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Your Attention Please -- Peter Porter

Indulging my morbid streak...
(Poem #222) Your Attention Please
The Polar DEW has just warned that
A nuclear rocket strike of
At least one thousand megatons
Has been launched by the enemy
Directly at our major cities.
This announcement will take
Two and a quarter minutes to make,
You therefore have a further
Eight and a quarter minutes
To comply with the shelter
Requirements published in the Civil
Defence Code - section Atomic Attack.
A specially shortened Mass
Will be broadcast at the end
Of this announcement -
Protestant and Jewish services
Will begin simultaneously -
Select your wavelength immediately
According to instructions
In the Defence Code. Do not
Take well-loved pets (including birds)
Into your shelter - they will consume
Fresh air. Leave the old and bed-
ridden, you can do nothing for them.
Remember to press the sealing
Switch when everyone is in
The shelter. Set the radiation
Aerial, turn on the geiger barometer.
Turn off your Television now.
Turn off your radio immediately
The Services end. At the same time
Secure explosion plugs in the ears
Of each member of your family. Take
Down your plasma flasks. Give your children
The pills marked one and two
In the C.D green container, then put
Them to bed. Do not break
The inside airlock seals until
The radiation All Clear shows
(Watch for the cuckoo in your
perspex panel), or your District
Touring Doctor rings your bell.
If before this, your air becomes
Exhousted or if any of your family
In critically injured, administer
The capsules marked 'Valley Forge'
(Red Pocket in No. 1 Survival Kit)
For painless death. (Catholics
Will have been instructed by their priests
What to do in this eventuality).
This announcement is ending. Our President
Has already given orders for
Massive retaliation - it will be
Decisive. Some of us may die.
Remember, statistically
It is not likely to be you.
All flags are flying fully dressed
On Government buildings - the sun is shining.
Death is the least we have to fear.
We are all in the hands of God,
Whatever happens happens by His Will.
Now go quickly to your shelters.
-- Peter Porter
Yes, it's nuclear meltdown time here in Japan, and your favourite Japanese
poetry reviewer is glowing gently in the dark (in a most evocative shade of
green, let it be said) while he composes these lines.

Seriously, though, sometimes it seems that the only way to handle lunacy like
nuclear weaponry is to laugh at it. "Ours is a tragic age, so we refuse to take
it tragically" [1]. Stanley Kubrick had the right idea in Dr. Strangelove, and
indeed, today's poem shares much with that classic of black comedy - there's the
same curious mix of utter seriousness ('you can do nothing for them') and pure
farce ('Watch for the cuckoo in your perspex panel'). The announcer's calm, flat
tenor is perfectly captured in the precise (well, not that precise, to be
honest, but never mind) syllabics; at the same time there is  heavy irony in
phrases like 'the sun is shining' and 'Massive retaliation - it will be /
Decisive' - an irony so strong that it makes you wonder if the speaker grasps
the real truth of what he's saying.

For make no mistake - in its own way, 'Your Attention Please' is as savage an
indictment of the arms race as any hippie slogan or Green manifesto. It's closer
in spirit to Adrian Mitchell than Wilfred Owen, but the criticism is just as


[1] from Lady Chatterley's Lover.

PS. I forgot to mention: Quite apart from contextual irony, Porter makes the
telling point that modern-day warfare is a dehumanized, dehumanizing undertaking
- the mechanical tones reflect the impersonal nature of a conflict where
millions of lives can be sacrificed at the push of a button.


For more on Peter Porter, read the commentary at poem #198
My favourite Porter poem is 'Instant Fish', which can be found at poem #64
My favourite protest poem is Adrian Mitchell's 'Nostalgia - Now Threepence Off',
which you can read at poem #95
One of the greatest anti-war poems of all time is Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce Et
Decorum Est', poem #132

105 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Kenny Pryde said...

For what it's worth there's an arresting version of the poem on a 1981
'indie' album called 'Author! Author!' by Scottish band the Scars on Pre
records. Singer reads poem, guitars get more and more hysterical, as the
singer loses the plot. It's great.

Joe Angelone said...

I've been looking for that Scars song, Your Attention Please, that you
mentioned in a talk about the poem.

And now that I look, I see that it was from 5 years ago, but what the hell.
press onwards.

Do you have any ideas where I can find a copy of that song? I last heard it
years and years ago, and I'd like to hear it again.



Menard Family said...

this seems to real, like something from the 40;s.

r. korfmaker said...


On the internet I saw you are (were) looking for the song Your attention please by the Scars. From your message I couldn't tell when you were writing it and whether you are still looking for it or not. Fact is that I've got the song and I'm willing to send it to you as an mp3-file.

Jonathan Williams said...

Dear Sir/Madam,

Would really appreciate a copy of the Scars song using 'Your attention please'. Can reciprocate with all sorts of digital goodies. I'm a teacher from England, by the way.

Yours faithfully, Jonathan Williams Coombe Dean School Plymouth, UK


Hi there,
I wonder if you would be willing to send me a copy of the poem 'Your Attention Please' as an MP3 file? I am about to study it with a class and would like to bring the poem to life!
Yours (desperately)!!!!
Many thanks,
Keri Frew
ps i would really appreciate it X

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