The Theatre and its Double, by Paul Sutton

Outbreaks of cultural madness are not unusual.

Our elite encourages, and then participates.

Rumours of impending starvation and pustular diseases – kept hitherto at bay by our imperial overlords – are announced in all non-fake media outlets.

As in Cavafy – though internally – the barbarians are about to grab power, with a return to pre-Cambrian levels of public comfort and safety.

The artistic community – noted for its diversity and independence of thought – unanimously co-operates.

Screaming mobs and toddlers parade through the capital’s streets, dressed as enormous genitalia daubed gold on blue.

Older citizens are whipped with foreign meats and told to die.

Bankers throw gold from their windows, homeowners wrap houses in clingfilm, media courtesans harangue non-degree holders.

Salvation is only conceivable through “a deal”.

With bodily fluids preparing to erupt, gesticulating bubo cover the bodies of politicians.

Our Head of State leaps into the Thames and is flushed into the North Sea.

On a business park in Maidenhead, Berks, the exhausted dark warehouse workers queue for Cornish pasties.

Most are reduced to living as troglodytes, in the gardens of benign liberals sheltering us from the coming spring.

In my mother’s house, by Paul Sutton

The worst thing with her dementia
is all these emotions have gone;
no anger, nothing left of the fire.

I remember one winter in Welwyn
Garden City, somehow she got
involved in deliveries to families
where some father was in prison –
children in dirty vests at the door –
bread and jam on Christmas Eve.

Dickensian, I guess it sounds a cliché.
She was in tears and couldn’t explain.
Driving home in silence – no blame for
us, just mute. This was a Utopian new
town, not rich, the poorer parts were
shunned, lost fifties council houses by
factories where shredded wheat was
made – I imagined the people in them
eating cereal, and nothing else. Now
shredded wheat itself seems a horror,
like old hair or straw from a scarecrow.

She was from a bone-poor family of
Smyrna Greek refugees I didn’t
understand; she said she slept in
shipping boxes and had to buy
her own Christmas presents –
told to get herself something.

Regeneration, by Paul Sutton

About 1974, driving into London, my parents’ car,
I’d be terrified of the houses, those north London
hulks then slums and blocks, worst of all when
there were curtains – or even shampoo bottles.
Who lived there, how did they manage it, was
the food terrible – colours pastel and peeling.

I was warned about slums, how drinkers
drunk death, the rooms in black and white –
Don McCullin or Roger Mayne. Now that’s
gone, vanished like Atlantis or Lyonesse.
Perhaps they needed someone to dig
the roads out, so much got left there.

To be honest I don’t think it matters;
my social history is vastly pointless.
I could share a million memories
and still walk through some town,
to worry about who uses buses
so late, where this traffic goes.

Therapy by Paul Sutton

How’s sex?

Well, into one’s fifties… 

Try dogging.  

Lay-bys and fading ladies –
the headlights hide everything.  

I have a list of postcodes.

Sorry, no satnav.

What about aggro?

A dig in the ribs, clip of heels at the school-gates –
immigrants flying – papers say “micro-aggression”. 

Jostling at the cash-machine;
excavation of their back lawn;
excrement through the letterbox.  

Or a nightclub punch-up.
The anaesthetics of aftershave – a grab for some tits;
bouncers launching to separate you and boyfriend.  

Rip out his nose-stud for trophy. 

You’re supposed to be my doctor. 

It’s therapeutic, efficacious for both.
We all hate each other since the vote.

Like strutting Indian/Pakistani border guards? 

Tasteless simile.

Emmanuel by Paul Sutton

It was the Cambridge college my school favoured –
so I applied to Oxford, that hard December, 1981 –
my face like the plague, the college his other name.
I’ve never written of faith before – how on earth to –
it seems impossible, though I love the cold stone,
bleakness, Ely or Salisbury in a gale, battered and
light inside. So I’m sad I didn’t live early enough
to have it, but I couldn’t pretend now, that would
be betrayal – of what I don’t know. Any child then
could go to church and not believe a thing – I sang
as a choirboy, bored or enchanted, sometimes afraid.
But I’m proud of English Christianity (though not
its weaker politicians) the sadness and the decline,
the quiet loss, unoccupied buildings, embarrassing
comparisons with this faith of fanatics. What works,
maybe that’s the point. Oh how heartbreaking from
a tailback to see some old church – I couldn’t bear
to see Salisbury, the spire so pure in any light and
there for any generations, carved in Autumn mist.
To cry in the snow and find no one in The Close,
not a hurrying clergyman straight from Trollope –
back to what was often poverty, but faith I guess.

