Martin Rowson

Martin Rowson

Martin Rowson is a multi-award-winning cartoonist, writer and broadcaster. Photo: Fred Rowson.

Plague Songs
Wednesday, 31 March 2021 12:26

Plague Songs

Published in Poetry

In May 2020 the award-winning cartoonist Martin Rowson set himself the challenge of writing a Lockdown Diary in verse. The result is Plague Songs, a unique cycle of furious, bleakly comic and often offensive poems about COVID-19, fiercely inventive and desperately funny. Rowson, who recovered from the virus at the start of the year (‘sweating in freezing fits, embalmed in bed/ In sulphurous miasmata, my joints like broken walnuts,/ With hogtied eyeballs and less energy than dissipating smoke’) records in manic verse the long lockdown Summer of 2020 – coughs and sneezes, lockdown-haircuts, funerals and furloughs, hangovers and hauntings, track and trace, when Death and Pestilence were playing on the swings and visiting the elderly in their Care Homes.

Plague Songs is also book about living in Banarnia – a nightmarish world of jingoism and xenophobia, hierarchy and inequality, government incompetence, Boris Johnson’s world-beating wet dreams, and the deadly twin viruses of stupidity and selfishness. What rhymes with COVID except bovid? Is Matt Hancock the Tory Party’s answer to Fred West? Does every shroud have a silver lining?

Plague Songs is also available here on CD, set to music by Welsh musician and playwright Jon Tregenna.

Recalled to Life

by Martin Rowson

You’ve been stuck indoors so long you’re Monte Christo’d,
Scratched days runed on the walls,
Your eyes Ben Gunning madly,
So stir crazy now most mornings you can’t stir.

You’ve been stuck inside so long you’ve gone full Withnail
Breakfast every morning
From last night’s takeout’s tinfoil
Cold Korma which you spoon in with a shoehorn

You’ve been stuck inside so long that you’ve Rasputined,
Charles Manson in the mirror,
Homer Simpsoned in your y-fronts
De-evolving til you’re now the Missing Link

You’ve been stuck indoors so long you’ll Dr Manette,
But you’ve been recalled to life!
The shops have opened! There’s a fire sale
On strait-jackets and shrouds on down the High Street!

Cover image: Martin Rowson

Shakespearean Tragedy
Tuesday, 17 November 2020 09:38

Shakespearean Tragedy

Published in Poetry
Shakespearean Tragedy
 
by Martin Rowson, with image by Martin Gollan
 
They've painted King Lear Orange!
He's mad as mad can be!
Divides the state! Will Ivanka
Be given Tennessee?
 
They've painted Hamlet Orange!
Does that arras hide Pence?
Does Dad still haunt? Melania!
Got to a nunnery hence!
 
Othello too is Orange!
With Green Eyed Monster pout
Paranoia drives him mad!
Melania! Watch out!
 
They've painted King Lear Orange!
On and on he rages!
I know this is Shakespearean
But it goes on for ages!
 
They painted Hamlet Orange!
To quit or not to quit
Has never even crossed his mind.
This soliloquy's shit!
 
Now Caesar's also Orange!
Though stabbed any amount
He yells at the conspirators
"Fake News! Recount! Recount!"
 
And King Lear is still Orange
Beneath the roaring sky!
It's Tragedy, so let's assume
Eventually he'll die.
 
Although Hamlet's still Orange!
And still he won't decide!
But Christ! This is a Tragedy!
Isn't it time he died?
 
Falstaff, Prince Hal, Mark Antony!
All Orange too! What class!
But though we all love Tragedy
Being replayed as Farce
 
Paint no more heroes Orange:
Such work need not detain us.
Just drop the first three syllables

From off "Coriolanus".

Beethoven's Fifth
Saturday, 14 November 2020 08:32

Beethoven's Fifth

Published in Poetry

Beethoven’s Fifth

by Martin Rowson

Dom Dom
                 Is gone
Dom Dom
                Is gone
Dom Dom Dom Dom
Dom Dom Dom Dom
Dom Dom Dom Dom
Dom Dom
               Is gone
To play Minecraft under
Michael Gove’s bed
              And recount the moon,
While in his mind his enemies
Are crushed by great machines.
              Bless.

