Passport Office queues - the poet laureate speaks out

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that Andrew Motion had not been writing enough verses
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The Independent Culture
WELL, ON Monday I shall be off and away on my hols for two weeks, so this being my last working day before then, it's a good time to catch up on my correspondence, and the extraordinary thing is that a lot of my unanswered letters in the last two weeks have been about poetry.

This is mostly due to the fact that a couple of weeks ago I suggested that Mr Andrew Motion had not been writing enough verses - nothing to celebrate the end of duty-free shopping, or the sweating queues in the Passport Office - and I produced some substitute verses written by the mighty Independent computer.

This brought some fascinating mail, none more so than a letter from Andrew Motion himself, with a specially written poem for the occasion. More of that later. First of all, I got a book of limericks from Ron Rubin. Ron is an excellent jazz bass player, excellent jazz pianist and excellent light verse writer, and many of the limericks in his volume Out On a Limerick (New Millennium, pounds 5.95) require a vague knowledge of jazz to be understood.

There was an old Sikh of New Delhi

Who modelled himself on George


He'd the voice and the smile

And sartorial style

But couldn't quite manage the belly.

Quite so. Rather more unusually, I received a letter from Dr Michael Matthews, now 80 ("I have reached the age when popes are getting younger") who wants to interest me, not in limericks, but in "bishoprics", at which point we get into the zanier backwaters of poetry.

"Bishoprics are a verse form invented by an elder brother and his friends when they were at Cambridge in the early Thirties. Strictly, a bishopric required that there should be an imaginary dignitary of the Church of England in the first two lines and a more junior functionary in the second two."

Can you visualise them? I thought not. Here is one.

The Bishop of Joppa

Grew moss on his topper

He said to his curate

My wife will manure it -

I wish you would stop her!"

Do you want another one? I thought not. Dr Matthews says that his brother and the other authors had agreed not to publish at the time but, he says, "I believe that all the original authors are now deceased and that I alone have the bishoprics. I and some of my friends feel that they should be more widely available and I seek your candid opinion on this point." Well, I feel that they should have gone for it in the Thirties and that it's a little late now to take the mickey out of the C of E, but what does anyone else think?

I have also received from John Crombie in Paris a copy of his latest book of poems, Wee Oui. This is minimalism on a diet. Each poem contains only two words, the same word, but one in English and one in French. The joke is almost always in the title. For instance, here is a poem called "What if, instead of the Ten Commandments, God had issued...":



If you get it, fine. The book, like all of Crombie's from the Kickshaws press, is wonderfully produced and a work of art. Which brings us almost to the Poet Laureate but first to the anti-Poet Laureate, as Lord Biro from Nottingham styles himself.

He comes across as a proletarian roarer, as in "I've just passed/ A Motion/ At the foot/ Of the Queen/ Adding more/ shit/ To the Brown/ Nosing Scene". He also took up my challenge to produce a verse on the end of duty free. "So farewell/ duty free/ I never leave/ my local/ so it won't/ affect me."

Good roaring, all from the Bad Poetry Quarterly. And now to Andrew Motion himself, who rose to my challenge to write a verse about the queues at the Passport Office. I suppose it is Andrew Motion who wrote to me? I wrote back to the soi-disant Poet Laureate, asking, Is that really you? And he wrote back and said it was, giving a London address but using a UEA envelope, which seems to clinch it. So here is his exclusive poem on the Passport Office Blues.

The thing about the passport

queue is this:

I stand about, half-rotted through

by piss-

ing rain; my other half adrift;

my kids

In tears, bored rigid, making

stupid bids

To win my love back (not a hope

of that) -

And think: what is it this reminds

me of? I know.

A summer holiday. Now I won't

have to go.