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Deep Sorriness Atonement Song -- Glyn Maxwell

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #602) Deep Sorriness Atonement Song
        (for missed appointment, BBC North, Manchester)

 The man who sold Manhattan for a halfway decent bangle,
 He had talks with Adolf Hitler and could see it from his angle,
 And he could have signed the Quarrymen but didn't think they'd make it
 So he bought a cake on Pudding Lane and thought "Oh well I'll bake it"

    But his chances they were slim
    And his brothers they were Grimm,
    And he's sorry, very sorry,
    But I'm sorrier than him.

 And the drunken plastic surgeon who said "I know, let's enlarge 'em!"
 And the bloke who told the Light Brigade "Oh what the hell, let's charge
 The magician with an early evening gig on the Titanic
 And the Mayor who told the people of Atlantis not to panic,

    And the Dong about his nose
    And the Pobble re his toes,
    They're all sorry very sorry
    But I'm sorrier than those.

 And don't forget the Bible, with the Sodomites and Judas,
 And Onan who discovered something nothing was as rude as,
 And anyone who reckoned it was City's year for Wembley.
 And the kid who called Napoleon a shortarse in assembly,

    And the man who always smiles
    Cause he knows I have his files,
    They're all sorry, really sorry,
    But I'm sorrier by miles.

 And Robert Falcon Scott who lost the race to the Norwegian,
 And anyone who's ever split a pint with a Glaswegian,
 Or told a Finn a joke or spent an hour with a Swiss-German,
 Or got a mermaid in the sack and found it was a merman,

    Or him who smelt a rat,
    And got curious as a cat,
    They're all sorry, deeply sorry,
    But I'm sorrier than that.

 All the people who were rubbish when we needed them to do it,
 Whose wires crossed, whose spirit failed, who ballsed it up or blew it,
 All notches of nul points and all who have a problem Houston,
 At least they weren't in Kensington when they should have been at Euston.

    For I didn't build the Wall
    And I didn't cause the Fall
    But I'm sorry, Lord, I'm sorry,
    I'm the sorriest of all.
-- Glyn Maxwell
There are irritating sorts of people who don't read poetry because they ask
what use its for. Of course, just answering this is stupid, since usefulness
is hardly the point. Nonetheless, I'm still happy to note that I have often
found poetry useful. There are many situations where I've screwed up,
offended someone, need to make amends, and just saying sorry alone never
seems enough. Adding a poem, like the one above, is an easy way of making
the apology a bit different and making the person you've offended laugh and
be more forgiving.

Gyn Maxwell is a young British poet. I don't actually much like his work,
but this was an exception.


[thomas adds]

I'll type in some notes - just as soon as I stop laughing...


'The man who sold Manhattan for a halfway decent bangle': In 1626 Peter
Minuit, the first director general of New Netherland province, is said to
have purchased the island from the local Indians (the Manhattan, a tribe of
the Wappinger Confederacy) with trinkets and cloth valued at 60 guilders,
then worth about 1 1/2 pounds (0.7 kg) of silver
        -- EB,

'He had talks with Adolf Hitler and could see it from his angle': Probably a
reference to Neville Chamberlain, who returned from negotiations with Hitler
in Munich and famously declared "I believe it is peace for our time". It

'And he could have signed the Quarrymen but didn't think they'd make it':
'The Quarrymen' was one of the early names of the greatest rock group of all
time, the Beatles. Manager Brian Epstein sent demo tapes to literally dozens
of recording companies before landing a contract with EMI/Parlophone.

'So he bought a cake on Pudding Lane and thought "Oh well I'll bake it"':
The Great Fire of London, in 1666, started in a bakery on Pudding Lane. (It
ended on Pie Lane, but that's a different matter altogether).

'And the bloke who told the Light Brigade "Oh what the hell, let's charge
'em"': The ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized by Tennyson;
see poem #355

'The magician with an early evening gig on the Titanic': One can safely
assume that the performance sank without a trace.

'And the Mayor who told the people of Atlantis not to panic': Famous last

'And the Dong about his nose / And the Pobble re his toes': The Dong with
the Luminous Nose, and the Pobble who has no Toes are characters from the
mysterious, twilit world of Edward Lear's imagination. See poem #297 for
the latter (we haven't run the former yet).