Armistice Day
Wednesday, 11 November 2020 12:45

Armistice Day

Published in Poetry

Armistice Day

by Martin Rowson

Six whole months ago today
I opened up a Second Front
All of my own, my little war
To bear witness and raise morale
Through tiny actions, slogans daubed
On to a burnt-out outhouse wall,
Seditious homilies on cards
Inserted into library books,
And hieroglyphs stencilled beneath
The moon's face, masked with fleeting clouds,
Over another poster of some square-jawed heroine.

And who knows? I may graduate
To cutting the telegraph wires,
Blowing up overgrown branch lines,
Taking potshots at a general
Sipping pastis in a café
But merely singe the epaulettes
Of one of his young aides-de-camp.

Although my co-conspirator
Had disappeared after day one,
Either shot or conscripted by
One of the several ignorant
Armies that get crass each night,
Or scarecrowed on the barbed wire like
A pallid Wykehamist poet,
Or fled through furtive channels to
Drink absinthe through the afternoon
Outside squalid bars in Irun,
Or turning tricks in Lisbon and
Insanely imagining that
Tomorrow there will be a berth
Towards a Brave New World.

But still, today's Armistice Day,
The day they say the guns fall quiet,
Although the dead keep mounting up,
The refugees cower in their camps,
Boarded up in bomb-proof shelters,
Huddling in a fresh shell crater
While rumours multiply like lice,
Of traitors, tyrants, potions or
Of secret weapons, great new breakthroughs,
Final outcomes, Victory at last...
Though over what remains unclear:
The war aims remain to pursue
The War Aims. For King and Empire,
Queen and Country, or whatever
Construct now pertains for that old
Quagmire, moating a mud island
Covered with stockades of donkeys
All of an ancient pedigree
Braying, like they always have, long
Into the crackling night beside
Full mangers made of solid gold.

But even if the Armistice
Should turn out to be real, and holds,
Despite all previous ceasefires being broken
With all the martial rallying cries
More stinking wasted breath as more
Fresh corpses give up further ghosts;
But even if it holds, what then?

If you've caught the cut of Armistices' jibs
You already should know what's coming next:
After the emperors' tumblings, then the coups,
Then the final clenched-teeth admission that
Futility is the least of war's flaws,
The Peace Conference, the bragging revenge,
The brutal reparations, how they'll bodge
Reimposing pre-War status quos,
The civil wars, the famines, revolutions,
The unemployment, the hunger marches,
The hollow hopelessness of promises
Of a land fit for heroes anyone
Could then look in the eye and not feel shame,
The lock-outs, means tests, shack towns, bread lines, wars,
The bank runs, market crashes, then the Nazis
And the re-run, and the
Re-run after that,
And never ever closer to the cracked
And sun-bleached uplands in the bleary distance.

So all in all hug this war close
In case it wrestles free to run
Capering away, laughing at
The looks upon our faces.

And me? I'm working up to digging trenches.

The Migrants
Thursday, 29 October 2020 10:16

The Migrants

Published in Poetry

The Migrants

by Martin Rowson

In the hot stifling tiny room
The cold dead eyes blanked
     Even an iota
Of their torment or their tears
Or their mourning as the dead voice
     Catechized on quotas,
Spoke flatly of the processes,
Rules, restrictions, retributions,
     The penalties compounded by each error,
The limits on their movements,
The denial of information,
     The incremental, automatic ratchetting of terror
Until, right at the end,
The mask slipped for an instant
     As they stood to be led out and their feet began to burn:
The demon scratched its horns and shrugged
And mumbled, "I just don't get it.
     When will these klutzes ever learn?
Why do they keep on coming here at all?
Ah well. Funny old world." The demon coughed into the sulphurous air
     And picked up a pile of ledgers
As on the wall behind it
The current Hell Secretary's portrait
     Got crisper at its edges
While they were led away
To a distant pit, to wait. And wait. And wait
     And wait among rank upon innumerable rank
Of those who'd made it this far,
Far further than the corpses washing through the clinker
     And clumping along the Styx's opposite bank.

