Archive for the 'topical' Category

‘Thoughts of a Robot’

March 31, 2023

You may have noticed that one poem in this month’s Snakeskin has an unusual author. The sonnet ‘Thoughts of a Robot’ was composed by the Artificial Intelligence chatbot, GTP-3.

This nifty program works by accesssing a vast store of written material, to come up with text that satisfies a user’s demands. It will be a godsend to cheats and lazy students. I set it a typical GCSE English Literature essay question to write, and it came up with a response that was at least a grade B.

It is particularly good at composing texts in genres that are traditionally composed of clichés. Management speak, or wellness advice, or pornography, or church sermons. I see the complete automation of these genres as inevitable over the next couple of decades.

But what about poetry, that most human of literary genres?

I did a few test runs. Ask the program to ‘Write a poem’ on a certain subject, and it will almost certainly come up with couplets in iambic tetrameter. Sometimes these are neat, and at other times clunky as clunky. It does better when asked to write in a different metre, to produce a sonnet or villanelle, for example. Like many poets, it writes better when given a challenge.

Given a cliché subject it comes up with pure Hallmark Cards rhyming; I asked for a poem about mothers:

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Old Man in a Pub

April 5, 2022

On Monday morning I set myself the task of verse reportage. I visited The Cherry Tree, the Wetherspoons pub in central Huddersfield,  determined to write about whatever I saw there.

What I saw was an old man drinking alone, with his back to a large screen that silently delivered Sky News.

An old man sits, his beer in front of him,
Alone in Wetherspoons; his face is grim,
I search it for some clue what’s brought him here,
To sit sad and self-medicate on beer.
His eyes are pale and now and then he fingers
His glass, then slowly sips, and slowly lingers
That pint so it will last an hour or so.
He sometimes strokes his cheek but mostly, though,
He’s very still, just staring straight ahead.

Behind him, on a silent screen, the dead
Of Bucha are displayed, and captions tell
Of stark atrocious actions going well
Beyond war’s normal horrors: rape, and looting,
And soldiers quite undisciplined, and shooting
Of hostages and random children, and
The brutal desecration of a land.

The old man’s eyes stare straight ahead, the screen
Is right behind him, its hard truths unseen.
Perhaps he sits there so he does not see.
And yet, that there could be such cruelty
Would not, I sense, have come as much surprise
To that old man with disappointed eyes.

Poetry in a Plague Year

March 12, 2020

As the unpleasant Covid-19 virus spreads, Snakeskin has been sent a pair of poems commenting on it. We thought we’d share them with you.

From America, Laura Johnson has sent us this Bop (I’ll explain what a Bop is later):

Bop: Crazy

An unknown illness from the distant East
crawls across our unsuspecting globe,
something like a cold virus, at least
like the very worst gunky-lung sort of cold,
somewhat like the flu we already know
though Trump’s in trouble for saying so.

The coronavirus is making us crazy.

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October 2019

October 13, 2019

I scan the faces on the train.
Did she vote Leave? Was he Remain?
But each one’s in a private world,
And gives no hint what thoughts are curled
And dreaming darkly in their brains.
British people packed in trains
Will by instinct always take
Some pains to make their masks opaque.
That grumpy-looking man for sure
Seems a Leaver caricature,
Whilst she there with the hardback book
Has maybe a Remainer look.
Or maybe doesn’t – I can not
Do more than guess who voted what.
Nor can I know what made them choose,
And how far they’re impelled by views
Perhaps known to themselves alone
And incoherent as my own.

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Grenfell Tower

August 7, 2017

Snakeskin has received this letter from poet Rip Bulkeley, who is compiling an anthology about the appalling fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington.

Dear poet,

As you may have heard, Eyewear have agreed to publish an anthology of poems in response to the Grenfell Tower atrocity, working title Dark Bones. Poets are invited to submit ONE poem, max 50 lines including title, in ANY LANGUAGE, by 15 September 2017, to this email address. The poem should be in an attached file in Word format. My postal address, for anyone without email, is at the end of this message.

The main purpose of the anthology is to bring together poems which have already been written in diverse forms and languages across Britain in an act of artistic solidarity which may increase their impact. There have already been several other such responses in the creative arts. Any money raised after meeting the costs of production will be donated to a housing action group in London; which group remains TBD.

The anthology will not be confined to authors in Britain or the English language. Submissions have already been received and others are promised from around the world. Nor does every poem need to address the destruction of Grenfell Tower directly. Submissions pertinent to or foreshadowing the event have also been received and will be reviewed with all the others. Variety of form, angle, device, diction, and especially title will be welcome.

Several distinguished poets have already sent contributions, and others are forthcoming.

