Category Archives: In the men’s room

Welcome to the Men’s Room

Welcome to the Men’s Room

One day, I know, you will begin
To see this world anew.
And on that day I trust you’ll know
Exactly what to do.

Now welcome to the Men’s Room, girls.
Enjoy it: here you can
Be anything you want to be –
Except, of course, a man.

Believe me, though, you don’t want that,
Cos there are just two kinds:
The ones who wilt with shame and guilt,
And the willful, blissful blind.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s hard on your kind
And gets harder yet:
Everything’s made with men in mind,
And men tend to forget

To listen to their mothers
And their daughters, but would rather
Focus most on echoing
The missteps of their fathers.

You’ll sense the truth about your sex
Before you’re even told
That women were deemed property,
That women were called scolds;

That women’s contributions
To their own society
Are always far less likely
To end up in history.

You won’t need me to tell you
On what axis this world tilts –
Ask not for whom the bell tolls,
But for whom the bell was built.

Now come on in to the Men’s Room.
Best leave those trainers on;
Once you’ve seen the state of the place
You won’t fancy staying long.

I’ll try to bottle the atmosphere
I’m writing from inside,
In case the room has changed at all;
In case the stench has died.

* * *

We exist in an oasis,
Relative to this world
And human history, which have not quite
Been kind to girls:

A woman can vote in my country,
And purchase property,
And wear what she wants, in theory,
And own her own body.

And if it seems odd to mention
Such basic human rights,
I do so only for the reason that
This is still not quite

The norm worldwide: there are places
Where women can’t legally drive,
And where being born a girl makes you
Less likely to survive

To adulthood – or even birth.
Our laws aren’t perfect, true:
But we are relatively free;
So if they talk to you

Of sex-selective abortions,
Female infanticide,
Female genital mutilation,
Prepubescent child brides,

Soothe yourself with the knowledge that these
Afflict only the poor;
Girls in third-world countries:
Cries from behind closed doors.

Here all you need worry about
Is how much you’ll be paid
For doing the same job as a man;
Your labour will be weighed

Against the risk posed by your sex:
The time-bomb in your womb.
Make no mistake, in each workplace,
Communal means Men’s Room.

You’ll find you’re that bit more likely
To be interrupted or ignored;
To be talked down to or over,
Not to win the awards;

Not to get the promotion
You were certain you deserved;
Not to get a reaction
When you’re pretty sure he heard.

But at least there’s the illusion
In those air-conditioned cubes
That civilization sees you
For more than your hips and boobs;

Out there on the street you’ll soon
Suspect that something’s rotten
In how your sex is represented
As somehow misbegotten:

Sensationalist tabloid language,
Titillating, gory;
The sins of Eve and Lilith lie
Right there behind each story.

Walking home at that time of night?
She was asking for it.
That dress was shorthand for consent.
See the way she wore it?

You’re much less likely than a man
To commit a violent act.
But no less likely to suffer one;
That’s just how the odds are stacked.

To be raped, beaten or murdered
By a stranger, or a friend,
Or a family member – usually male –
These are natural ends

To the means of societal order
Our kind uses;
Where power is a pyramid,
Kindness loses.

You’re just a guest in the Men’s Room:
You’ve got to follow their rules.
So don’t think you can take this structure down
Using their tools.

And don’t let anyone tell you
You already won this fight.
You are not the fortunate ones.
Fury is your right.

* * *

Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death
In daylight by some man.
They found him pretty soon after,
Even though he ran.

He’s never been a violent guy
The killer’s kin opined.
As if there’s ever been another
Rare recorded kind.

Don’t politicize tragedy,
The right-wing voices said.
It was mental health that did it:
He’s not right in the head.

They say he shouted Britain First –
Some of them who was there.
A gentle man, loved gardening;
His name was Thomas Mair.

But when they asked him to confirm
In court what they’d got written,
He answered only Death to traitors,
And freedom for Britain.

Some said he blamed his MP
For government funding cuts;
That some community project
He was involved with had got shut.

