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”.