The Art of Conversation

listen to the poem

The art of conversation isn’t rugby,
I must remind myself at times,
or even shooting grouse, deer, moose or peccaries
If anything it is a bit like dominoes
with tiles you didn’t know you had,
whose shapes do tricks with space and time .Lay down a one and six, and see
it matched by six and twenty-seven,
but curving upwards forty five degrees,
and then, inside your sleeve, you find-
quite unexpectedly- you have a one and minus three,
which knows a hole through which to
slip  back into yesterday.
If you play carefully it’s very quickly interesting
and takes you out to places which you had not foreseen.
And in the end you find together
you have made a shape  which you would
never have prospected on your own;
something which stretches
into every corner of the room, from 1391 to Tuesday next,
(it’s hard work travelling to the future)
and runs out of the window along the beech tree’s boughs
across the ocean to that famous peak in Darien,
and then comes back passing in between the square
legs of King Arthur’s table, explores a badger’s den,
stops off a second at the local pub
and then shins up the drainpipe into
the bowl of soup your neighbour is eating-
but he won’t notice for he’s watching television.
The art of conversation. Further reading:
Appreciating other cultures;  4-dimensional topology in daily life (with exercises,; Making love as dialogue .
Too often though I find myself apparently
innocuous, but sporting hooded reptile eyes and thinking
“this bloke has gone on long, long, long, long, long enough it must be my turn
now”. And when I sense a hesitation I tackle
just below the knees, no way that he can keep his feet,
and now I have the ball, and off I go.
It doesn’t matter what you say just keep possession,
with your mouth,-
except it isn’t really rugby, is it ?-
you half-realize
(and always forget)
each time,
because there is no line where you can score. So you
must just keep running, for if you stop to think then…


Well, fret and stare a bit,
and do what the song says:
pick yourself up,
brush yourself off and
start all over again.
Or better not.
Rugby is fine till age eighteen after which time
you really should appreciate contention will not
get you anywhere you really want to be.

The Art of Conversation: Chapter 3- There is no score

So some of us take up shooting.
Around the table, we load our guns,
then just as the first…
“sentence” is what I was going to say,
but they never do get to their end,
always shot down by barrages of wit. Some people
even down each other’s sallies on the fly.
I have seen photographs in which
sterling lords, silver nabobs and pensive servants,
stare  from behind a pile of carcases above a
caption reading: 34 tigers, 200 mallards,
6 mahouts, 98 partridges and a passing pear tree
and noticed the glazing on the gazes of the pounds
and bobs, who seem to be groping for a question
they have spent their whole lives trying to locate
inside their heads with no success, which is,
politely phrased, What do I think I’m doing ?
And sometimes after dinners full of wit
I’ve felt the same. Amazing just how clever
we can be. Such a display of marksmanship.
But could some of those riddled and limp sentences
have had something to say ?

The Art of Conversation: Chapter 2 – Wit is a condiment.

Stopping in time can be an art as well and cleverness
is not too good at it. It has a dozen forward gears,
begets inventions by the score, but never has heard
of reverse. So when it gets you stuck inside
a swamp (and think of all the catastrophically ingenious ways we are),
it gives a thumbs-up, blows kisses at its own reflection
in the rear-view mirror, steps on the pedal
and plunges further in and deeper down.
We should mark off one day, at least , on which we all decide
we shall abstain from glibness and the arrogance
of thinking that we know, on which no one shall make a speech,
and we restrict ourselves to asking for the salt or similar conceits –
a day for listening, on which we shall give time
to children, who sometimes seem to be wiser than
we’ll ever be again, consider the stories
deep in the eyes of animals, track the sounds
made by the growing of the grass,
(not that preposterous, we’ve never really tried),
stand next to rivers, fountains, under rain and hear the songs of
places water has been on its endless travels
or think of all the winding wisdom trees have stored
within their rings from ages
well before our great-great-great grandparents
learnt to walk. Breathe quietly. That’s it.

That’s all.

The Art of Conversation: Chapter One – Your Ears.


 Phillip Hill 2007


(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from

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