Some said he’s a well-known racist;
Been in the National Front,
And latterly BNP and the like:
Just some daft cunt

Didn’t like what she was doing –
Helping them foreign lot.
Took matters into his own hands then:
Took aim, stabbed, and shot.

We’re still waiting to learn the truth,
Like it even matters.
If he’d a masterplan for after this,
That’s in tatters.

And she’s another dead woman now:
A mother, daughter, wife.
And he’s just another man who chose
To take a woman’s life.

They don’t just target women though,
These blokes who can’t quite cope:
But presidents and more besides
With broad and scattered scope;

They’ll kill themselves to make a point,
And take you down with them:
For gods or new philosophies
They’ll leave these rooms of men.

Four years ago a girl was shot,
Sat on a bus to school
In Pakistan by the Taliban –
And if that sounds cruel,

That’s nothing to what we’ve seen since
Out in Islamic State,
Where men mass to the calling of
That brave new caliphate;

Boys butcher captive journalists
For social media likes
Where Saddam Hussein once sat
Naked prisoners on spikes.

Operation Liberation
Never quite trickled down
To captive shacks in Mosul
And markets in Raqqa town

Where jihadists salute and smile,
Raising their right index,
And enslave Yazidih women
In Allah’s name for sex.

The same Yazidi women
Who’ve been stoned as apostates
By kith when they’ve dared marry
Outside the Yazidi faith.

There’s enough male violence being wrought
At any given time
To cast the kind illusion
That inhumanity’s in its prime;

But the worst of these dark deeds
Are only centuries past
In any civilized country
From which stones might be cast;

And they linger on in the shadows,
Out of sight and mind,
Till you’re walking down the wrong street
With an echoing behind;

And shut away in your bibles,
History books, folk songs,
Malleus Maleficarums:
All speak of Men’s Room wrongs.

When I was young, old men
On our school bus would buy the Sun,
Hold up page three at the window,
Chuckle at what they’d done.

Most men don’t shoot girls on buses;
Most ain’t even got guns.
Most men don’t gang-rape and murder,
Kill daughters with their sons.

But enough do to make you wonder
How many’s capable
Of killing what’s unwilling,
And raping what’s rapable.

So welcome to the Men’s Room, girls.
This is the way it goes:
These signs of life in rude health,
Don’t mistake for deathly throes.

And be careful what you bring here;
You don’t know what you might spur.
Jo Cox came offering kindness:
Look what happened to her.

* * *

Meanwhile back in the USA
The presidential debates
Provide the world with new headlines
At quite an alarming rate.

The woman in the Blue corner –
And yes, you read that right –
Stands accused of being a former
President’s loyal wife.

And any dirt that’s dug on Red,
Or spouted by the same,
Is turned over to her husband’s crimes
For which she’s to be blamed.

Now Mr Red’s a classic case
Of the blind leading the blind;
And he’d gladly leave the sighted half
Of his homeland behind.

He’s not sure why he’s standing now,
But in his jacket pocket
There’s a beer-matt scrawled with
POTUS > a question mark > then PROFIT.

There’s all sorts of allegations
Coming out about him,
But none of them are half as bad
As what he has been shouting

All this year, and all his life,
To anyone who’ll listen.
Like a dog, he’ll hump your leg.
Like a mouse, he’s always pissing.

He says that when you’re famous
You can grab women’s vaginas.
PR never ran that line
By out-of-work coal-miners,

But you can bet that the sentiment
Has aspiration-clout
With down-trod men in the Men’s Room
Who would trade their debts for gout.

He called it locker-room talking,
And plenty had his back;
For words are not the same as
Violent sexual attacks,

So some thought it good and natural,
Said women talk so too,
Said something about Blue’s husband,
Said something about Blue.

And it ain’t that Blue is perfect
Or anything close by,
But that they’d never even so much
As entertain this guy

If he’d been born with ovaries,
Or if he’d been born poor.
If he was black, his party
Wouldn’t have let him through the door.

And it’s no better over here,
We’ve got our share of clowns.
Parliament’s still a pantomime
Of cumbersome mass nouns

Exchanged in echoing chambers:
Leather, mahogany;
It’s one part legislation talk,
Nine parts ceremony.

