Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Motorway twitters

A late developer as usual, I have thus far resisted the clamour for me to join Demi Moore and Stephen Fry on Twitter. But I am intrigued by the possibilities this new microblog opens up for gnomic poems on the quotidian. So I’ve done a little poem about motorways, the lines made up of twitters (tweets?) of 140 characters or less. This is the best I could do before I got bored – it’s harder than it looks, you know.

Here I am on the tarmac; it is true it bears no message. But on the road, what material for semiology! (Thank you, Roland Barthes)

I flew over a motorway once. It looked beautiful, bathed in sodium light with the car headlights like stair-rods and the catseyes blinking.

Those catseyes aren’t really there for the cars: they’re stars, shoehorned into rows by some celestial surveyor with an eye for beauty and order.

Before you sneer at that sweaty sales rep in the middle lane, just remember that he too has a soul and a shortage of cup-holders.

The hawks hovering gimlet-eyed above the verges aren’t looking for mice. They’re I-Spy geeks, ticking off the flyovers like trainspotters.

A foil ashtray, a flooded toilet and a plastic-stick tea stirrer. Not even Rilke could make poetry out of a service station.

Love isn’t a bursting heart. It’s the woman in the Esso shop, ringing home to ask if they need any milk and firelighters.

Anyone else like to have a go?


  1. Surprised to hear you are not atwitterer Joe.I have tried.
    "Endless burgers and cold coffee play hell with the digestion and only hasten the next stop"

  2. A ribbon unwinding over the landscape
    only its frayed edges touching a world less brutal

  3. I'm more of a waffler, than a 'twitterer'! I was recently watching 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' - Robert Zemeckis (dir.) 1988, and thought of your work on Motorways and Billboards...

    Judge Doom: Several months ago I had the good providence to stumble upon this plan of the city council's. A construction plan of epic proportions. They're calling it a freeway.

    Eddie Valiant: Freeway? What the hell's a freeway?

    Judge Doom: Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena. Smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.

    Eddie Valiant: So that's why you killed Acme and Maroon? For this freeway? I don't get it.

    Judge Doom: Of course not. You lack vision. I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on, all day and all night! Soon where Toontown once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food, tyre salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see! My God, it'll be beautiful.

  4. Thanks for the great quote Emma. And these twitters are both better than mine, so I retire (not that I'm competitive you understand).

  5. Liverpool Poet Adrian Henri's 'Song for a Beautiful Girl Petrol-Pump Attendant on the Motorway' would seem a good gnomic poem:

    I wanted your soft-verges
    But you gave me the hard shoulder

    From 'Collected Poems: 1967-85' (London:Allison & Busby, 1986) p.65.

  6. These remind me of the englyn, a traditional Welsh form. Really interesting stuff. Enjoying seeing Henri quoted here too.

  7. Had a go at one of the twitter poems. Hope you like it:
    Watford Gap grass verge through coffee steam, reassurance of traffic noise, knowing we are an hour away - the beauty of the service station