Mi Scappa una Poesia

There's a king coming to visit us? Oh Gawd!
We'd better build a ‘little room’, a piccola camera
in which to greet him. To receive him.
We've nothing fit for a visiting king.
Let's make it of the right proportion so the voice
that greets him rings like a big bell. The sonorous
acoustic bounce of the brazen voice of confidence.
Like a primitive dance, tattooed and giving a smile
that's almost a smile, almost something quite else.
I-could-kill-you haka – but I won't
if you are impressed.
This perfect sounding chamber, with some paintings!
Of solemn antique things and some cherubs and stuff
above the door, the door. Oh, let's make the door grande!
Doors! Yes. Good idea. Some that really are like doors.
Some columns. Let's paint them gilt. And vault the ceiling.
A king who just has to look up at a divine parabola
leaves his throat exposed. So - niche and column,
paint and gilt, and all things just as they should be.
What else? We have gone as far as we can go?
For sure. That's it. The most. The best. The zenith.
An amber room! Yes, mate. A room made of amber.
What a good joke. Crafted and wrought, intricate and lit
from within by amber fire. Studded with diamonds.
Yes. Now we are cooking with gas. Now we are away laughing.
Just scatter some handfuls of diamonds, lots of them, everywhere.
Could we go any further? Is there anything more?
Chuck in a dog turd. Lay it on the floor.
But that is too ... ironic is not the word.
Disrespectful, on the nose, too up your bum!
What was that? What did he say? Give that man a beer.
Let's bring in a flayed corpse. Do we have one to hand?
Is the shop still open? Do they deliver? Bugger!
Can someone go out and get one? Anyone will do.
Cool. Very cool. Just lay it here. Among the diamonds.
On the amber floor. Perfetto. Just lay him on the floor.
I cannot help how far we will go with this very good idea.
We have done all we can do. There is no further we can go.
Except - here's an idea! Forgive me. You know I cannot help it.
Start up a war, a big one. Transport the room
- chuck out the corpse, he has begun to stink –
transport the room across Europe and then – leave a dickhead
in charge 'as ignorant armies clash by night'
and somehow or other – n'importe quoi – burn it.
Burn it into a grizzled melt shaped like a dog turd
so we are back where we begun. No room.
Pile the rubbish of the city down down upon it
and let rumour and report of the amber room
circulate for as long as forever or even longer.
So if the king wants to visit, put him off. Tell him no.
We have no room in which to greet him.
We cannot greet him in the square, in the open air
or on the patio by the BBQ. That would never do.
Put him off. Tell him anything. Tell him we have lost the room.
Let him think what he likes. We are not doing this thing
all over again.

Jennifer Compton was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1949 and is now based in Melbourne, Australia. She was Writer in Residence at the Randell Cottage in 2008, and Visiting Literary Artist at Massey University in 2010. She is also a playwright and her stage play The Third Age was shortlisted for the Adam Award this year. Her manuscript This City won the Kathleen Grattan Award and will be published by Otago University Press in July. 'Mi Scappa una Poesia' was published in her book Barefoot, which was produced by Picaro Press in 2010.

Compton comments: ‘I was fooling around writing bits of poetry online with a friend called Paolo who lives in Genoa and he expostulated “Mi scappa una poesia”. I was intrigued by this and understood it to mean “a poem escapes from me”. So, when I was asked at the Genoa Poetry Festival to write a take on The Poetic Reconstruction of the Universe, I entitled my rant “Mi Scappa una Poesia”. Then I found out that the phrase plays with a coarse vernacular expression and means “a poem escapes from me like a belch or a fart”. I also found out – oh my woeful ignorance – that Depero and Bella had written a radical manifesto called Futurist Reconstruction Of The Universe (1915), so that resonance had escaped me too. However it seemed to go over quite well as I read it in English with simultaneous translation. But I did screech to a halt when I got to the word “haka”. I was suddenly almost paralysed with wondering what haka was in Italian. My Genoese friend said later “Simple. Haka is haka.”

It took me a long time to realise this piece, this monologue, might be, almost, a poem. It performed well, but it wasn't neat enough on the page for my taste. But in the end I decided – oh well, it is something - and banged it into my book Barefoot. By the by, the “little room”, the “piccola camera”, was inspired by the Little Room, as the locals call it, in the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, which Paolo had teased me into seeing. I had been expecting – oh I don't know – a cloakroom, or a small sitting room. Instead I was led into bijou magnificence. The Big Room, next door, was even grander and more over-whelming. But that was for public receptions. I was told the Little Room was used to greet visiting dignitaries. Like kings.’

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