And the PM might be female,
Indeed she is just now,
But it’s still run like a boys’ club –
From stern to buoyant bow.

It’s tribal and archaic,
Nepotistic and oblique;
You can see it in the gestures,
Hear it in how they speak.

And this fresh generation –
Tomorrow’s politicos –
Tweet knuckle pics for evidence
Each time they come to blows.

The liberal lot, with a little L,
Are hardly any better;
A woman challenged their leader,
And they set out to get her:

Chucked bricks through her office windows.
Sent homophobic abuse:
Death threats, the lot. Seems each party’s got
These attack dogs ready to loose.

And among the emerging voices
Of the alt-right crowd,
Consensuses come ready-made,
And regurgitated loud:

Feminist is pejorative.
Equality is bunk.
Racism is impossible.
Conservative is punk.

And when I feel we’re going backwards,
And that something’s got to give;
I must remind myself once more
That this is how it feels to live

In the Men’s Room once you notice
How few folk even cares
That we live in a caste system
Of helix spiral stairs:

Glass ceilings on each floor through which
Just certain folks may pass
To power enough to keep the gates
Of sex and race and class.

And if you’re born with two X chromosomes
You’re shit out of luck;
Men see merit in their mirrors,
And couldn’t give a fuck.

* * *

An incident occurred, said Ched
On chedevans.com,
In a post-acquittal statement
Deployed there with aplomb

By the dad-in-law who funded
Both his trial and appeal
For raping a teenager
In a Premier Inn in Rhyl.

It was rape, then it wasn’t rape,
And now it never will be.
His girlfriend offered 50 grand
For any testimony

From anyone who’d swear on the Bible
That she was a slag –
To get her back for all those hours
Ched spent painting as a lag.

She’d ruined his life, they said,
Before he’d even appealed.
The Blades gave him the boot,
He had to go play for Chesterfield.

A promising young striker
With a cap for the national team;
Ears like the FA cup’s handles,
He was living the Men’s Room dream

Till this paralytic waitress
Rose from a kebab shop floor,
And came from behind to shaft him
Like some Babylonian whore.

Got a bird, said his team-mate
In a text message. Cryptic.
So Ched headed to the hotel
To make it a tryptych,

Blagged his way in there
To a room he’d already paid for,
Off the sub’s bench, open goal, shot –
Escaped through the fire door.

He never asked her name,
Perhaps he knew it already?
Said nowt the whole time,
They call him Enigmatic Cheddy.

And despite what the fanboys
All made up in their minds,
She didn’t cry rape
As soon as the sun shone through the blinds;

She woke up with no notion
Of how she’d got where she was.
It was at the police station
While reporting the loss

Of a handbag that night out
That someone else said the word.
And I don’t know how it went;
Maybe she thought she’d misheard?

Regardless, even the patchiest
Recounting of events
That night did not paint a picture
Of a conscious consent.

But language can be tricky –
Open to interpretation.
You’d be forgiven for thinking
It was for communication,

But in law its purpose is power:
Unsimple, unplain.
And power, by its very nature,
Is no friend of pain:

Power loves the powerful
And the powerful love it.
Try to take it from them
And they’ll show you where to shove it.

Ched could have hung his head
And let go of all the worry,
Held his hand up like he’d scored a goal
And said I am sorry.

But he had a career to think about;
A girlfriend too.
It’s easy to shake your head at him,
But what do you think you would do?

Maybe you can’t imagine
Being in the situation.
Plastered across the tabloids:
Called the scum of the nation.

He maintained he was innocent
From day one of the trial.
Held his head high when the feminists
Said that he was vile.

Now, officially not guilty
Beyond reasonable doubt
Of raping a drunk teenager
After she had blacked out,

His club issues a statement
Saying they are delighted!
We’re still waiting on a quote to come
From Sheffield United…

Maybe Jessica Ennis-Hill
Will take everything back?
Maybe all those Guardian journalists
Are going to get the sack?

