Arriving for a reading an hour too early:

Ruefully, the general manager stopped putting out the chairs.

“You don’t get any help these days. I have

To sort out everything from furniture to faxes.

Why not wander round the park? There are ducks

And benches where you can sit and watch.”

I realized it was going to be a hungry evening

With not even a packet of crisps in sight.

I parked my friend on a bench and wandered

Down Highgate Hill, realising where I was

From the Waterlow Unit and the Whittington’s A&E.

Some say they know their way by the pubs

But I find psychiatric units more useful.

At a reading like this you never know just who

Might have a do and need some Haldol fast.

(Especially if the poet hovering round sanity’s border

Should chance upon the critic who thinks his Word

Is law and order – the first’s a devotee of a Krishna cult

For rich retirees; the second wrote a good book once

On early Hughes, but goes off if you don’t share his

‘Thought through views’).

In the event the only happening was a turbanned Sikh

Having a go at an Arts Council guru leaning in a stick.

I remembered Martin Bell’s story of how Scannell the boxer

Broke – was it Redgrove’s brolly? – over his head and had

To hide in the Gents till time was called.

James Simmons boasted of how the pint he threw

At Anthony Thwaite hit Geoffrey Hill instead.

O, for the company of the missing and the dead

Martin Bell, Wendy Oliver, Iris and Ted.

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