Osborn.
The prizewinners, printed below, are rewarded with £20 each. The bonus fiver is Chris O’Carroll’s.
I slide my belt free from its final loop
And feel my unmoored trousers start to slip,
Untie my shoes and hand them over, stoop
Again to roll my cuffs so I won’t trip.
A uniformed blonde tells me what to do —
Stand here with arms raised, hold still to be
My doubled cuffs obstruct the scanner’s view;
Her dark-haired colleague pats me down by
I didn’t think to fancy her while she
Was peering through my clothes with her device,
And his touch isn’t stimulating me.
Craig Raine’s Gatwick encounter had more
Have I dodged brickbats from the Twitterati
By not undressing her with my male gaze?
Played homophobe by rating him no hottie?
Air travel’s hazardous so many ways.
At Charles de Gaulle you might expect to meet
An ex or three, it’s such a busy hub
(The odds will narrow if you’re flying Club),
But at Bilbao, modest and petite?
We both were with our spouses, as we’d been
Ambivalently twenty years before.
Our eyes displayed the choices (smile/ignore)
Presented by a wanton time machine.
The moment passed but other moments came,
A slideshow of a guilty, loving past,
Pay-as-you-go, too marvellous to last,
Deceit and alibis but no real shame.
And so it goes… I spent the afternoon
Checking the software I was there to sell,
Then stood my memories a San Miguel
Watching the waves at Tony’s Beach Saloon.
We met in the Departure lounge
And we clicked, as folks sometimes do,
But I was headed for Stuttgart,
And she for Kathmandu.
In Stuttgart I rose in the company,
Doing better than most people do,
But I remembered her rich free laugh
And hankered for Kathmandu.
I chucked my job and I caught a plane
Heading East like the hippie-types do,
And all too soon I’d spent fifteen years
Doing not much in Kathmandu.
Now I’ve Googled her name and discovered
She’s prospered, as some people do.
Today she runs a bank in Stuttgart —
Oh damn you, Kathmandu.
Yes, I remember Gatwick, too —
the name, because that afternoon
a plane had left me stranded there,
unwanted, like a burst balloon.
The boards flicked. Something caught my eye.
A man (my left), and stuck the same
in sour Departures. What I saw
in Gatwick, then — his sorry game
of lonely fantasy and lust,
and youth long past and juice run dry.
No wit, less skill, and far less hair.
A loser leering on the sly.
And in a moment shrugged it off,
walked on, my footsteps breezier,
leaving behind me that poor sod
now wrinklier and cheesier.
I sat beside some sort of buyer
In Heathrow, (where the boredom’s dire
And summer heat makes all perspire)
A paunchy self-proclaimed live wire,
The kind all companies require
To set the business world on fire,
Red-eyed, a climate-change denier,
And anything-in-skirts up-eyer.
He boasted ‘I’m a one-mile higher’
(A club to which I don’t aspire)
With details one could not admire
So, as my brain began to tire
Of tales to spark disgust and ire
I wondered if I dare enquire
‘Are you the fabled frequent flyer
Or just an awful frequent liar?’
Michael Gove has urged civil servants to take inspiration from George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen and George Eliot when writing correspondence. But which well-known writer would you like to see Whitehall bureaucrats take their lead from? You are invited to submit a memo generated by either the Department of Education or the Ministry of Justice as it might have been written by that writer. Please email entries (150 words maximum) to firstname.lastname@example.org by 29 July.