We’ve just returned from four nights in an ancient Landmark Trust property in deepest Norfolk. No wi-fi, tv, phone or other distraction, only deep darkness and stars, an owl and tilted, uneven, creaking floorboards that give guests the impression they’re on board ship as they lurch on their way to the toilet in the night.
On Southwold Pier Tim Hunkin’s marvellous automata had us enthralled. The slavering wolf and the caged monster, the bathyscope and the nose-picker, even though we’d seen them before in other settings, still hold their fear and fascination. Hunkin marries ingeniously clever mechanics with startling ideas and a cartoonish sense of humour, and the originality of his creations is something to wonder at. The Under The Pier Show is part of the overflow from his London collection.
Poetry about machines sometimes breaks through into this world with words, as in Auden’s Night Mail, with its quick-fire rhythm that enables the reader to feel the very hiss of the steam escaping.
Kipling, in The Secret of the Machines gave them a voice: We were cast and wrought and hammered to design/We were cut and filed and tooled and gauged to fit, he wrote, aware of the industrial revolution going on around him.
There are poems a -plenty about washing machines on the internet. And cars; there are plenty of car poems, and train poems, but they rarely get down to the particular components of the machine itself, being instead metaphors for life’s journey, or a love affair or something else.
The closest I’ve come to writing a machine-themed poem has been ‘Gary From Essex is a Scaffolder,’ written because I fell in love with the language:
the longitudinal sway brace.
“That’s the puncheon,” he tells us, pointing.
a non-moveable double-lip bolted
and a fixed finial coupler.
We are amazed.
Talking of couplers, he says,
his wife has gone away,
leaving him alone,
to deal with the adjustable fork-head,
He has a certificate of testing erection procedures.
No-one can match him, especially not them.
He can deal with outriggers, shingling;
uses a hatchet tool on
putlogs and wedges.
He shows me
the dead weight of the Kent ledge,
with its spigot pin;
the butting transom,
-needle and sway-
that links to the swivel finial coupler.
But when he knocks off later,
over tea, he shows us the reveal tube,
and is sad it came to this.