Posted by: John Looker | 23 November, 2012

AMBASSADOR

I’m returning to my series of poems looking at life through work:

AMBASSADOR

All she’s worked for over the years,
all that progress, thrown away
in ignorance. She addresses her peers,
seated with the flags of all the nations,
in words they thought she’d never say.

 … we have therefore reconsidered …

Back home, it seems, her reputation
has been undermined at last; known
detractors show scant appreciation
of the shifting terrain on which she builds;
her patient counsel is overthrown.

 and the evidence for this
has only recently become apparent 

No need to ask herself who wields
the pivotal influence now, or whose
may be the keen ambition that gilds
misguided advice; she wakes at night
seeing their faces, contesting their views.

… in the light of these considerations
my Government has come to believe …

Under the steady forensic light
the room can scrutinise her face.
Scores of pens have begun to write,
documenting not only her words
but also her manifest fall from grace.

 … and in conclusion I commend
this alternative course …

From surplus headsets can be heard
the murmurs of interpretation.
And the first whispers of thought have stirred
about her future: a different field,
perhaps, a new direction?
Something that might yield,
she trusts, a different satisfaction.

..

© John Stevens 2012

This is the fourth  poem in a series “States of Mind” – the first was called ‘Dancer’. Poems still to come include  “Caretaker”,  “Hotshot” and “Baker”. The general idea is to explore states of mind that we can all encounter through work.

An earlier group of poems looking at life through work was rather different, looking at archetypes of human activity –  and has the title Spinning the World. If you are interested you can find those poems through the list of categories in the right hand pane.

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Responses

  1. well crafted John. Perfect for the time.
    it was a great read

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  2. Hi John, it is fabulous how you approach the states of mind, making them interesting and worth to be looked at at every angle. 🙂

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  3. Very interesting composition…I enjoyed 🙂

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  4. It often seems there’s little worse for a public figure’s reputation than to announce a reconsidered position. You are a masterful poet, John: of the form and of the content.

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  5. You are very generous Brad!

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  6. Terrific poem John,
    I spent some time trying to work out who ‘she’ might be before realising that the poem referred to anyone who decided to take a new direction in their life.
    And perhaps also those who never had the courage to do just that.

    David

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    • I’m glad you saw it like that, David, and thank you. My hope is that in each of these poems the dancer, the submariner, the hardhats, the ambassador – and others to come – will be taken as an exemplar of a common state of mind. Whether it works or not is not for me to say.

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  7. Hi John:
    I’m going to take a few moments to wonder over the poet’s voice. How different is a John Stevens poem from, say, okay, mine—but also from Tom D’Evelyn, Thomas Davis, Anna Mark—just to name a few people that I do read on the internet. While each of us has our strengths and weaknesses, each voice is very strongly its own. Given a blindfold test, none of us would have trouble identifying the author of each poem. None of us could fake a poem by one of the others (I’ll wager). That voice is as strong an identifier as any fingerprint. (Though, I wouldn’t want to take it into a court of law.) Getting to that stage of identity, might be a good definer of what a poem actually is: a poem is what is written as a poem. The process of working on it until it fits your voice is how a non-poem becomes a poem. (I say nothing about a ‘good’ poem here.) And understanding a poem may be coming to understand how that poem has come to fit the poet’s voice. ‘Ambassador’ is a good example of this. It starts out so casual, so quietly:
    All she’s worked for over the years,
    all that progress, thrown away
    in ignorance.

    And it seems too general—‘all’ this, ‘all’ that—you’d advise the poet to be more concrete. Something like—
    A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
    Above the staggering girl

    But of course this would be (all) wrong for a John Stevens poem. One does get carried away when despairing. All is lost. All is despair. Everything I’ve worked for is lost. The complete ignorance…
    In fact, it is a perfect line to establish the interplay between the interjected lines—presumably delivered at the United Nations or some other world, multi-lingual, body where a certain diplomatic blandness is needed.
    And then there are those ‘murmurs of interpretation’. How wonderful. The phrase crashes into the poem just like an unwanted interpretation would do: Interpretation from one language to the next, interpretation as to the probity of the speech and the probity of the actions this speech describes—just take me at my word, for god’s sake…
    And then there is the interpretation of one’s self.
    And the first whispers of thought have stirred
    about her future: a different field,
    perhaps, a new direction?
    Something that might yield,
    she trusts, a different satisfaction.