Of course, the rate of conviction
For crimes of this nature
Doesn’t look much like justice
In real life or on paper;

And the girl for whom they brought the charge,
Who never asked for it,
Is repeatedly threatened with rape
And unmasked for it;

She’s already changed her name once
And will have to again.
She’s moving to Australia,
Maybe moving to Spain:

Witness protection don’t mean much
With a press like we’ve got.
And the Twitter mobs will not forgive
What they’ve not forgot.

They dragged out her sexual history
And grilled her in the court.
It’s almost like the legal process
Is some kind of bloodsport,

Slightly less boring than football,
But just as depressing;
Just think about the jury’s faces
Next time you’re dressing

For a Saturday night’s drinking.
Going out on the piss?
If you look slutty to enough of them
Don’t expect a kiss

Or a cuddle, much less a conviction,
If some drunk lad
Sees you drunker, lonely, vulnerable,
In need of getting had.

And don’t expect sympathy
From the millions of female
Sexual violence victims;
Vetting doesn’t miss a detail.

Your dozen peers are far more likely
To comprise some guys
Who’ve done some damn similar things
For which they’ve never been tried.

The polarized perspectives
Represented on the shelf,
Are endemic of a culture
Uncomfortable with itself:

The narrowsheets are split between
Proclaiming rape is rape
And saying keep your daughters home,
Tied down with gaffer tape.

Now Ched’s off on tour
To talk to all the young dudes
About how to walk the line
Between being rapists and prudes:

How to get what they want from women
Without a conviction;
How to satisfy their urges
With minimum friction.

We could have had any bird in the town
Of Rhyl that night;
We’re footballers, said Ched.
As though that gave them both the right.

It just so happened that the girl
They both wanted that night
Was drunk and alone, and never
Going to put up a fight.

That’s the prerogative
Of the Men’s Room’s natural predator:
Because woman is debtor,
And man is her creditor.

And she’s destined to end up reduced to
I’ve got a bird.
Ched did nothing illegal:
An incident occurred.

* * *

I could go on forever
But there’s only so much ink.
These are just a couple of recent stories:
What do you think?

Do you fancy hanging round here
For the rest of your life?
Maybe one day you’ll be some man’s woman
Or some man’s wife?

Those aren’t the limits, mind:
Sexuality’s a spectrum.
Humanity is the steel strings;
You can be the plectrum

And play a tune that suits you
To a beat you can keep with.
Choice is all that matters
In choosing who you want to sleep with –

If they want to sleep with you
And they’re conscious of what choice is:
Everyone should sing sometimes
No matter how good their voice is.

But I guess I shouldn’t try to pretend
Everything goes.
Because I’d love you whatever –
Whatever path you chose –

But the Men’s Rooms social structures
Might not choose to agree;
So you should know what price your freedom
Before running free.

If you choose to love women,
Or just discover you do,
You can guarantee the Men’s Room
Will make things harder for you.

If you don’t want to give birth
But get kicks from your career
Some men and women will treat you
With pity or with fear.

And if you feel like maybe
You would rather be a man –
Then hey, I can understand that, kid;
No, I really can.

I used to wish I was a girl,
Back when I was a lad.
So blind I was to the world around,
I thought I had it bad!

And the grass is always greener…
And the rest of that shit;
Follow your heart not your head…
But here’s the difficult bit:

You can change your name and wardrobe,
And even change your mind;
But you can’t change the Men’s Room’s rules
Working the Men’s Rooms grind.

I’m halfway dead and I’ve done nothing yet
Toward breaking it.
You can’t rely on men to help
We’ve got too much stake in it.

In every ally lurks a sleeping
Saboteur statist.
Suspect everyone
Because all men are potential rapists.

For every virtue sign
Condemning obvious broken shit,
The Men’s Room stands safe
Knowing no one yet has broken it.

