Poetic Licence


Having marched with hundreds of others to the City Hall today to demand the recall of our thoroughly inept municipal leaders, I was reminded of a poem written in 1937 by John Betjeman about the English town of Slough which in his view had been allowed to decay into something close to ruin. It begins:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Slough Revisited

(after John Betjeman)

Clean up the junk of Grahamstown,
the cartons that are tossed around
as finger-lickin’ chickens drown
in bottled beers

and find a way to use the bin
that louts won’t drop their litter in
but swig their brandy, whisky, gin
and build arrears.

Come, heavy rains, and fill somehow
the lakes and dams that often now
lie dry as bone while fools allow
their friends to croak.

Come, leaders, spout your two-faced guff
about how each must have enough
but where’s the money? times are tough –
it’s all a joke.

Sweep up the heaps of broken glass,
discarded diapers in the grass
disgusting with their stinking mass
of gelid waste

and harvest the synthetic wrap,
the plastic bags that fences trap,
the trays, containers, man-made crap
we almost taste.

This lovely town is filthy – how
did we, her citizens, allow
such things to happen? True, right now
we’re badly led:

our sick municipality,
immersed in illegality,
won’t work or care, can’t think, can’t see –
they’re too well fed.

As donkeys and the cattle roam
the thoroughfares that we call home
and fertilise the roadside loam,
they do no harm

but idle representatives
employ their worthless relatives,
roll out clichéd imperatives
and spread alarm.

In shacks and RDPs up there
the people dream and wait and stare
as berg winds of yet more hot air
spin fairy tales:

Come, simple sheep, repeat that vow
that life will be much better now
(we’ll take no notice anyhow)
the blade impales.

Let’s fix ourselves these mammoth holes
that burrow like gigantic moles
across each street – let’s set our goals
and move along.

Those thieves and ne’er-do-wells who spout
their lying promises no doubt
believed we’d never vote them out.

Let’s prove them wrong!

Harry Owen

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