poetry files #10

(If you have come from the Guardian and are looking for Donald Rumsfeld, click here!)

Now the police are in on it! In not one but two countries. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about England and France, homes of Shakespeare and Baudelaire, or Russia, home of Pushkin and Tsvetaeva (oh – and Putin. Forget I said that.). No, they’re Mexico and the Philippines.

According to the BBC, “There is a popular conception that Mexican police are corrupt, incompetent and lazy.” But in Mexico City, one of the toughest beats in the world, if you want to get ahead as a cop you have to prove that you read at least one book a month. (And no, How to Beat Up a Gangster in Three Moves and still Get Your Bribe isn’t on the list. Don Quixote and Octavio Paz, on the other hand, are.)

“Along with guns, bullet-proof vests and handcuffs, police in the district of Nezahualcoyotl will now have to take a book with them.” Even functional illiteracy isn’t a good enough excuse to get out of it: they’re running reading lessons. (The Little Prince is on the list; you can only hope that they don’t, as I did, have to read it in French.) Mayor Sanchez of Mexico City says the reading scheme will make his 1,100-strong municipal police force “better officers and better people.”

Let’s hope so! I suppose if they had a really big success, one of their police officers could even turn into a writer. No one’s ever said they were corrupt, incompetent or lazy.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the cops are going on step further, and reciting poems to kids. The idea is that when they go into schools, they help to gain the trust of the future criminals children by humanising themselves – through rhyme.

The “Isang Tula ng Pulis Para sa Mag-aaral” project aims to make elementary school children more familiar with and relaxed around police officers.

“School children are often told to be afraid of the police officer. Through this project, we want to make the children realize that the police officer is their friend, whom they could approach and ask for help,” Bartolome said.

One of the poems describes the policeman’s uniform and the medals, badge and insignias attached to it.

“It is a way of telling the students the proper way the policeman should wear his uniform,” Bartolome said.

Here in Baroque Mansions we applaud and deeply admire these initiatives. They are wonderful.

So it got me thinking. England absolutely preens itself on its great poetic heritage. Right? And our criminal justice system is one of the most enlightened in the world. Right? So you have to wonder why we don’t combine our great and noble traditions the way Mexico city and the Philippines have done.

With this in mind, I’ve written some clerihews. To help them get started, you know.

The good old bobby
used to wear a hat that was knobby.
This jovial fellow
used to say ‘ello ‘ello ‘ello.

A modern police officer
sits in an office, sir.
Administering objectives,
anti-crime initiatives, partnerships and correctives.


A gold-fringed epaulet
is not very easy to forget:
to the criminal,
it will appear, in his peripheral vision as he is held down flat on his face, liminal.


A riot shield
can yield
astonishing sport
when played with a baton, a newspaper-seller and a false medical report.

We constantly hear in the poetry world that no one likes poetry, that poetry is ‘dead’. Poppycock. Poetry is in fact everywhere: wherever you go, if you scratch the surface you find a poet. Poet Files is an exclusive series in which Baroque in Hackney scrutinises the unlikely, and finds the secret poetry lurking there. Look for it every Saturday morning.


p nolan July 31, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I couldn’t agree more. Having been somewhat distracted by the (particularly) bare necessities over the last little while, I’ve been feeling a tad epiphanous in the last day or two – sense of a tide rushing back into things – an almost physical inner voice declaiming that actually, you know, poetry makes EVERYTHING happen.

Nice to see high tides in Hackney too :->

Mark Granier July 31, 2010 at 2:23 pm

The bobby who struck with his baton
that poor man who died should be spat on
by a cellmate whose mission
will show, in addition,
how it feels to be literally sat on.

msbaroque July 31, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Limericks are always welcome Mark!

Mark Granier July 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Not a clerihew, I know, but the best I could muster.

Susanna-Cole July 31, 2010 at 4:33 pm

This is splendid! Sometimes cops seem to be carried away with being all brutal and macho, all a show of muscles, perhaps, literature and poetry will be the portal to their sensitive, intellectual side.


Oleg July 31, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Thank you for sharing this news and especially for rhyming it. :)

However, I think that making classical reading obligatory for the UK policemen is not a necessity as they, alongside with the rest of the British public, do, in fact, read a lot. With regards to the criminals, there are many literary and theatrical activities going on in the UK correctional facilities. For instance, a theater at the HMP Pentonville, where I’ve seen “Alice in Wonderland” once.

Van Bakker August 1, 2010 at 1:47 am

Literate cops. That is in fact a wonderful idea.

charles August 1, 2010 at 10:27 am

I heard on the radio today that Linford Christie yesterday read two poems (which? I have no idea) to the Brit athletes at the European Championships before sending them out to run round the track.

Previous post:

Next post: