Robin Thomas from Reading submitted one of the most arresting and haunting poems in the competition. His portrait of mankind seen through the eyes of a highly intelligent extraterrestrial is both poignant and spine-chilling – an unexpected combination which makes his tautly disciplined poem And These, Gentleman linger provokingly in the memory.
The imagined extraterrestrial observer is touched by us, but his approach is necessarily clinical rather than empathetic. He comprehends the paradox of our ‘brutal acceptance’ of mortality and our ‘deep denial’. He can see how our pictures of ourselves encompass both ‘the enduring and the transient’. But restricted to drawing conclusions about us from our outward signs, he is unable to give a convincing interpretation of the painting of the naked man pierced by the hail of arrows which he is presenting to his imagined audience. ‘Attractive, isn’t it?’ he says. This forces readers of And These, Gentlemen to reflect on the real meaning of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, of which the word ‘attractive’ gives such a shockingly inadequate account.
The distancing technique in this impressively sparse poem is wonderfully effective in allowing the poet to ask important questions but to answer none of them, drawing his readers into deep water and ( thankfully ) leaving them there without direction to follow the poem in whatever way they will.
I was extremely pleased to find And These Gentleman on the Highly Commended list and delighted that Robin is coming to Bath to share his fascinating poem with the other competitors in the BRLSI on the Bath Poetry Cafe Competition Afternoon on Saturday 26th September.
This is how Robin introduces his own poem on the programme notes: Poems of ideas are notoriously difficult to achieve. It’s very easy for such poems to seem to want to tell their audience what to think. What I tried to do in my poem was to distance its action from what its poet might think through distancing of various kinds, including a lot of space.