The terrorist who works at Toys R Us by Paul Sutton

This man is planning nail or acid attacks –
remember, for children there is joy.
His friend in PC World does logistics.
I hear his sister is our pharmacist.
The dear old ladies love her.
I worry about the water supply.
A section of his book on how to contaminate.
Oh, my feelings are complex.
He helped me with batteries, theology at checkout.
Certain London colleges – coffee, safe zones, empathy –
sourdough bread a barrier to metal on bone.
Deserts are better, clear light, padparadscha sunset.

Symphony Number Nine by Paul Sutton

I say to my heart be coarse, be tougher
hear the music from car doors and lyrics on
pussy or willows or bitches. The boys from
the grooming gangs are here. I see a mother
battling a stream full-flow, harsh objects but
no daughters found in the wreckage. There are
shops they’d visit, then it’s all change and the
colours darken, a purity symphonic – ghost
folk songs, fugelhorns – but words are circular,
evenings violent. I can’t say it amazes me;
where was the family life leading,
its ‘pointless meaningfulness’ –
the love –
you can laugh, not realise as it happens.

Dialogue by Paul Sutton

A young child on viola, how European! Even if the house is Victorian or Georgian.

Large areas of English cities form unexpected oases of beauty for faces smudged with coal smuts look at the fruit trees of considerable height they blossom in spring as the former basements are bathed in light.

My father claimed beauty in grey from a sea which throttled me.

The key to regeneration is art and culture – and community. We may bustle and bristle but this get things done, which is not to be sneered at – if a pier collapses, artisanal bread floats and forms a life-raft.

Have you tried tea and cakes of pig fat, rides through brickworks to a single room?

Now communal chanting and swift crowd judgements thrill the eager visitor as torch-lit parades enthral an audience even Dali could not dream of.

And thinness, an effect of genocide, it taught me “art”.

An explosion in higher education has created our population bursting for poetry, song and thin monographs on Slovenian surrealists.

Now I see them urinating in lay-bys or gallivanting in burnt fields as crops rot.

Take your pick from the vast array of restaurants of every nationality – many of which serve food children can safely eat.

Alien clothes stand surreal at bus stops, teeth gleam – violence awaits us all.

A mature debate is needed – the lack of nuance astounds those of us educated in higher values.

My front room is ready. The books are sentinel and sempiternal.

Anything but immediate condemnation is blatant support for these flag-waving lunatics.

So many arguments to confront a rush of fire.

My page stands ready for any flag, be it national or regional.

Maybe not the thrack as the petrol catches.

The Intricacies of Persistent Failure by Paul Sutton

I am an expert.

In a faded ski-jacket and old trainers, it loafs along, dodging backward glances, following my every step.

I’ve had enough.

So I book my annual holiday in a motorway Ibis – amidst a migraine patchwork of dusty vegetation, flight paths and conveyor-belts over graphite lakes.

Here I await my brothers in failure.

I. Menu Rage

Geoff from accruals and accounts payable has ordered some ‘Ukrainian bird’ for marriage and children, perfect for flights from Kiev – her family a mixture of gangsters and radioactive meat suppliers.

We meet in the bar.

‘Women’s teeth are so important – have you read Zadie Smith?

‘Most Slavs suffer from halitosis. I’m hoping my luck will change.’

We discuss the menu. I am familiar with the dizzying rhetorical tricks but Geoff smiles in expectation.

“Here she comes…”

I can’t decide between Hunter’s Chicken and Harissa Lasagne.

No one has yet explained the mysteries of the former.  Originally a dish from Provence, eaten on those enormous slaughter-drenched hunts, with rough flagons of liquorice-tasting wine. Then brought to England by the Huguenots and – at first – a delicacy eaten at society balls, or Cambridge graduation ceremonies.

