Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


The Venereologist

How sad to see the Venereologist,
with his mistress tucked carefully
under his arm, emerging from
the doorway of her flat –

a rectangular orifice
exhaling ash and smoke.

The car door opens at the
turning of the handle –
a mechanical thing,
but less habitual
than what has foregone these lines.

His car moves away, down the street
like a germ in the bloodstream.

9 March 1978

‘The Venereologist’ was first published in The Urbane Gorilla 8 in the autumn of 1978. It was subsequently published in three other magazines because, circa 1978, I didn’t realise that once some magazine had published you it was bad form to send the poem elsewhere without telling them where it’d first appeared. It was the editor of Trends – the Paisley College of Technology literary magazine who pointed this out to me—nicely—when he accepted my poem ‘Punks’ noting that it’d already been published elsewhere. So I stopped—reluctantly. But by this time ‘The Venereologist’ had been published four times and this is now its sixth outing because I included it in an article a while back. I actually think Trends might’ve published it too but as they never sent me any contributor’s copies I can’t say for sure. They took a lot of my poems in the late seventies. The last time I was in the Scottish Poetry Library I had a look for old copies but they didn’t have any from its early years.

As to where ‘The Venereologist’ came from, well, your guess is as good as mine. It was the first of a short series of doctor poems but I dried up after four and really only this one and ‘The Pathologist’ were any good. I always hated the line “turning of the handle” because in modern cars you don’t turn the handle—you depress a button and pull a handle—but I couldn’t figure out a way to say that in a way that pleased me. I suppose “press of a button” would’ve worked, sort of. If I was writing the poem today I’d not let “habitual” go either. I can see what I was getting at but it irritates whenever I read it. I’d’ve probably replaced “habitual” with “mechanical” and looked for a different way to say “mechanical thing”.



Kass said...

I never knew there was such a specialty. I like the way you use not only the car moving down the street, but the sneaky way they leave her flat and the use of the word 'orifice.'

Jim Murdoch said...

Yeah, Kass, I dunno.I had the same problem with the orifice as with the car door; it’s the wrong shape. I know what I was playing at but now all I want to do it pick at it. I virtually never go back to a poem once it’s finished and in the big red folder. I can think of two instances where I’ve made a change and I think there might be a third but I like to look back on them as a record of who I was then, warts and all. That said in preparing my latest collection I did make a few tweaks on my wife’s suggestion where I’d used the same word in two poems close to each other and oddly enough it didn’t bother me nearly as much as it would’ve done ten years ago. I have a copy of ‘The Pathologist’ sitting beside me which I’ll post next. I think it’s the better poem but you can see what you think.

vito pasquale said...

Jim - I am struck by how different these first few poems you’ve posted this year are from the earliest ones in your collection, This Is Not About What You Think.

This poem was written only a year before the first that appears in your book and yet seems infinitely separated by time, tone and topic.

One of the things I’ve come to admire about your poetry is that there are always a few (or more!) pay-offs. And this is certainly the case here.

I usually find one in the last line of your poems. The analogy between the car and the disease is interesting, in that one usually sees some stealth in how a disease attaches itself and yet, for some reason, I see a big, lumbering automobile in its place. The switch is quite inventive, and to me at least, is what makes the poetry.

I can also rely on the fact that you’ve chosen each word or phrase with care. Even though, years later, you might have wished you’d chosen differently. I think the line “a mechanical thing” is positively brilliant in the context of the doctor, his mistress and their overall sadness. In poetry, it’s possible that even mechanical things aren’t “supposed” to be mechanical. Even so. Here it is: a mechanical thing. The magnetic center of the poem, given its own line, in between whatever happened inside the flat, and wherever it is they’re going in that car.

Jim Murdoch said...

Always been a big fan of the punch line, Vito. I think what I was going for with the car was the rather obvious analogy of streets as the veins and arteries of a city. Viewed from a great distance the car would only be a speck. But a speck carrying a virus, potentially at least. The poem’s not a bad one. It would’ve never got published as often if it’d been a bad one. I’m just a lot older and fussier than I was then. Oddly enough—and me being me this really is odd—but I’ve never viewed this as an especially sad poem so it’s interesting that you would. Of course it can be sad. The expression I find myself wondering about now is “carefully tucked”. It’s very specific and affectionate. Like a protective wing. What is good about the poem clearly is that it’s open to interpretation and the result can be interesting depending on what the reader has to contribute.

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