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IN COMPETITION NO. 2001 you were invited to fill the bill as the future 'poet in residence' at the London Zoo.
Mishcon de Reya, Princess Diana's old solicitors, recently advertised for a poet in residence — £10,000 a year for half a day's work a week. That's just the ticket for me, I thought. I've won a poetry prize, I've lec- tured on poetry for the Workers' Educa- tional Association, and I'm Jaspistos! I made a few high-level telephone calls to assure smart references, 'the press was squared, the middle class was quite pre- pared', and applied. The printed form that came back was unblushingly ageist: 'We are looking for a young poet at the begin- ning of his/her career. . . ' So I don't think I'll put in for the Zoo job. If I did, and pre- sented an honest CV, it would state that I worked there as a food porter in the restaurant in the late Forties and that I found the inmates, in the long run, boring, except for the rats which we had great fun killing in the store-room.
The first five prizewinners, printed below, get £20 each, and the rest £10. The bonus bottle of Isle of Jura Single Malt Scotch whisky goes to D.A. Prince.
Hyenas scavenge: what they eat Is insects, carrion — that's dead And semi-rotting corpse-like meat.
(The cafeteria's straight ahead.)
The Coleoptera — to you
Dung beetles — have grown rather deft At raising young on piled-up poo.
(The lavatories are on the left.)
Sciuridae — grey squirrels — are
British, common, prone to fleas, And known as rats with good PR.
(The picnic site's beyond the trees.)
Panthera tigris can eat men -
Blake's `Tyger, tyger, burning bright' -
So keep your hands outside the pen.
(The first aid post is on the right.) (D.A. Prince) The oddest of creatures you'll see in this zoo Is no piglet, no tigger, no Winnie the Pooh, No leopard with spots, no camel with humps, No rhino with skin that's got sinister lumps, No butterfly stamping, no night-walking cat, No reptile that makes you cry, 'What on earth's that?', No quaint armadillo, no tame marmoset, No, none of those monkeys you'd want as a pet, No parrot that's sick, no peacock that's proud, No penguin that waddles along with the crowd, No dodo, no phoenix, no pobble with toes, Not even a dong with a luminous nose: All these creatures are thanking their lucky old stars That they're safely caged in behind strong iron bars.
Look around: the most dangerous beast here is you - You two-legged hooligan herds of yahoo. (Robert Roberts) The predatory centipede Has ugly, hairy legs, Unlike the vegan millipede Whose legs are smooth as eggs; But give them each a little drink, For neither is TT, And centipede and millipede Will quickly legless be. (David Heaton) A peculiar beast is this Camel: It'll take you as far as a tram'll, But the ride's very bumpy, And when it feels humpy There's not a more obstinate mammal.
These Cats, since they're kept in captivity, Will tend to smell musky and civety; And so, dear, will you When you're locked in a zoo And deprived of all kinds of activity.
This Hedgehog curls up in his spines And sleeps as the autumn declines; To which sensible course The drawback perforce Is waiting five months till he dines.
(Paul Griffin) Hail, passers-by, who day by day Mark every move we make.
It's not by choice we sit on show For entertainment's sake; We did not choose to quit our homes, Your brothers drove us out, And now we've time to contemplate What progress is about.
Come, watch us nurse our children who Have never known a tree, And as we shuffle here and there, Think what your world will be.
Laugh not too loudly at us apes Who tear our food and chew; But for an accident of fate, We might be watching you. (Frank McDonald) Leopard Frustration fuels my restless pacing; My presence here's contingent; So when I turn my back, beware: I'm fiercely retromingent. (Watson Weeks) You stop. You stare. Us hideous?
`How can you warthogs want to mate with one another?'
We stare right back at you, damn you.
You look utterly revolting, damn you.
My mate is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!
(Denis Young) The Hippo's an unlovely brute, Huge, sluggish and irresolute; But don't smile so smugly - Though you think him ugly, His Momma, no doubt, thinks he's cute.