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.

…or…

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.

…or…

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.

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