Wards

by Penguin
Wild Poetry Forum
First Place, September 2013
Judged by Robert Sward


Lady Jane Grey was little more
than a holiday home, a brief change of air;
Elizabeth Woodville was Long Stay –
students dreaded placement there.
Hers was a thicker atmosphere: moon-fogged
with menace throughout the year.
It’s the Western Australian Blue Mist, Doctor,
or else I’m going blind.

When a man said he wanted to meditate
it meant he wanted to murder.
Each patient had his own chair to throw
and a needle drawn up in the clinic.
In emergencies we called on
George Eliot and Jane Austen.
It was every man for himself but
you couldn’t confront a delusion.
Alice believes that I’m John the Baptist—
we’ll just hide all the knives and forks.

Everything signalled something else
that the staff spent hours deciphering
while sat underneath No Smoking;
the former boxer fractured nerves
and the failed actor reeled off verse
after verse of counterfeit Shakespeare.
I could spot functional psychosis
there’s a johnnie stuck up my arse, nurse,
and show empathy at ten paces.

We learnt the types of schizophrenia,
how to defend against knight’s move thinking
and the lineage of English monarchs.
I’m digging up Charles I today
and replanting The Wars of The Roses.

Any accretion of insight
was offset by a lack of remorse.
Nobody could bury the hatchet because
we’d forgotten the word for spade.


I like the use of rhyme, the grace and bitter humor of WARDS,

"Lady Jane Grey was little more
than a holiday home, a brief change of air;
Elizabeth Woodville was Long Stay -
students dreaded placement there."

We seem-- the poem has a setting and that setting would seem to be a teaching hospital, a mental ward, "moon-fogged / with menace throughout the year."

One reads on:

"Each patient had his own chair to throw
and a needle dawn up in the clinic."

What I don't understand are lines like:

"In emergencies we called on
George Eliot and Jane Austen.
It was every man for himself..."

As a reader I'm not sure how the author's private knowledge, private associations are going to be understood.

"Everything signalled something else
that the staff spent hours deciphering
while sat underneath No Smoking..."

And the sense of brooding and mental discomfort, of cleverness, and ultimately despair, culminates, it seems to me, in the final lines:

"Nobody could bury the hatchet because
we'd forgotten the word for spade."

Author wins the day with this great parting line! --Robert Sward

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