Tuesday poem: ‘Backcountry’

by Louis Jenkins

“When you are in town, wearing some kind of uniform is helpful,
policeman, priest, etc. Driving a tank is very impressive, or a car
with official lettering on the side. If that isn’t to your taste you
could join the revolution, wear an armband, carry a homemade flag
tied to a broom handle, or a placard bearing an incendiary slogan.

At the very least you should wear a suit and carry a briefcase and a
cell phone, or wear a team jacket and a baseball cap and carry a cell
phone. If you go into the woods, the backcountry, someplace past
all human habitation, it is a good thing to wear orange and carry a
gun, or, depending on the season, carry a fishing pole, or a camera
with a big lens. Otherwise it might appear that you have no idea
what you are doing, that you are merely wandering the earth, no
particular reason for being here, no particular place to go.”

I hadn’t encountered Louis Jenkins’ prose poetry before last week, when the great British actor Mark Rylance won a Tony Award in New York for his extraordinary performance in the Broadway production of “Jerusalem”. And as his acceptance speech, he recited (if that’s the right word in this context) one of Louis Jenkins’ poems – as, I discovered, Rylance had also done when he won his first Tony Award in 2008. So I looked up Louis Jenkins and fell for his work in a heartbeat. It contains that alluring combination of apparent craziness and sanity that builds and contradicts itself so cleverly that at first it seems to encourage laughter, uncertainty and the suspension of disbelief in equal measures and ends up striking a deep and resonant note of truth. I can’t imagine what I’ve done without Jenkins’ work all these years.

“Walking through a wall” is the poem he recited in New York last week, and it’s a humdinger of a poem – worth seeking out, and if you do have a look at Louis Jenkins’ website. But to keep you amused meantime here’s a YouTube recording of Rylance reciting ‘Backcountry” to the Tony Awards audience in 2008. I particularly enjoyed the almost palpable audience reaction in the background building in confusion, near-hysteria and uncertainty as they try to work out what the hell he’s doing. (You can imagine the whispers running through the auditorium: is he mad? could he be drunk? what is happening? To which the answer is simple: nope, none of the above, he’s just reciting a poem by Louis Jenkins…)

One thing – I assume that Jenkins’ poems are supposed to be presented justified right and left – well, try telling that to WordPress. I did everything I could think of, and it wouldn’t work. You’ll just have to imagine the poem in that fashion, and close your mind to that irritating little hanging “cell” that I also couldn’t get rid of …

My thanks (and apologies for the layout blips) to Louis Jenkins for permission to post his poem.

Now maybe you’ll have a look at the Tuesday Poem web page and enjoy the other poems.

4 Responses to “Tuesday poem: ‘Backcountry’”

  1. Kathleen Jones Says:

    I really love this Belinda – thanks for introducing me to this poet.

  2. admin Says:

    I’m so glad you like him too – quite a find, I agree!

  3. Des Cannon Says:

    Yea, he got me at hello a few minutes ago too, via Mark Rylance. This was the first place I could find the words to “Backcountry” online, so ta for that too Belinda…

  4. admin Says:

    I’m very pleased about that – his work fills me with delight.

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