Joe Dunthorne’s Cheery Threats

Joe Dunthorne’s poem ‘Sweetheart underwater’ appeared in The Poetry Review, Vol. 107, No 1, Spring 2017.

Side A

Mixtapes have to start with a banger. So let’s begin with ‘The News’ by Arda Collins and one of my favourite first lines:

At last, terror has arrived.

I like poems that explore our relationship with (and lust for) bad news. One of my favourite live poetry recordings is of Frank O’Hara reading his poem about Lana Turner.

New York Post, Feb. 9, 1962, page 5. The inspiration for O’Hara’s Lana Turner poem.

So the legend goes, he wrote this poem on the Staten Island ferry, on his way to the reading, after buying the New York Post and seeing the article pictured left.

By reading a seemingly frivolous, funny poem that he had only just written, O’Hara was also sending a coded fuck you to the event’s organiser, Robert Lowell, whose poetry O’Hara didn’t like. You have to respect the lengths a poet will go to belittle a colleague.

That O’Hara poem is not the best O’Hara poem and nor is it, weirdly, the best poem written on the Staten Island ferry. The would be this untitled poem by Joshua Beckman, from a sequence called ‘Let The People Die‘.

Side B

More bangers. This poem by Susan Beasley conjures universal loneliness from an upbeat list about the characteristics of the capybara.

Then another New York poem. Another funny bad news poem. A great new one from Michael Robbins.

The pinnacle of finding good humour in a bad situation must be Kenneth Koch’s famous reading at St Mark’s Poetry Project. While he was in the middle of reading a poem, a man in the audience stood up, said “stop” then fired a gun at him. The ultimate heckle. The bullets were blanks, though Koch didn’t know it at the time, which is what makes his witty responses so impressive. The gunman was part of an anarchist group called Up Against The Wall, Mother Fuckers.

Here’s an incredible recording of that interrupted reading. (You have to click on “audio” and then scroll down to track 17, titled “To my audience”.)

To finish, here’s ‘GPS’ by Frances Leviston. I love this poem, particularly the final lines. They explore the attraction of disaster, of getting lost, and the comfort that comes with hypothermia.

Lie down there in that drift,
little girl, you’re feeling strangely warm,

and something big is about to make sense
if we just keep going in the opposite direction.

Joe Dunthorne. photo by Tom Medwell

Joe Dunthorne was born and brought up in Swansea. He has published two novels, Submarine and Wild Abandon. A pamphlet of his poems was published by Faber & Faber in 2010. His third novel, The Adulterants, will be published by Hamish Hamilton in February 2018.