Saturday, 29 May 2004

Historical Fragment

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On a fine sunny day in July, in that life so very far away, I went into Newcastle to buy oil paint and to book rail tickets for the following Monday’s trip to Edinburgh.

As I came out of the Central Station, I was stopped by an earnest, if somewhat distracted-looking man, maybe in his mid-40s. He had close-cropped hair and a frayed leather jacket, and a satchel of some sort was slung over his shoulder. But instead of the usual “Got any spare change?” or “Wanna buy the Big Issue?” I was surprised to be asked, “Are you interested in contemporary poetry?” I had to admit to only a passing interest, but ignoring that, he launched into a well-rehearsed speech about the photocopied typescript he clutched in his hand.

His delivery was pretty much parrot-fashion, rather in the nature of replacement window salesmen. I nodded and tried to show interest as he proclaimed the worth of the verse he’d written. He quoted what sounded like critical praise for the work, including very favourable comparisons with Dylan Thomas, and explained the nature of the poetry with explanatory asides for potentially difficult literary terms.

In between, he made references to his Gulf War Veteran status, a course he was attending at Sunderland University, and how poets of old wandered the streets selling copies of their verse. “In fact” he said, “I’m a literary artist. Would you like to buy this work for two quid?”

I was quite taken with his enterprise and probably would have bought a copy, even if I did think that the patchily copied papers might have been better presented. But apart from money for paint and my bus fare home again, I was broke. So I sympathised on the lines that, being a visual artist, I understood the need to gain an audience and make a bob or two, but the money wasn’t there to help him out. We parted amicably, but even as he was saying “Thank you for your time and consideration, Sir,” his eyes were darting here and there for another poetry punter.


I ran into the Frootbat later that day. He told me that he too had been stopped by the Peripatetic Poet elsewhere in town and had bought a copy of his masterwork for £1.50.

We couldn’t decide whether I’d been the potential victim of inflation or if the Frootbat had benefited from the downward thrust of market forces.

Unfortunately the poetry was rambling, incomprehensible stuff, full of trite “Poetic” flourishes and the content suggested the writer was a deeply troubled man.

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