I suspect there to be few places on earth quite as depressing than a wet park seat above Luton’s Gasworks. I promised Andrew flippancy at one point last week, and have not yet delivered, so here we are:
Letter from Luton
Bored, malevolent and mute on
A wet park seat, I look at life and Luton
And think of spittle, slaughterhouses, double
Pneumonia, schizophrenia, kidney trouble,
Piles, paranoia, gallstones in the bladder,
Manic depressive madness growing madder,
Cretins with hideous tropical diseases
And red-eyed necrophiles – while on the breezes
From Luton Gasworks comes a stench that closes
Like a damp frigid hand on my neuroses;
And Time (arthritic deaf-mute) stumbles on
And on and on and on.
It’s a poem which I think shares a tone with Betjeman’s poem ‘Slough’, though the majority of the complaints here are directed at the narrator himself (or what he perceives to be directed at himself), the setting of the ‘wet park seat’ in Luton confirms the utter awfulness of the world.
Epistolary poems are a long-standing poetic tradition but this poem, which was not published during Tessimond’s lifetime, perhaps originated as an actual correspondence between the poet (John, as he was known in adult life) and his friend Hubert Nicholson. It is in part the doggerel nature of the rhymes that bring the humour here; ‘mute on / Luton’, ‘closes / neuroses’ and the repeated internal rhyme of ‘on and on and on and on […] John’. The rhymes themselves are pathetic, but comically so, as are the poet’s concerns upon the park bench.
It’s a black humour. Tessimond was suffering from manic depression in his own life, and even the most ridiculous of his concerns, the ‘red-eyed necrophiles’, carries some sort of resonance as an image of the most hopeless kind of unreciprocated love.
But it’s ultimately a fun poem, the spirit of Eeyore rather than a truly sad voice; and it’s the fact that it’s set in Luton that makes it depressing, not the other problems of the world.