Cultural Marxism
Tuesday, 27 October 2020 08:15

Cultural Marxism

Published in Poetry

Cultural Marxism

by Martin Rowson

I met a Cultural Marxist
Who took me to Swan Lake
"Those swans denote the Class War!"
Quoth he. I found his take
Compelling if naive, but now
I'm told it's a disgrace
By a Cultural Fascist
Who then shot me in the face.

Team Song
Thursday, 15 October 2020 08:32

Team Song

Published in Poetry

Team Song

by Martin Rowson

You put your tender in!
You drive your rivals out!
You send in your consultants
When the money's thrown about!
You put the Hokey-Covid
In your Turnover
That's what it's all about!

Whooooaaaaaaa! Hokey-hokey-Covid!
Wheeeeeeeeeeee! Hokey-hokey-Covid!
Phwaaaoooooor! Hokey-hokey-Covid!
Knees bent
Boots filled
Ra-ra-ra!

You drive the numbers up!
You keep the proles locked down!
Send in more consultants
Who can go to town
Getting the Hokey-Covid
In our Turnover
That's what it's all about!

Phwoooooaaaaaaar! Hokey-hokey-Covid!
Phheeeeeeeeeeeeew! Hokey-hokey-Covid!
Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Hokey-hokey-Covid!
Lungs clogged
Boots filled
Ra-ra-ra!

We'll fuck up track and trace
But everything is fine!
The 'R' rate's on the rise
But so's the bottom line!
We've got the Hokey-Covid
In our Turnover
That's what it's all about!

Seeeeeeeeeeeeerco-key-hokey-Covid!
Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiido-key-hokey-Covid!
Seeeeeeeeeeeeeerco-key-hokey-Covid!
Chums in
Boots filled
Ra-ra-ra!

Eden
Friday, 09 October 2020 09:13

Eden

Published in Poetry

Eden

by Martin Rowson

Some years ago George Monbiot
Told me his rewilding schemes,
Worthy and exquisite plans
For reconnecting rootless we
With the Eden in us all,

With our internal wilderness
Caught inside, like Milton said,
And trapped in dreams or yearning hope,
But with his help we can break out
Of our enclosed hearts.

And although Covid's done its best
To batter at the balustrades
Of human hubris, then as now
Nature still requires some help
From her murderers' hands.

Enlightening landowners was,
He said, the way to dam against
The ecocidal flood now washing
Through the laceholes of our boots
And corroding all our souls.

There was a problem though, he said.
The landowners all loved his schemes,
And saw them as a final chance
To clear out all their tenants so
A hundred wastelands bloom.

Which goes to show that, while poor George
Rambles on the path to hell,
His knapsack spilling good intentions
Like breadcrumbs in the hungry woods,
Eden's just bolus in the serpent's guts.

See here

Form and Content
Thursday, 01 October 2020 11:41

Form and Content

Published in Poetry

Form and Content

by Martin Rowson

Today is National Poetry Day, so I must now inform
The World that she whom I adore, she who keeps me warm,
Hates my verse, abhors my rhymes, thinks my scansion gorm-
Less.
My love, alas, approves the content but deplores the form.

What I see as a refuge from the wild, encircling storm,
She sees as simply stinkier than a Belgian borstal dorm
And drippier than the rubber trees in a short story by Maugham.
Alas, my love approves the content but deplores the form.

It gets yet worse: not only does my verse underperform
Because it's written, so she claims, in ways outside the norm;
I think she thinks it should be eaten by a locust swarm.
My love, alas, approves the content but deplores the form.

Our daughter's worse, for she believes ALL poetry is grim;
Thinks trying to express your thoughts and feelings thus is lame,
Which leads me, with great sorrow, to conclude we must assume
She really hates the content AND truly deplores the form.

Me? I think that my poor verses have a certain chorm,
And by and large I kid myself that they do little horm.
Moreover they've a neutral impact on my huge incorm,
So I approve their content and I approve their form!

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