It must be awful to live that way

This is a poem that I wrote for Matt Abbott on the occasion of his appearance at Off The Shelf literary festival in Sheffield, October 2017. Well, not for him, so much as because of him. He inspired it. He was performing at Firth Hall, as warm up for the irredeemably fantastic Hollie McNish. I’m not terribly subtle – subtlety has never been one of my failings – so I imagine that you can picture the scene in the huge, stately hall and what part of the night inspired me to write this. It’s not very good, but then none of them are. I don’t care. I’m having fun learning about poetry.

This is an Ottava Rima – 8 lines of 10-11 syllables in an ABABABCC rhyme scheme. Originating in Italy, the form has long been used for heroic sagas. Personally I’m more of a light verse kinda boy.

It must be awful to live that way

He sleeps on the overnight bus between shows
Because it costs less than getting a room.
Sleeping strangers sharing uneven spaced rows
Their faces lit by the light of the moon.
Whether down on their luck or just lying low
They sleep in sodium silence and gloom.
Everything they own stored in the overhead.
“It must be awful to live that way”, you said.


He spent some time in the ‘Calais Jungle’ camp
Among the survivors of various wars.
Warming up meals from the light of a lamp
Counting their blessings as you forget yours.
As they try to sleep in the cold and the damp
They count children drowned trying to reach our shores.
We’re inured to pictures of dying and dead.
“It must be awful to live that way”, you said.


His dad was a miner, his dad before that
Until Thatcher came and closed all the pits
Police versus miners in daily combat
In hand to hand fighting that neither side quits
The mines are all gone now, the buildings laid flat
The men, like the spoils, consigned to the tips.
Where once they had pride they have despair instead.
“It must be awful to live that way”, you said.


But before the echo of your own applause had died out you were queuing in the foyer to pay £7 for a glass of white wine. It must be awful to live that way.

You said.