2020 has been a year of cancellations. So many parties couldn’t happen (and shouldn’t have happened). For my first commission as Bristol City Poet, I wanted to offer Bristol and the world a poem which stands in for those cancelled parties, while also ‘setting out my stall’ for what poetry means to me.

Far from being a solitary activity, poetry is an ecology: an exchange, a collaboration, a shared collective happening. Poetry is a party. With thanks to the poetry Twittersphere, my critique-swappers, and to old and new readers of poetry. Welcome…

Caleb Parkin, image Evan Dawson

Party Poem, 2020

Welcome to this poem, which is
all the cancelled parties.
You don’t need an invitation,
other than that title: Party Poem,
but feel free to imagine one in
twirly cursive writing on fancy perfumed paper,
or – ping! – arriving as a text,
or, if you’re that way inclined,
an official calendar event (survey attached).
You’ve RSVP’d with your eyes and/
or ears, so let’s head inside, away
from this corridor – where you’ve hung up
your ideas about Poems, thankfully,

because this whole party is full of poems:
poems stood around the buffet, removing
clingfilm from shining trays of lingo; pondering
which delicious verbs to nibble; plunging
a ladle into a lustrous crystal punchbowl
full of a drink. A drink, perhaps, you’ll each
be able to describe, in HD 3-D smell
-o-vision, as exactly the one you desired?

You go to find the host: whose
party is this anyway? The music
shuffles days, decades, centuries –
sonata to reggae, gamelan to techno –
mid-track, as though the DJ is wired
into everyone’s heads. Then some new
style of music nobody’s ever heard –
but sways to, intones that
poetry noise, Hmmm.
Room after room,

full of poems, each a party, each
a world. Some opening lines
seem nice enough. Then, this poem
which introduces you to all their friends.
You’ll keep in touch. Maybe there’s
a poem you’ll make official, live with,
framed on your wall? On the stairs,

poems touchscreen scroll, upload
themselves on a digital fizz of hearts.
As you pass, this other huddle
of zip-lipped collar-starched poems
hiss Those other poems aren’t even poems 
but you smile politely, move on
to find the bathroom. Knock, wait.

Inside, some poem’s overdone it:
said the wrong thing again to
that other poem they love, a second-
hand smorgasbord of words, words,
WORDS everywhere. Their hair
is full of exclamation marks,
held back by a friendly Editor:
Let’s get you tidied up in a taxi, yeah?

Washing re-washing your hands,
your mind is a dancefloor
of potential; your eyes a glitter
of question marks. You
are a poem in the mirror.
As you set out from this Party Poem –

this rainbow of houses, this high-rise, this woodland,
this high-rise-woodland-rainbow-house –
you’ll glide through rolling streets,
where poems flit between phonelines,
poems claw through side-alley bins
and this poem ferries you home now,
its engine warm and humming.

© Caleb Parkin, September 2020

Image credit: Evan Dawson

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