At times we wondered where emerging Scottish poets went
between tweets, but we soon learned not to ask questions
affecting personal security. They’d find ways to keep body
and soul together if we shut up: they’d caterwaul hymns
to hospital patients for half a crown an hour. Why don’t
we update units of time like we update units of money?
An hour should be an anachronism by this time. If poets
were paid according to what they’re worth, the literary
economy would flatline, leaving arts cash to manufacture
the four nuclear submarines politicians keep promising,
a writer-in-residence for each. Doncha see the future
brightening like a golden sunset? The future is in capable
hands, between tweets. Headlines are a kind of poetry,
that’s what we think. Shut up, everyone says, you don’t
know anything, you just think things. Poetry collections,
they know, are a dying medium. Except, we think, for
those who read them. No matter, check out the new
dot-to-dot sonnet spray-painted on a dying leopard.
The neon pink of a baboon’s backside is a kind of poem,
doncha know? Check out the Higher English syllabus,
my ode to missile loaders. Oh, I’m so excited! Emerging
Scottish readers are the latest anachronism, between
updates. Why aren’t people allocated celebrity status
just for reading a lot? Spoken Word is a kind of poetry,
that’s what they know. Doncha wish the future was hot
like poetry? We watch it brighten with a flash and bang.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2020. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2020 was Janette Ayachi.
Mackenzie always seems to manage to blend the dichotomy between seriousness and humour with irrevocable style; prodding us to question what it is we should take seriously at all, and, this poem is no different; with a lace-up of double-entendres and clever lyrical dips in language, embedding pop song lyrics alongside the political climate, popular culture with the slightly surreal. Meticulous in craft and measurement, riddled in the immediacy of now with a voice that does overall speak to the future of poetry, and all its glossy associations, which are documented on the surface in the poet’s ‘book of revelations’.
‘The Future’ is a satire on the poetry industry. The very word ‘industry’ fills me with dread and revulsion when applied to poetry, which is an art, not a career. It’s guaranteed to suck the fun out of any poem. I have a similar dislike of literary biz words like ‘creative’ (when used as a noun), ‘emerging’ etc. Many establishment poets and organisations – those who benefit from grants, residencies and commissions – do fantastic work, but sometimes it feels that those trappings easily become more significant in people’s minds than the work itself. Often, a poet’s carefully manufactured, performative, social media persona gets more attention than their poems. ‘The Future’ is a deliberate exaggeration with a ridiculous Pussycat Dolls soundtrack, which reflects my sympathy with the creative underground, a corresponding impatience with the bland, over-commercialised mainstream, and a rebuke to myself whenever I feel tempted by its obvious rewards.