'And don't forget the Bible, with the Sodomites and Judas,
And Onan who discovered something nothing was as rude as'
Sodomy: copulation with a member of the same sex or with an animal
Onanism: masturbation
Judas: one who betrays under the guise of friendship
        -- Merriam Webster,

'And anyone who reckoned it was City's year for Wembley': Manchester City
have never won the F. A. Cup.

'And the kid who called Napoleon a shortarse in assembly': The widespread
notion of Napoleon's shortness lies in the inaccurate translation of old
French feet ("pieds de roi") to English. The French measure of five foot two
(5' 2"), recorded at his autopsy, actually translates into five feet six and
one half inches (5' 6.5") in English measure, which was about the average
height of the Frenchman of his day. It's also probable that the grenadiers
of his Imperial Guard, with whom he "hung out," were very tall men, therefor
creating the illusion that Napoleon was very short.

'And Robert Falcon Scott who lost the race to the Norwegian': Roald Amundsen
reached the South Pole about a month before Scott's doomed expedition.

'And anyone who's ever split a pint with a Glaswegian': Glaswegians are
notorious for their tightfistedness...
'Or told a Finn a joke': ... Finns for their lack of humour...
'or spent an hour with a Swiss-German': ... and Germans for their

'All notches of nul points': I'm not sure exactly what this is a reference
to, but Vikram says it might have something to do with the Eurovision song
contest. (Songs that get booed even on Eurovision - ooh, horrendous thought

'and all who have a problem Houston': Astronaut Jack Swigert, command module
pilot of the unsuccessful Apollo 13 mission, reported the first signs of
trouble with this marvellous piece of understatement: "Houston, we've had a
problem here". A vivid account of the subsequent rescue can bo found here:

'they should have been at Euston': Euston station, point of departure for
trains from London to Manchester.


Here's a nicely written review of Maxwell's latest collection of poems:
[broken link]
The Maxwell-specific stuff starts only in the eighth paragraph; the
preceding material is all about 'the crisis of modern poetry'. Very
interesting - read it!

[Random Ramblings]

The subtitle, 'for missed appointment, BBC North, Manchester, reminds me of
a Muir and Norden classic [1] - the time Frank and Denis were going to a BBC
audition and got hopelessely lost: "Muir in Surrey, Den in Ongar".

[1] Frank Muir and Denis Norden used to run this BBC radio show called 'My
Word', in which they would each improvise outrageous stories culminating in
a punchline which was always an atrocious pun. Sidesplittingly funny.

33 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Axbey Stephen said...

All Brits would indeed recognise "nul points" as a reference to the
Eurovision Song Contest.

Each year about 25 nations enter this contest which is shown live on all the
countries simultaneuosly. It started - oooh must be 30 years ago - and at
first was compulsive viewing and taken very seriously. Families used to
gather and score the songs and argue about the result. Famous contentants
include Cliff Richard, Sandy Shaw, Brotherhood of Man, Nena and of course,
most famously, Abba who won the contest and shot to fame with "Waterloo"

Nowadays the competition is taken less seriously and (in the UK at least) is
presented with a kind of post-modern ironic, self deprecating commentary.
But despite that, it's still prime time viewing.

Voting is done sequentially with each country phoning in their choice of
first, second, third etc. The scores they award are given aloud, and then
repeated by the presenter in English and French to give a pleasing rythm

"France Three points"
"France three points (la france trois points)"

"United Kingdom five points"
"United Kingdom five points (le royaume unis cinq points)"

Each country votes for a top eight (I think). So if, as a contestant, a
country does not finish in anybody else's top eight, then it's possible to
get a grand total of zero points. For many, many years this never happened.
Finally in 1980something a truly appaling punk entry from Norway achieved
nul-points. This was a major television event in the UK: as country after
country awarded their scores, we waited with bated breath hoping not to hear
Norway's name. (Norway have subsequently repeated this feat in later years)

To this day, following any sort of inept performance, a spectator might cut
the performer down to size by muttering "Norway, nul points"

[Like many famous quotations "Norwege: nul point (Norway: No points)" is
notable because no-one ever actually said it. The announcers announce the
points that are awarded - not the zeros]

David McMahon said...

Sad to say, but I think this is more likely a reference to my team, Birmingham City - beaten in the 1956 FA Cup Final by Manchester City, whose goalkeeper Bert Trautmann famously played on in spite of an injury which turned out afterwards to be a broken neck!

(Not all sad, though - Birmingham have won two Wembley Finals since then. Admittedly it was only the Leyland Daft Trophy.)

Dave McMahon, [broken link]

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