    The next thing she’ll be telling us is that she wants to spend more time with her family.
    Among my relatives I have some who have spent their professional lives as diplomats. ‘Ambassador’ captures some of the blend of the genuine friendliness and respect I see in them—along with the absolute phoniness they seem to be drowning in.
    A very subtle poem, sir.

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  8. You are extremely generous with your time, Jim, reading this stuff from me and thinking about it. The only reward I can give you is that I do pay a lot of attention to your remarks and have gained from your critical comments, hints and omissions as well as from your approval.
    Yes, we do, each of us, write with a distinct personal voice. That’s an interesting observation. I agree that this subject could have been tackled in a more dramatic tone (Yeats’s Leda – what a contrast indeed!). This understatement had to be my way. Perhaps it’s an old-fashioned English quality; I think I was trying to reach for the composure and dignity with which the best people face adversity.
    I’m pleased you liked the ‘murmurs of interpretation’ line. This was the final version after several rather different attempts at drawing towards a conclusion.

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  9. its a fantastic journey in that realm John. wonderfully built.

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    • Many thanks Sharmishtha – and for your comment on my earthquake poem too.

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  10. Hi John,
    I read this days ago, but am only now finding time to comment. The image you draw is, at least to me, powerful, an ambassador who what to eat her words while conducting an inner conversation that leads to…where? The genius in the poem is that the inner conversation does not lead to the conclusion of the poem. The conclusion is left in the reader’s hands:
    From surplus headsets can be heard
    the murmurs of interpretation.
    And the first whispers of thought have stirred
    about her future: a different field,
    perhaps, a new direction?
    Something that might yield,
    she trusts, a different satisfaction.
    The moment is coming to culmination. The whispers have begun within the ranks of audience that is always leaning on ambassadors and those who have to face the music in the “murmurs of interpretation,” and? A different satisfaction? A new direction? The reader feels the pain of the carefully calibrated words:
    … we have therefore reconsidered …
    and senses the personal knife of that reconsideration, but what will happen? Will she truly decide to leave the diplomatic corps? Will she survive the whisper storm that is part of political reality? Will her change in direction simper and then die? Will she be forced out as her words are magnified and twisted until they have no relationship to their careful calibration?
    What you achieve in this poem is not only a powerful portrait, but a story that leaves the reader to fill in the blanks, creating the story themselves.
    This story, at least in my head, leads to a consideration of the diplomatic mission, it’s land mines, and its symbolic use of language designed to shape events that more often than not shape the diplomatic corps. You have had experience at this level, John, although perhaps not as an ambassador, and that experience shows.
    There is more to this poem than is on the movement of its surface. I not only enjoyed reading it, but it also caused me to reflect on reality itself…
    known
    detractors show scant appreciation
    of the shifting terrain on which she builds;
    her patient counsel is overthrown.
    We all construct reality out of our understanding of the carousel of events, small and large, that inundate our lives. The truth is that the reality we see is seldom more than a sliver of the reality that is, and when the ambassador, after what has been a long career, gets reality wrong in a way that everyone around her, and around us, see, the tragedy, understated in the poem, is of epic proportions. Correcting the mis-seeing of reality is painful and shows enormous courage and acceptance in the face of disaster, but it does not particularly protect any of us from censure and the collapse of what we have worked for and even our careers and, in some cases, even our lives.
    There is a lot of stuff in this poem, John. Jim, as usual, is perceptive and more learned than I am. I admire him.
    But this is what I make of a very good poem.

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  11. I have to say that I am honoured by your careful reading of these lines, Thomas, and your reflections upon them. You’ve used it as a starting point, not an end-point, which I like very much.
    I was very interested in your observation: “We all construct reality out of our understanding of the carousel of events, small and large, that inundate our lives. The truth is that the reality we see is seldom more than a sliver of the reality that is”. There’s a lot to think about in that.

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  12. The fickleness of fame! So easy a whisper starts, murmurs delighting in a fall from grace.

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    • Yes! It’s nice to hear from you – thank you.

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