Prize Poem

A sketch from A Bit of Fry & Laurie

Typical comprehensive school office. Stephen is a headmaster. He looks worried. There is a knock at the door. He looks up.

Stephen Come. Enter Hugh. Ah, Terry, come in, come in.

Hugh Thank you sir.

Stephen Well now, do you know why I sent for you?

Hugh Not really.

Stephen Not really? Not really? Well, let me see. Firstly, let me congratulate you on winning the School Poetry Prize.

Hugh Thank you sir.

Stephen Mr Drip tells me that it was the most mature and exciting poem that he has ever received from a pupil. Don't suck your thumb boy.

Hugh I'm not, sir.

Stephen No, no. It was just a piece of general advice for the future.

Hugh Oh I see.

Stephen Now Terry. Terry, Terry, Terence. I've read your poem, Terry. I can't pretend to be much of a judge of poetry, I'm an English teacher, not a homosexual. But I have to say it worried me.

Hugh Oh?

Stephen Yes, worried me. I have it here, um: "Inked Ravens of Despair Claw Holes In The Arse Of The World's Mind", I mean what kind of a title is that?

Hugh It's my title sir.

Stephen "Arse Of The World's Mind"? What does that mean? Are you unhappy about something?

Hugh Well I think that's what the poem explores.

Stephen Explores? Explores! Oh it explores does it? I see. "Scrotal threats unhorse a question of flowers", I mean, what's the matter boy? Are you sickening for something? Or is it a girl? Is that the root of it?

Hugh Well, it's not something I can explain, sir, it's all in the poem.

Stephen It certainly is all in the poem. "I asked for answers and got a headful of heroin in return." Now. Terry. Look at me. Who gave you this heroin? You must tell me: if this is the problem we must do something about it. Don't be afraid to speak out.

Hugh Well no one.

Stephen Terry. I'm going to ask you again. It's here. "I asked for answers and got a headful of heroin." Now Terry, this is a police matter. Speak out.

Hugh Sir, no one has given me heroin.

Stephen So this poem is a lie, is it? A fiction, a fantasy? What's happening?

Hugh No, it's all true, it's autobiographical.

Stephen Then, Terry, I must insist. Who has been giving you heroin? Another boy?

Hugh Well, sir, you have.

Stephen I have. I have? What are you talking about, you diseased boy? This is rank, standing impertinence. I haven't given anyone heroin. How dare you?

Hugh No, it's a metaphor.

Stephen Metaphor, how metaphor?

Hugh It means I came to school to learn, but I just get junk instead of answers.

Stephen Junk? What do you mean, the JMB syllabus is rigidly adh -

Hugh It's just an opinion.

Stephen Oh is it? And is this an opinion too? "When time fell wanking to the floor, they kicked his teeth". Time fell wanking to the floor? Is this just put in to shock or is there something personal you wish to discuss with me? Time fell wanking to the floor? What does that mean?

Hugh It's a quotation.

Stephen A quotation? What from? It isn't Milton and I'm pretty sure it can't be Wordsworth.

Hugh It's Bowie.

Stephen Bowie? Bowie?

Hugh David Bowie.

Stephen Oh. And is this David Bowie too: "My body disgusts, damp grease wafts sweat balls from sweat balls and thigh fungus", I mean do you wash?

Hugh Of course.

Stephen Then why does your body disgust you? It seems alright to me. I mean, why can't you write about meadows or something?

Hugh I've never seen a meadow.

Stephen Well, what do you think the imagination is for? "A girl strips in my mind, squeezes my last pumping drop of hope and rolls me over to sleep alone." You are fifteen, Terry, what is going on inside you?

Hugh That's what -

Stephen That's what the poem explores, don't tell me. I can't understand you, I can't understand you.

Hugh Well you were young once.

Stephen Yes, in a sense, of course.

Hugh Didn't you ever feel like that?

Stephen You mean did I ever want to "fireball the dead cities of the mind and watch the skin peel and warp"? Then, no, thankfully, I can say I did not. I may have been unhappy from time to time, if I lost my stamp album or broke a penknife, but I didn't write it all down like this and show it to people.

Hugh Perhaps it might have been better for you if you had.

Stephen Oh might it, young Terence? I suppose I am one of the "unhappy bubbles of anal wind popping and winking in the mortal bath" am I?

Hugh Well -

Stephen Your silence tells me everything. I am. I'm an unhappy bubble of anal wind.

Hugh That's just how I see it. That's valid.

Stephen Valid? Valid? You're not talking about a banknote, you're calling your headmaster an unhappy bubble of anal wind.

Hugh Well, I'm one too.

Stephen Oh well, as long as we're all unhappy bubbles of anal wind popping and winking in the mortal bath then of course there's no problem. But I don't propose to advertise the fact to parents. If this is poetry then every lavatory wall in Britain is an anthology. What about The Oxford Book Of Verse, where's that gone?

Hugh Perhaps that's the lavatory paper.

Stephen Is that clever?

Hugh I don't know.

Stephen I suppose it's another quotation from Derek Bowie is it? I don't understand any more, I don't understand.

Hugh Never mind, sir. You're a bit frustrated perhaps, it's a lonely job.

Stephen I am frustrated, yes. It is a lonely job. So lonely. I am assailed by doubts, wracked by fear.

Hugh Write it down.

Stephen Eh?

Hugh Write it down, get it out of your system. "Assailed by doubts, wracked by fear."

Stephen Yes, yes - you think? "Assailed by doubts and wracked by fear, tossed in a wrecked mucus foam of ... of ..."

Hugh Hatred?

Stephen Good, good. What about "steamed loathing"?

Hugh Better, you're a natural. Hugh slips away.

Stephen "... wrecked mucus foam of steamed loathing. Snot trails of lust perforate the bowels of my intent. Put on your red shoes, Major Tom, funk to flunky ... etc ... Fade out.

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