Now, regional variations in England have ensured its continued popularity.

In Cornwall, it can be used in pasties or thrown at tourists.

In Lincolnshire, it is served as enormous coiled sausages then dumped on mashed turnip.

In Lancashire, it is deep-fried with pig’s blood and fed to anorexics on death row.

Harissa! Is it made from body odour or unwashed hair?

Or maybe that’s baba ganoush – which had me evacuated on a drip from Luxor.

II. A Parable of the Pouring Rain

How that family arrived!

A trudge around the hard-shoulder.

Some in national costumes, others in body bags.

One wearing an elephant costume, ridden by Assyrian archers, a cedar tree up the arse.

Geoff and I hosted a welcoming party.

Local schools are full but somehow find room – the fields filled with fair folk, jobs in Homebase – and courses, courses, courses.

Renegotiation will ensure a drawbridge and some grey knight waiting for the holy chalice.

Panthers by Paul Sutton

Snow on fingers which feel nothing.

Stolen diamonds, apartments open to clouds.

I have lived for sunlight and


coffee in scorched squares.

Four months in an adjacent shop,

asleep in the heat, testing walls.


The gang laughed at my shame.

They got access, dug through –

I had the boss in his office.


There is beauty in deceit, reborn

by checking in and out – warmth

of towelling garments, mini-bars.


I stare at the screens.

Council houses in England.

Who can live like that?




In the politics of shame, I have no stake.

My state a broken playground for addicts.

I class cities by war or never war – all the same for luxury and its fruit.




Unseen cliffs and ravines,

switchback roads and

plunging waterfalls.


“Beauty will get fucked.”

Was it a bad joke or

words from a poem?




The bar behind the bowling alley is where they still meet.

Crashing, rolling, reassuring. Drinkers are desperate now:

“Nuneaton”; “Carlisle”; “Basildon” – what places are these?


Working in dark warehouses, too much for you English.

Selling inflatables in the eastern Mediterranean.

Army issue ex-combat – some have a conscience.




Don’t we all have a “special time”

and it replays like film?

Mine was a summer when a


kitten lived in my bedroom.

I fed it scraps and stolen milk.

I’ve forgotten the rest.

Populism (part two) by Paul Sutton


Oh for a muse to tell our sodden tale,
a dreamscape to cheer the sorry traveller.
Poet, sing us corvid-chasing buses
clearing the outer suburbs, to vasty
fields under a white horse on that bald hill;
huddled victims, and middle managers
of the failing public sector, with their
PowerPoints due on some restructure.

I met the liberal on a frosty night, as the sky cracked and its clear moon exposed our frailties.

Have you read The Grand Inquisitor?

This its antithesis.

He gorged on suffering.

Grabbing a pinnacle (not Westminster, Faringdon Folly) – loftiness in destroying an individual.

‘Children stuffed up chimneys, not with sweets at Christmas pantos.’

Who do you think you are? celebrities weep at slave-owning ancestors.’

‘Degrees in Leisure Studies less deadly than tuberculosis.’

Chronicling a tragic dinner lady who lives with badgers and worships Ferrero Rocher, Hunter’s chicken, two-for-one meals at Harvester.

‘Once she’d reach thirty – producing fifteen children.’

‘Now she can read White Teeth or Miriam Clegg’s recipes.’

I was shown two Slovakians sleeping on a flat-screen delivery box.

Then I smashed out his teeth with my DVD of Sink the Bismarck.

Removed his testicles with a bayonet from Zulu.

Force-fed him ship’s biscuits, pease pudding, Mickey Finns.

Shoved in Ralph Fiennes’ silk pyjamas.


But his wife’s documentary survived – her urgent voice:

‘These our fellow citizens.’

Deep South lynchings and images of Kristallnacht, intertextualised with statistics on ‘rising hate crimes’ since June 23rd 2016.

‘I’m narrating and blaming you.’

Later, I dangled from the Folly.

Clear views over the Vale.

My violence imagined.


Finally, I am allowed to speak. Past a certain
point in life, there’s too much to carry around;
then nothing is easy. Some bird flaps off,
perfect in its movement, so fit for flight.
I watch it till the light goes.
So that is the last from me.


Paul Sutton