The Lost World

This poem is a long-gestating response to the Mitchell and Kenyon films. Mitchell and Kenyon were two Edwardian impressarios who took advantage of the novelty of the moving image by filming folk in the North of England and encouraging them to come and “see yourself as others see you” the same evening. Their speciality was rocking up at the factory gates at the end of a shift and filming the vast mass of workers pouring onto the streets. The films were discovered in a highly degraded state by shopfitters who were carrying out some work on a premises in Blackburn. A local historian realised their importance and they were comprehensively restored by the excellent people at the British Film Institute. I find them overwhelmingly moving for a number of reasons:

  • All of the people depicted within the films (and by golly there’s a lot of them) are dead;
  • None of them knew the First World War was coming;
  • They document a way of life that has almost completely disappeared.

Here’s an audio of me reading the poem.

 

The Lost World

See yourselves as others see you
take a correspondence course in cataclysm
watch earlier forms mining joy
doffing caps in front of prowling dreadnoughts
under a chimney-pierced sky

sifting through the buried meanings
pressing our faces to the fishbowl
unable to warn its inhabitants of the imminent
danger of the battery which is suspended
on a thread above the water

clay cities and drowned smokeries
posterity’s awkward bottleneck
crackling spectres polished back to life
the atomised citizens of Pompei resolved into
a purgatorial phalanx

there is a finite store of faces sealed in this drum
a proud procession languidly
strolling towards a tragedy
too large to be separated
into its constituent elements
dignitaries and deadbeats
snapshots of social strata
incomprehensible relationships
the same forces at work in the cemeteries
where the gravestones map out eminence

the cinematic seance raises them
whenever we wish to commune with them
they can only walk in one direction
towards the camera which pickles their bodies
in rusting cans of degraded film stock
before bombs and planners reshaped our cities
& tidal obsolescence engulfed the industries
they came past in their droves, the crushed
co-creators of the supposed zenith
empire fodder, smiling strangely to hide shit teeth
a flickering procession of human ectoplasm
with which to gum up your thoughts
intransigent Rotherham toughs
flicking Vs at history, boys with the faces of old men
leering unwittingly at their great great grandchildren
separated by ravaged genealogies
an unshared load
the dwindling remembrance of rust-coloured snow

5 thoughts on “The Lost World

  1. Wonderful poem Paul. What an achingly poignant final image.
    I recently read To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain by Adam Hochschild, which I can’t recommend enough. It focuses on the stories of those who led the war and those who opposed it. It’s fascinating and equally shocking and inspiring.

    Like

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