I think I remember Tim Wells once saying to me that anyone who complained about writer’s block had obviously never been on a bus. Travel on buses, Tim reckons, and you’re bound to do some people-watching that will lead to a poem. Tim’s got some great night bus poems, including one where a goth throws up while an aghast 2D David Cameron watches from the newspaper. I always want to write on buses too, but my source of inspiration is The Metro with its Rush Hour Crush section, vignettes which always seems to demand a narrative. I’m obsessed with the creepy, comical and downright bizarre snippets that appear in the free paper every day – fleeting glances over implausibly tall coffee cups, imagined connections, missed opportunities.
I love the ‘crush’ posts that are specific to the point of being mundane: I was eating a cheese and ham baguette, you were wearing a green anorak two sizes too big. I’m half-alarmed, half-amused by the ones that border on the sinister: I was watching you sleep on the 8.27 from Huddersfield. Coffee? Most of all, I love the ones that seem made up. If recent reports are to be believed, maybe some of them are….
I could mock Rush Hour Crush all day. But perhaps there’s something writerly behind my obsession with its sagas and spent hopes, something about the wistfulness of strangers talking to each other through a newspaper rather than ever speaking, something that reminds me of some of my favourite poems. Douglas Dunn’s work always evokes those missed connections for me and I’ve loved that aspect of his writing ever since I read a poem in Terry Street about observing life from buses and trains, trying to second-guess the people around. In another Dunn poem called ‘The Hunched’ the narrator declares:
They will not leave me, the lives of other people.
I wear them near my eyes like spectacles.
The characters in Dunn’s poems are often seen for a distance and longed for, they are:
Mysterious people without names or faces
Whose lives I guess about, whose dangers tease.
And not one of them has anything to do with me.
Throughout Terry Street, people are always haunting each other in urban streets and suburban places, like the characters in ‘Love Poem’:
I live in you, you live in me;
We are two gardens haunted by each other.
Sometimes, I cannot find you there….
Even in ‘From a Night-Window’ and its description of a street, people are identified by their traces: ‘footsteps become people under streetlamps’.
The satanic face tattoos and Nivea wipes of Rush Hour crush might be too surreal and too self-contained to make it into a poem. But there’s a strange kind of poetry in what they symbolise.