Poem #2/52

Here is the second poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:

A NIGHTMARE ON ARGYLE STREETCharles Hamilton Argyle Street

every face you pass
is like a magnet
changing your polarity
the atoms reverse
and your soul turns around

every glance you catch
of every worried eye
makes you worried
and you’re turning
looking at the sky
with different worries
different worried eyes

tossing and turning
thrown between lives
you feel the conflict
in a thousand bitter eyes
making you feel weaker
as your character subsides
and you alter your perspectives
entering the same street
one more time

walking for too long
you lose your direction
no one pays attention
when you speak out loud

beggars are only those
who walked here too long
saw too many faces
meeting too many eyes
they lost their souls
and lost to themselves now
they borrow what they saw
in those last terrible eyes
that changed them

they are the street’s voice
our own conscience
begging us to pause.


I believe I must have been about 17 when I wrote this. It’s only been within the last five years or so that anyone has called me a “Horror writer”, an epithet that surprised me at first but looking back I’d almost say that this poem is an example of Horror poetry! Except that the angst within it is the real thing, not put-on for matinee entertainment. I had just started at University and after the self-imposed isolation of my Secondary-School years, I was suddenly having to meet and socialise with numerous new people of my own age. Also, as the poem more specifically refers to: I was finding myself in the centre of Glasgow among large crowds in the streets, as opposed to the small suburban village where I’d grown up. All this, I now surmise in retrospect, contributed to a sense of “loss of centre” or identity crisis which the lines above explore. I was no longer sure who I was, but sensitive enough to pick up the moods and attitudes of passers-by and find these flooding into my mind and almost overwhelming me. Of course, people go mad if left alone long enough on desert islands. We can only create and define our own personalities in relation to other people, the feedback we get from other people about who we are. It’s like trying to guess your own smell, or like the card game of “Montana Wildhack” to use the brilliant analogy employed by Kurt Vonnegut: we are each dealt a card we cannot see but must stick to our own foreheads and then gamble on the value of…. going only on what we think we see in other people’s eyes, i.e. fear, jealousy, or admiration. So without others, we lose our sense of self. Unhappy, unhinged people (and I know a few!) are those for whom the signals they are getting back from other people in no way resemble the view they have of themselves. To a lesser degree, there’s a probably a bit of that behind every single unhappiness that crosses the mind of “us sane people” in any average day. Have a think about that!

I also see reading this today, that “Nightmare On Argyle Street” bears the influence of (among other things, like T.S.Eliot) the poetry of my uncle Alastair R Thompson, about whom I blogged here recently, and shall therefore blog about again next week by way of further exposition.

I wasn’t sure what images to include with this poem, but whilst searching the web for images of crowds on Glasgow’s Argyle Street, I stumbled across the work of a brilliant local photographer whose identity I have managed to track down as one Charles Hamilton, and struck up an exchange with (the wonders of the web!). Taking photos of strangers at all in an urban situation like this is more fraught with pitfalls than ever, one would imagine in our paranoid age, but to take such penetrating and insightful photos as these implies considerable social-negotiation skills as well as first-class camera expertise. Check out more of Charles Hamilton’s work at his Flickr account here.

It’s interesting to note that these photographs were taken within the last year, and yet my poem was written back around 1984. Margaret Thatcher was at the zenith of her evil reign back then, and believe me, things were dark and bitter in Scotland. Politics aside, I take some comfort from the fact that Charles Hamilton’s photographs suggest less fear and desperation than I found on the streets then. Perhaps Scotland’s re-establishment of its own parliament in the intervening years has done more good than many of us stop to consider from one moment to the next.

Finally, I note that the poem’s title is a play on the film ‘ A Nightmare on Elm Street’ which had just come out (1984). To all those who have made the same pun since, sorry folks I got there first. To all the future generations who will increasingly forget about the film: don’t worry, I’ve never seen it either. I can’t stand Horror:-)

This entry was posted in 52 Poem Sequence, Art, Photography, Poetry, Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Poem #2/52

  1. Pingback: 52 Poems for 2013, 2/52: A Nightmare on Argyle Street

  2. Pingback: Nightmares… | Douglas Thompson's Blog

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