(Listen to the poem here)
They thought it was a good idea
to put the Nile Perch into Lake Victoria.
Such a convenient and clever thing
to have so many fish steaks
quickly growing at the bottom of the road.
The way it grew so quick, they found, was by
devouring everything in sight and in mouth’s way.
Two hundred species used to live
inside the lake, and now they’ve gone,
mostly by means of being nileperch lunches.
They had a wide range of activities:
leaf-choppers, mud-biters, scale-scrapers,
snail-crushers, cleaners, rammers –
it sounds like an industrious, antique village square.
Words do a lot of different things as well.
There are those which, day in day out,
beaver away producing common senses tirelessly,
some weasel down the tunnels in our thoughts
and cast light on our contradictions,
to ferret out the deeper sense of life
some mostly horse around, some
badger you with duals, tenses or subjunctives
which you have never really learnt,
and some dog you down lanes,
up hills, back to your house, lie
down inside your flowerbeds and bark
so that you don’t forget them.
Some ape exotic things.
Some squirrel definitions thriftily
away into their wordbook entries
until they have a treeful.
Some are like unicorns, fabled
to exist somewhere in unheard tongues.
Some regular in seasonality like those
flocks of migrating words which
fly over our heads at Christmas-
All those red-chested merries and the goodwills
and those amazing frankincenses.
Then one week later you have the resolutions,
(not the conference species, quite another bird,
which never does get off the ground,
but New Year’s Resolutions) so glorious when they soar
but quite incapable of landing properly.
Other words fly over China, Iran
and India at different times,for different festivals
and no one ever has discovered where
they spend the rest of the year.
Some words flounder, some crab, some kid,
some hare away, some hound, some goose,
some try to duck and then find that they are born to swan about.
Some are seen but once in a hundred years.
Some only heard at night
in lovers’ beds.
Some words like riverrun,
developed by feverish
breeders in Trieste or Zurich,
make one appearance and then
vanish, foreseeably for almost ever.
Some I have looked for high and low,
like cat’s-paw – for a light breeze
giving the slightest ruffle to the surface of the sea-
and have glimpsed only fleetingly.
Others like my Italian favourite
abbambinare, – to make something
heavy like a wardrobe or a marble block
stutter along one wobbling edge after another
like a bambina or bambino
new to walking –
I have never ever seen up close
in the wild
but only on page two of
And then there are the
so convenient to have words which can
go together in any order
without the need to think:
just pour a powerpint or two
even a gallon,
into a jug, stir well and
you become a instant Jargonaut,
a Catherine Wheel of
Or even better just get out a skewer,
impale ten nouns together in a row
and go. It ‘s easy
and it’s instant
(and every month new flavours !).
It could mean anything
you want at different times.
It takes on any shape you like-
it’s just like goo.
You are well on your way
to join those people I have heard,
with faces laced both tight and straight,
swear they will root out overlap and duplication
proceed with incremental decrements
and find a way which is completely voluntary
to undertake a mandatory obligation.
That’s just step one, keep at it
and with some practice value-adding
naught and naught and naught
(“Don’t worry”, I heard one say,
“it isn’t even mathematics,
it’s just arithmetic”.)
and then hitting deliverables and outcomes
on the outputting green
you’ll learn to make
your own proquacktive
enclaptrapment enabling environment where you
can whoknowswhatify pure whirlwind nothingness
with the best of them.
But bear in mind, while you still have one,
that all this substanceless abuse- carries a price
if you’re mainstreaming – or is that mainlining ?-
this kind of stuff and sharing
NPW’s there is a damn good chance
your common sparrowwords will all succumb.
Sheepish and cowed they’ll go to slaughter
and with nothing but those vile perchwords in your head
you’ll have no way to tell nonsense from sense
and then you’ll start to buy your sell
-always the point of no return.
It keeps on getting worse and worse:
you thought your head was just amazing
on automatic but now it has no exits it is just a maze-
with perchwords prowling everywhere.
And they’re a voracious lot.
They’ll gobble up your reason and your doubts
Your Lake Victorias will all turn into routs.
You ll find you can’t speak normal but just strange
your brain will be enweirded into a brange
with recollections, very dim, of verbs like… was it cod ?
…Or halibut ? but later on you will not even find it odd
in fact there’s is absolutely nothing you will find:
by then they will have finished gobbling up your
Phillip Hill 2007
(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from