Roger McGough at British Telecommunications

April 2000

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Dear comrades-in-rhyme, I was away from my trusty (?) PC in mid-march, reading poems to Italian kids in Napoli and Bologna and it was great to have them shouting out the choruses and giggling at the jokes…(at least I think it was the jokes they were giggling at, not your BT poet!)

Thence to Liverpool for a benefit in aid of fellow 'Liverpool poet' Adrian Henri at the Philharmonic Hall. Adrian suffered a stroke this time last year and many friends came in support. Poets, Carol Ann Duffy, Liz Lochhead and Brian Patten; Playwrights, Alan Bleasedale and Willy Russell; and musicians, George Melly, Tom Robinson, Neil Innes, Andy Roberts and ..reforming for the first time in over a century… The Scaffold ie Mike McCartney, John Gorman and me. (For those of you too young to remember the fab trio, we could be described as a cross between Boyzone and Oasis, but more gifted musically)……A little poetic licence there perhaps?

At the end of March I went to N Ireland to give readings in Derry and Belfast. It was years since my last visit and I was delighted with the signs of change. Still slow and uncertain perhaps, but there is a definite feeling of optimism. After the reading at the Waterfront Hall's BT studio, a nice lady asked if I would put up a poem on the web site, and I am happy to do so. I wrote it in the seventies after a bomb went off in Belfast. That night on the TV news following the dreadful scenes of carnage, a man talked movingly of his son, having just identified the body. The poem is called 'The Identification'.

The Identification

So you think its Stephen?
Then I'd best make sure
Be on the safe side as it were.
Ah, theres been a mistake. The hair
you see, its black, now Stephens fair...
Whats that? The explosion?
Of course, burnt black. Silly of me.
I should have known. Then lets get on.

The face, is that the face I ask?
That mask of charred wood
blistered, scarred could
that have been a child's face?
The sweater, where intact, looks
in fact all too familiar.
But one must be sure.

The scoutbelt. Yes thats his.
I recognise the studs he hammered in
not a week ago. At the age
when boys get clothes-conscious
now you know. Its almost
certainly Stephen. But one must
be sure. Remove all trace of doubt.
Pull out every splinter of hope.

Pockets. Empty the pockets.
Handkerchief? Could be any schoolboy's.
Dirty enough. Cigarettes?
Oh this can't be Stephen.
I dont allow him to smoke you see.
He wouldn't disobey me. Not his father.

But that's his penknife. Thats his alright.
And thats his key on the keyring
Gran gave him just the other night.
So this must be him.

I think I know what happened
......about the cigarettes
No doubt he was minding them
for one of the older boys.
Yes thats it.
Thats him.
Thats our Stephen.

(published in 'Blazing Fruit', Penguin 1989)

Your trusty BT poet, Roger McGough