But here’s the punchline to this joke:
Men are obsolescing.
The values we’ve instilled in everything
Seem so depressing

Because they’re at odds with progress:
Opposed to what’s coming.
Every man knows this in some way,
That’s why we’re born running;

And everything but everything is built
With sex in mind.
We’re terrified of equality;
Of what we might find

If women were treated equally.
A simple notion
Which to avoid we’d nuke the planet
And drain the ocean;

Start an intergalactic war;
Launch ourselves into the sun.
We’d sooner burn down the Men’s Room
And cry about what we’d done

Than acknowledge that the only
Real differences between us
Are nothing to do with being from Mars
Or being from Venus,

But, rather, biological –
Organic, in a sense:
The chemicals that influence our moods
At our expense.

So what use testosterone
In this cowardly old place?
The missionary position
Might have brought us face-to-face

But there’s more to unpack there
Than the civilizing process.
The contraceptive pill
Remains a poor excuse for progress.

Liberation is a loaded word,
Lock, stock, and barrel:
Tell it to a model from
American Apparel;

Tell it to a Raqqa sex-slave;
Tell it to Jo Cox;
Tell it to that woman Ched didn’t rape,
As she changes her locks;

Tell it to your mother, maybe;
Tell it to yourself.
And if you still think that this planet
Is a picture of health,

Enjoy it. It is beautiful.
It is worthy of you.
But if you think you smell a lie
In what you’re told to be true:

Do not swallow.
Spit it back in the face of the teller.
If what you’re sold turns to ashes
Go after the seller –

Take your sister,
Take your friends. Take something sharp for cutting.
Cut,
And maybe we’ll no longer be stuck in this rutting.

Maybe what the Men’s Room needs
Is not to be run by men.
Maybe women could demolish it
And build it again.

Maybe with the help of eunuchs,
Or maybe with machines.
Why put up with men’s defects
When you can harvest our genes?

But maybe that’s just the Men’s Room talking:
Some canny double-bluff.
I wouldn’t know; it’s all beyond me,
That conspiracy stuff.

What I know is what I’ve picked up
With my senses, with my hands.
And what I’ve tried with my body
When my brain made demands.

I love you
And I’d hope that was obvious by this point.
But a mother’s role is to nurture;
It’s mine to disappoint.

So I’ll leave it at that.
I’ve no revelation waiting.
A question worth asking’s worth
A thousand facts worth stating.

One day, I know, you will begin
To see this world anew.
And on that day I trust you’ll know
Exactly what to do.

 

Video:

Attitude: rampant

Attitude: rampant

We fell asleep beneath red leaves
And left the goats to ramble.
I dreamt of apple blossom,
You dreamt of apple crumble;
I type all this into my phone
And fruit becomes computer.
I filter my photography
To make my dog look cuter,
And all my friends are far away
Now they fit in my pocket;
And every thought’s a cliché now
So every second’s “fuck it”.

We fell asleep beneath bare branches,
Left the goats to ramble.
I touched my palm upon your chest
And felt your ribcage tremble.
I endeavour to express this
Like milk into a pail
But the sentiments turn sour
As in a fairytale.
The boys are crying wolf again
And everyone’s afraid;
The stars have fallen from the sky
But all is safe inside.

We fell asleep beneath the blossom,
Left the goats to wander.
I dreamt about a boat at sea,
You dreamt the squalls and thunder;
Washed up on dark desert sand,
We wake up in the future.
Emoting through emojis now,
We’ve kama for some sutra;
But the best of all our tools
Are blaming us for badness,
And all our fading danger signs
Are wearing thin of redness.

We fell asleep beneath ripe fruits
To caprine rumination.
I woke to find a note that said
You’d left for the train station.
You’re working in the city now;
You’re working for survival.
I’m living for the love of it,
Awaiting your arrival.
I’ll pluck the apples from this bough
When they are good and ready,
And we’ll have apple crumble then
If we’re still going steady.

Appears in:
Live Canon poetry prize anthology [2016]
In the Men’s Room [2017]

Notes:
Concerning the title: in heraldry, “attitude” refers to the position of an animal; “rampant” in this respect indicates the animal is on its hind legs – a position commonly found in supporters (or attendants): figures placed on either side of the escutcheon (or shield), usually depicted as holding it up.

