The barman's calloused fingers drowned
Some pint pots in the sink. 'You've found
      The place, ' he sneered.
'The poets meet down here. I've not
Much time for them myself: the lot
      Seem bloody weird.'

I smiled and sipped the pale Brew Ten
He'd served me with. I gasped and then
      Stifled a curse.
It tasted like the year-old stale
Of prisoners in a Turkish gaol,
      But even worse.

Once in my seat close by the door,
I watched the gathered poets for
      I hoped to find
Amongst this scruffy brotherhood a
Talent as golden as the Buddha,
      Full and refined.

But what I saw made cold despair
Clutch at my fearful heart. Was there
      From Dante's Hell
A line appropriate? Lasciate
Ogni speranza voi ch'entrate

      Suited it well.

With cardboard folders underneath
Their arms, the poets (all called Keith,
      Kevin or Terry)
Sat round and talked of Nostradamus,
Janacek, Breughel, Kingsley Amis
      And Bryan Ferry.

Some dealt in verse that spoke of Brothers,
Class War and Revolution; others
      (Mainly professional
Bohemians from the middle-classes
Peering at life through horn-rimmed glasses)
      Kept theirs confessional.

Their audience was made of lonely
Misfits from bedsits, some friends only
      There to applaud,
Plus a few students. One or two
Had even brought their girlfriends who
      Were very bored.

Amongst these lovers of the Muse
(Now three-deep at the bar for booze)
      Did they but know it
Stood one who thought his work Homeric,
Shakespearean. I speak of Eric,
      The Half-a-Poet.

Eric the Half-a-Poet's zeal
For dull free verse is our ordeal:
      False and inert,
His efforts are as pleasing as
Finding a pinch of powdered glass
      In your dessert.

Unfruitful as the Artic or
Ejaculations premature,
      His inspiration
Shoots forth in greasy spurts, then dribbles
From platitudes to puns to quibbles,
      Sans penetration.

When Eric reads the audience sleeps
(Some go to pee). You ask what keeps
      This great abuser
Of words, despite this, scribbling on?
Easy. Thick skin. The sine qua non
      Of a born loser.

I should have left but thought I'd wait
A minute longer. Then - too late!
      A balding man
With a guitar began to strum.
The room went silent. I went numb.
      The show began.

K. M. Payne

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