Stage fright

I switched on the radio
For the weekly one-hour show
Where they talked of art and poetry – the kind
That reassures and makes you feel
That the stuff you do is real
And you share a space with others of like mind.

At the top, the host declared
They were live and being aired
From the Poetry World Series in LA.
Ten finalists would read aloud
To a huge, adoring crowd:
Whoever garnered most applause would win the day.

This was all brand new to me,
And my curiosity
Was off the dial as the first contender stepped
Up to the waiting microphone
And in low, portentous tone
Spoke of hard times down in Arkansas. Folk wept.

Next, a young girl from Mesquite
Skipped on light iambic feet
Through a sonnet to her lover in Fort Worth.
Then a wit from Pasadena
Shared a scurrilous sestina
While the audience convulsed in fits of mirth.

A professor from Cornell
Had his pretentious villanelle
Swiftly and deservedly shot down in flames;
Half the room was sent to sleep
By an ode to raising sheep
From a softly-spoken citizen of Ames.

As the show’s denouement neared
No clear winner had appeared;
The compere called the last contestant to the stage.
A nervous cough, then he began.
And as I listened to the man
I felt a sudden wave of nausea and rage.

I sat rigid in my chair
Cold sweat prickling in my hair
As the poem flowed out, line by gorgeous line.
Not a single word was changed;
Not one stanza rearranged.
Every dot and comma in that thing was mine.

When he finished, silence fell.
Then a vast, ecstatic swell
Of approbation rose. No question who had won.
With the trophy in his hand –
And a cheque for fifty grand –
He was on his way. His new life had begun.

As the host closed out the show
I leapt up and shouted ‘No!’
Logged into my blog and scrolled back frantically.
Many years and posts had passed
But I tracked it down at last.
The winning poem. Word for word. And all by me.

Wasted long hours flicking through
All the Likes, but not a clue
Emerged from readers’ avatars. The trail was cold.
Punched a hole right through the wall
At the injustice of it all.
But I had to face the facts. I’d just been rolled.

There’s not much that Time won’t heal.
I regained an even keel
And my levels of resentment slowly sank.
And I chuckled at the news
When the critical reviews
Of the winner’s new collection came. They stank.

I kept writing anyway.
Then the doorbell rang one day.
Two LAPD policemen and a guy
From the Poetry World Series
Who explained there had been queries
Over who the victor’s work was really by.

They had probed and dug around
On the internet and found
My original. The case was black and white.
They’d confronted Mr Winner
With the proof he was a sinner;
He was going gentle into that good night.

They said the title now was mine
And I told them that was fine
But I didn’t want the cash or silver cup.
Being famous ain’t for me:
Leave me anonymous and free
To do my own work, my own way. And make things up.

 
 

Legend has it that Albert Einstein conceived his Theory of Relativity while riding his bike. I, on the other hand, only ever seem to come up with nonsense like this. Make of that what you will! N.

2 thoughts on “Stage fright

  1. Thank you, Charles – I enjoyed writing it. Although a small part of me was wondering whether this (or something like it) has ever really happened, and what could actually prevent some rapscallion simply copying-and-pasting the work we all innocently publish here and passing it off as their own? Probably best not to think about it – and if it occurred, do as my narrator here did and regard it as a compliment! N.

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