Madness, and the way to the Men’s Room

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Draft art photography for forthcoming book: a replica Judas cradle in the Museum of Torture, Zagreb.

What’s the definition of madness then?

Some people say the first sign is talking to yourself.

Some people say madness is characterized by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Oxford dictionaries online qualifies it as “The state of having a serious mental illness.” This official version sounds slightly less like a definition and more like something that needs defining. But the sub-definitions serve well. So let’s compile:

  1. Talking to yourself
  2. Repetitive actions
  3. Extremely foolish behaviour
  4. Wild and chaotic activity

It is in the spirit of all four of these modes of being that I bring you news of my upcoming third poetry book: “In the Men’s Room”.

I haven’t quite put book two, “Rhymes for all times“, to bed yet. It’s nearly a year since I published it. I’ve done precisely nothing to further its cause since fruitlessly sending out about 15 review copies in January, so I thought I’d read all 33 poems from it in the Boiler House and upload them to my YouTube account for posterity. There will be no critique or coverage, it seems; and there was never going to be a tour or any kind of follow-up to the launch event due to the chasm between supply and demand. By the time I record and upload all 33 poems I’ll be able to assess whether it succeeded or failed on its own terms. I suspect a bit of both…

But back to “In the Men’s Room”. It’s taking shape. In theory it’s all but done; with 31 poems in the folder and the two remaining ones only in need of editing. But it’s mutating. It began concurrently with Has Doubts volumes One and Two as a collection of poems on the theme of feminism. Around the time I was compiling “Rhymes for all times” I began to suspect that nobody needed 33 poems by me about that. So I broadened the scope of it to include some “nature” poetry I’d been writing. And the dichotomy I was seeking began to emerge.

For “Mistaken for art or rubbish” it was art and commerce. How the two were related; whether they could happily coexist. For “Rhymes for all times” it was history and truth; perhaps an even less subtle pairing. For “In the Men’s Room” the doubt is focused on nature and destiny. Some of the questions I’m hoping to pose via the medium of poetry:

  • is natural synonymous with good?
  • is humankind distinct from nature?
  • ought humankind to have mastery over nature?
  • does humankind have mastery over itself?
  • is nature synonymous with destiny?

They’re all variations on a theme. And, as usual, the questions are inevitably posed from a (vaguely) Western-secular-Christian-postmodern philosophical viewpoint. Funnily enough, I’ve found myself returning to explorations of feminism here and there in the newer poems. Sometimes less explicitly than when the outlines of the book were first drawn. And hopefully for the better.

But it’s hard to look out the window – or even to look in the mirror – without being reminded that humanity is universally divided into two types; and that one is better valued than the other. Notwithstanding race, class, religion, and the many other modes of societal grouping and separation, nowhere and never has humanity been without the overriding biological truths of male and female. And everywhere and always these natural truths of sex have been used to effect distinct (and supposedly also natural) destinies in the form of two genders – with little tolerance for anything existing or passing between the two.

I’ve posted drafts of some of the poems from the upcoming book online as far back as 2010. One or two took the form of video performances way back when I first got a webcam.

But next week I’ll post a video reading of the first poem proper from “In the Men’s Room”. (And you know I mean business because I said “poem proper” and not “proper poem”.) Fittingly, it’s called “Welcome to the Men’s Room”. I sent it to a political-poetry blog to see if they wanted it, but they probably won’t: It’s an 828-line rhyming ballad; and I wrote it.

The poem serves as a time capsule addressed to my daughters, telling them what the world was like for women in October, 2016; and what to expect if it’s still the same when they’re reading it. Maybe, hopefully, by the time the subject matter is fit for their consumption (10/15 years), we’ll have made progress. But, in the immortal words of Coolio: “the way things are going, I don’t know.”

I couldn’t memorise it in the time, but I’ve recorded an okay reading in the shed. No frills: just me and a mic, and some crushed velvet in the background.

So, yeah. Make some room in your diary for Monday.

It’s 25 minutes long.

Yours in good faith,

A Velky