(first published in The Cabinet of Heed, Issue 8, May 2018)
It was one of those online poetry magazines where they invite readers to comment on the poems. Dorothy shows me them from time to time. One evening, she said to me, ‘This poem here reminds me of the poem you wrote to me, back when we got engaged.’ She passed over her iPad and went out the room. I put down The Yorkshire Post and studied the poem. To be honest, I couldn’t make much of it.
Dorothy came back in and leaned over the couch, looking over my shoulder. I muttered, ‘What does “lambent” mean?’ She ignored my question and passed over an old-fashioned Valentine Card. I recognised my handwriting from forty years ago: I didn’t know that she’d kept the card all this time.
Reading the poem I’d written again, after all those years, I couldn’t help feeling that it wasn’t too bad. I was pretty certain, anyway, that it was a sight better than the ‘lambent moonlight’ rubbish on the iPad. I said as much to Dorothy.
‘Not too bad?? I think it’s absolutely wonderful, Clive. Why not email it to the magazine and see if they’ll publish it? There’s just a ten dollar reading fee to pay – what’s ten dollars these days? Still a bit less than ten quid, anyway.’
Her eyes were shining – I let myself be persuaded.
We sent it off, and at first, I used to feel a sugar-rush of excitement each time I opened up my email. But after a couple of months, still not hearing anything, I forgot all about it. And Dorothy apparently stopped looking at their website.
Then one winter evening, I opened up my laptop to renew my season ticket for the footie [if they can hang onto the lad McHardie, in midfield, and buy a half-decent goalie, I’ve a feeling they could be promotion candidates next time]. As I say, I opened up my laptop and there was an email from ‘The Editorial Team.’ They would be delighted to publish my poem in their next issue, which would ‘go live’ at the beginning of next month. Bloody ‘Ell: I’m a poet.
I showed the email to Dorothy, attempting a casualness I didn’t feel and couldn’t maintain. We ended up opening the bottle of champagne that my brother brought round last Christmas, and Dorothy printed off a copy of the poem to send to her sister in Canada.
Come the first of the month, I rushed home from work and Dorothy met me at the door, her iPad in her hand. My plan had been for the poet to take his muse out for a meal, but we ended up ordering a take-away – The Golden Dragon in Sadlergate does a wonderful vegetable fried rice that’s a meal in itself. We had a lovely, cosy evening: Dorothy persuaded me to recite the poem and then had a little cry.
The trouble came two days later. Dorothy was noticeably quiet all evening. I finally got it out of her after we’d gone to bed: she showed me on her iPad the comments that had been posted on the website about my poem. One comment was an innocuous ‘Well done.’ The other comment was… well, a slow-acting poison.
It seemed that the ‘sentiment’ of my poem was ‘mawkish;’ ‘scansion’ indicated ‘an irregular metre;’ the line ‘All that’s best of dark and light’ had been ‘pinched from Lord Byron;’ etc., etc. The dribble of bile came to a close with the remark that ‘the poet certainly displays a unique approach. One is reminded of Chesterton’s bon mot that if we cannot have goodness, let us at least have rich badness.’
Dorothy, bless her, pointed out that Byron’s line had been ‘dark and bright,’ not ‘dark and light.’ But she was still troubled. As for me, I never slept all that long night.
The strange thing was that the name of the bastard commentator, Colman Thaxted, was vaguely familiar. Couldn’t place it though. In the early morning, with Dorothy breathing quietly and regularly, I crept out of bed and fired up the laptop in the spare room. Google only offered one Colman Thaxted – then it came back to me…
The Methodist Chapel Youth Club in the early 1970’s. Colman Thaxted had been the chairman of the club committee, an unassailable position as he was the nephew of the Methodist Minister, Drippy Drinkwater. Thaxted had been a year older than me and determined to steal my Dorothy away from me. He’d been one of several rival suitors, though not perhaps the most dangerous (that was Andy McKillop, who claimed to be getting his own band together). Thaxted’s idea of a trump card was to make Dorothy secretary of the club committee and keep calling round to her house to ‘discuss club business.’
I was mentally reliving his under-hand campaign, when Dorothy touched my shoulder: she’d woken and traced me to the spare room. She confessed that she’d recognised the name at once, but told me that Thaxted had never been a real contender: I was a better dancer AND I’d managed to get tickets to The Stones 1973 tour (Kings Hall, Manchester – September 12th, 1973). She said we were already a done deal by Valentine’s Day 1974, but my card had served as a lasting confirmation.
It was Sunday, so we went back to bed.
The next day, in my lunch hour, I popped into the chemist’s and bought a well-known brand of medicinal anti-acid tablets. I’d traced Thaxted to the School of Cross-Media Studies in a university in the West Midlands. Anonymously, I posted him one of the tablets, with the suggestion: ‘Suck on this.’