Poem of the week: Rob A Mackenzie - Locus-a-Non

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A few centuries ago, according to notes at the back of Rob A Mackenzie’s new collection The Good News (Salt, £12.99), street sweepers gathered in the main squares of certain European cities to receive tips.

The last stanza of Mackenzie’s poem ‘Locus-a-Non’ comically plays on this notion, with its speaker, who has “taken up poetry” only to be left to gather up “stylised detritus”, trying to pass himself off a sweeper of a more literal sort in order to gain a measure of praise. It’s a tragicomic portrait of the poet, made more acute by the recent sad new that Mackenzie’s publisher Salt has been forced through brute economics to stop publishing single-author volumes of poetry.

I have taken up poetry, language stripped

of bare essentials until only the stylised

detritus remains – involuntary Oulipo:

adverbs, latinates, exclamation marks,

ill-advised semi-colons; canonical

formlessness the single permitted anxiety

of influence. Like all poets, I am employed

as locus-a-non, leaning on brooms, accepting

praise long after the sweepers have gone.

You can borrow The Good News by Rob A Mackenzie from the Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Edinburgh EH8 8DT. Tel: 0131-557 2876, e-mail reception@spl.org.uk or see www.spl.org.uk for details.