The time of year is not helpful for such a venture. I would be grateful, therefore, if you felt able to recirculate this announcement yourself as you think fit. An A4 poster (thumbnail below) is available for bookshops, cafes, pubs etc.

Thank you for your attention,
Rip Bulkeley
38 Lonsdale Road

Send your poems to Rip, not to Snakeskin. Note his email address below.

I have to say, I think it’s quite a challenge – writing about the fire without lapsing into mere hysterical rage, about the scale of the calamity and the shabby response of the authorities.


New Year cheer

December 30, 2016

A pair in a garden;
Sin God wouldn’t pardon.
So humans had gloom
Until death as their doom.
With just one small smidgen
Of joy, from religion,
Which decreed: ‘Go belabour
Your heathenish neighbour.’
Great empires arose,
And each one of those,
Whether Aztec or Greek,
Liked to slaughter the weak;
In turn each went ker-flop.
When the Romans were top,
The Christians appeared
(Who were sexually weird).
Long ages went Dark
And life wasn’t a lark.
The Renaissance was jolly,
But soon melancholy
Dark factories and mills
Bred new social ills.
Through centuries more
We’ve had misery and war
And depression and slump.
And now we’ve got Trump!

Cheerful best wishes for 2017!

Pokemon – still going

July 18, 2016


All over the news this week (or at least in the spaces left free by horrors) is Pokemon Go, the new interactive game for phones.

Things go, things return. Just a couple of weeks ago I was looking through back numbers of Snakeskin, and thinking that one of my favourite numbers, our Pokemon special in June 2000, would never again be topical, and might be incomprehensible to younger readers.

I had not realised that the world of Pokemon, after its wild craze at the turn of the century as a trading card game, had persisted, at a lower level of fame,  in computer games and elsewhere. Now it’s back in the big-time, apparently, so let me remind you about our poetic tribute to it.


This began when K.M.Payne’s son, Spencer, became very interested in the strange creatures of the Pokemon world. Ken wrote some rather brilliant poems for him, and sent them to me at Snakeskin. As a teacher of young teenagers, I had also come across the card game and rather liked it, so I joined in with some parodies, showing how a few major poets might have responded to Pokemon. And Phil Barker sent us a nice poem about Avem Frigidum.

The issue is Snakeskin 55, and can be found here:

This is one of the issues now properly restored in the Snakeskin archive. I’ve worked my way through quite a few of the issues now, but there is still plenty more to do. It’s enjoyable work, though. I’m amazed by the range and quality of the work we have published over the years.


June 15, 2016

His mind a toxic bubbling mess
of envy, spite and righteousness,
dark self-disgust and wounded pride,
he tries to ease the pain inside
by, from a harsh and ancient creed,
selecting parts that match his need.
There is no kind of crazy hate
the Internet won’t validate,
so he absorbs the oratory
of men as rancorous as he
and, desperate, grabs at the excuse
to turn his bitter feelings loose,
to try to ease his tortured brain
by making others share his pain.
Young people dancing do not guess
the sight of them gives him distress;
they cause him hurt by having fun.
Omar Mateen buys a gun.


Welcome to Britain

August 28, 2015

Today Snakeskin’s essayist, Bruce Bentzman arrives in Britain (with of course Ms. Keogh, his more significant other) to begin a new  life in Wales.

Being a Patrick O’Brian fan, he has crossed the Atlantic by sea, and has already sent dispatches indicating that he has noted the regular flashes of the Portland Bill lighthouse. He also had a taste of Britain on board, when served a pint of London Pride beer. It was not to his liking. (I warn you, Bruce, you’ll find many worse pints in Wales.)

Once established in Wales, Bruce will, of course, continue his series of essays.

When he moved from suburbia, he changed the title of the series from ‘Suburban Soliloquies’ to ‘From the Night Factory’.  What we have to consider is – should he mark this new change in his affairs with a new title.

‘Welsh Whimsies’?

‘A Yank Abroad’?

‘Transatlantic Themas’?

Doubtless he will think of something.

Meanwhile – Bruce, welcome  to Britain. I think you’re going to like it here.

Flash Mob Song

August 27, 2011

Here’s another topical poem, by Melanie Houle:

Flash Mob Song

Hi-ho, the merry drink to darkness,
raise the flask to trash and flame.
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
No one here has got a name.

Ring around the bricks and torches,
reel the roving bacchanal
of shattered glass and bleeders fleeing.
Fire it up and watch it fall.

Dance the down-the-alley dash,
sing Armageddon-raptured rhyme.
Now the plague ship’s in the harbour,
we say: it’s the fire this time.

Melanie Houle