There is a type of  TV programme that shows ‘real-life’ car chases, with policemen who are absolutely determined to get their man (it’s always a man). They don’t give up, even when the quarry crashes the car,  jumps out and vaults several fences through back-yards and runs up and down narrow alleys. And all this this time he is being chased by several police officers, sometimes with dogs (you’re paying for all this as a taxpayer, so… ‘enjoy’). He is also followed from above by a night-time camera mounted on a helicopter. The camera has some kind of hi-tech night-time lens and this converts everything into a weird other-worldly scenario, in which houses, fences, roads and alleyways show up in varying blacks and greys, while our intrepid fugitive appears as a kind of vague human form in ghostly white. 

It never struck me before how much this night-time odyssey could be seen as a metaphor for Life itself.  How much the ghostly white smudge confronting various obstacles in its path could be … us, as we try to deal with our destinies. It didn’t strike, that is, until I read Niall O’Sullivan’s poem ‘The Limit’ some time ago in his collection ‘ you’re not singing anymore’. Of course I now wish I’d sat down and examined that premonition I had that there was more to this ‘real-life’ police-chase TV footage than just its ‘reality’. If I had, I might have written a poem just as good as Niall’s. But I didn’t. Damn him!

This poem appeared recently as a ‘poem of the week’ on the ‘flipped eye’ site (, so you can read it and hear it there. By kind permission from Niall I also include it here:

The Limit

300ft above the Hanger Lane gyratory,

a police helicopter breaches the cusp of its jurisdiction

and sweeps from the sunset to the dusk

towards the crowded towers of the South Acton Estate.

The engine’s growl seeps into the bedroom

of my brother’s Acton flat,

I hate that sound, he says to me

as he changes baby Ossian.

Makes it feel like a police state.

I tell him about apolice chase show

I saw on TV, how those choppers are kitted out

with infra re heat seeking cameras

if one ever hooks onto you

the best thing to do is to keep running,

jump garden fences, kick guard dogs in the face,

ignore the shreds that rose bushes rip from your skin,

use one-way systems to your advantage

make that high-risk sprint across the motorway,

keep zig-zagging ’til that chopper runs out of fuel,

only then is it safe to hide and form your strategy.

Still, you could never escape that low hum

and the message it broadcasts into every living room,

which means nothing to baby Ossian,

four weeks on this earth and enchanted

by black paper shapes blu-tacced to the wall.

Let his happy monosyllables bless us all,

it’s still a while until he tests the vanity

of a newly minted tooth against

the rude geometry of a wooden block.

Let us keep our minds away from the sies until then.

Niall O'Sullivan

… Niall O’Sullivan, from his collection ‘you’re not singing anymore’, published by ‘flipped eye publishing’, London. Niall is the host of the weekly (Tuesdays) open mic ‘Poetry Unplugged’ at the Poetry Cafe in Betterton Street in London, which is always, ALWAYS, worth a visit.

The ‘list’ poem is not really a poem at all, just a list of things the poet finds interesting and thinks you might find ‘interesting’ too. The hope is that the combined weght (or attractiveness, or ‘zaniness’, or whatever) of the images will act in an accumulative way on the reader’s head and ‘transport’ him/her … somewhere. In many cases the overall effect is one of tediousness and, if it is along poem, one finds one’s eye beginning to race down the ‘list’ to see if there is any ‘outcome’ to all this verbal pyrotechnics. I’m not faulting a poem that goes off into a list in the workings of its

Pauline Fayne

 discourse (Ginsberg’s stuff), or one that actually ends up somewhere (‘God’s Grandeur’ by Hopkins). It’s ones like Thomas Hood’s ‘November’ that I have in mind, although it IS mercifully short. A poet friend, Pauline Fayne, published something recently which sums of my views much better than I could sum them up myself:


For toothache, swollen knees

and writer’s block —


For food cravings, fantasists

and unrepentant bigots–

nettle soup.

For hot flushes, apathy

and adolescent mood swings–

cold showers.

For posers, bullies

and apprentice saints–

all of the above.

For uninspired poets–

list poems.

Pauline Fayne, by kind permission

(This poem was voted ‘Poem of the Year 2009’ in Michael Flanagan’s long-running ‘Riposte’ poetry broadsheet)