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

Wednesday, 11 February 2015


Street Games III

We are their past;
an ashen menagerie
smouldering in side streets
and time-worn tenements,
whose doorways gape like open wounds:–
burnt offerings to the City.

We call them children,
but that only outlines their form;
little primitives in a
jungle of streets;
rancid shadows of
what once we should have been.

We are the ashes and bones
they are borne from.
Sad; their faces melt
ascending from out fire.

24 August 1977

Down and OutThis is the final poem in the ‘Street Games’ series, this time focusing on street kids. I can see echoes here of the first poem and also ‘Stray’ and ‘The Venereologist’ and I’ve little doubt I had Lord of the Flies in mind in the second section. There’s definitely a tone here. I wonder why I felt the need to return to this subject a third time.

In 1980 Nationwide reporter Tony Wilkinson spent a month living rough in London on a budget of £4 a day. The planning for his role was meticulous and it made disturbing—but also compelling—viewing. He found things had changed little from when George Orwell had written Down and Out in Paris and London in 1933. Wilkinson subsequently wrote his own book about his experiences called simply Down and Out. My wife had a copy but when she left me in 1982 I deliberately held onto it although to this day I’ve never read it and probably never will.

As far as I can see this poem’s never appeared in print before.


vito pasquale said...

Jim - I was certainly looking forward to it at the beginning of the year when you’d said you were going to post some of your poems but I had no idea how much I’d enjoy it. I’m struck by how much these earlier pieces have what I see as a painter’s approach to a scene. The words seem to exist in layers, like impasto built up on a canvas. These poems already have that uncompromising commitment to concision that I knew from the more recent work even though the settings (so far) are more physical. The slightly longer lengths have let you explore some things that turn out (to me) to be small poems within the poems. . . the ashen menagerie and the rancid shadows. Phrases perhaps you wouldn’t choose today but are there both of a place and of a time.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m glad you’ve been enjoying them, Vito. It’s certainly interesting looking back to my late teens and trying to remember who I was then. We think we haven’t changed all that much and, yes, there’s still a teenager inside me who can gent genuinely excited over toy cars, comics and blockbuster films, but I do wonder considering what was going on in my life at the time why I was writing the kind of poems I was. I got married at nineteen, was finally free from my parents’ control, had a job I liked and was good at and yet there’s a darkness to the subject matter. Guilt is obviously the first thing to consider and yet only one poem, from 1978, actually mentions guilt. I’ve saved a copy and will post it in a bit; I’ve a couple ahead of it and a book review but I’ll get to it.

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