The Letters of Utrecht

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Utrecht contains a poem. Each Saturday at 1 p.m. a letter is hewn into another cobblestone in a line along a central thoroughfare:

You have to begin somewhere to give the past its place, the present matters ever less. The further you are, the better. Continue now, leave your footprints. Forget the flash, in which you may exist, the world is your map.

Written by a succession of poets from the city’s poetry guild, the poem grows by about 5 meters a year, and it takes about 3 years to publish a sentence.

As a theme and as an undertaking, the project appeals specifically to the passing of time and the benefit of future generations. Its creators have linked it explicitly to the 10,000-year clock being built in Texas’ Sierra Diablo Mountain Range and the 7,000 oak trees planted in Kassel, Germany, by artist Joseph Beuys. Each cobblestone is sponsored by a citizen, often to commemorate a milestone such as a birthday, anniversary, or marriage.

If the funding continues, the poem will grow forever. In time the line of cobblestones will itself describe a U and a T in the city’s center, and the residents in that time (the year 2350) can decide where it goes after that.

Poetic Justice

After being caught driving at 91 mph on the 60 mph A361 North Devon Link road in 2011, filmmaker and traffic legislation activist Martin Cassini presented his case at Barnstaple Magistrates Court in a series of rhymed couplets:

Before you today stands a man in the dock
To whom this bleak chapter’s a terrible shock

Kind and aware on the road as a rule
He tripped up that day and transgressed a rule.

The outlandish speed was but a short burst
On a dual lane stretch to get up there first

To the top of the hill to avoid getting stuck
Down the single lane stretch by a slow moving truck.

If you averaged my speed over hillock and dale
You’d find it to be not at all yon the pale

The law’s quick to judge if you’re over the limit
No praise if you’re under — one sided, innit?

The design of the road is dubious at most
It’s the link for Pete’s sake from M5 to coast

Why only three lanes? There was good room for four
The vision was lacking, the carriageway’s poor.

The limit is 60 for one lane downhill
And 60 — the same — for two lanes uphill

Until this dark day my licence was clean
Too late for considering what might have been.

They say that speed kills, but throughout these lands
Inappropriate speed kills, or speed in the wrong hands

I wasn’t lacking due care and attention
Indeed I was using true care and attention

I was watching the road, not checking the speed
Could this be a safer, superior creed.

They fined him £175. “I wanted to challenge one-size-fits-all regulation that ignores the spirit of the law, and at the same time recognise that I had disobeyed the letter,” he told the Daily Mail. But “Now I’m taking greater pains to follow the letter of the law.”

(Thanks, Volodymyr.)

Sublime, Ridiculous

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In 1859, Edward Lear wrote a letter to Lord Carlingford entirely in hexameters:

Washing my rosecoloured flesh and brushing my beard with a hairbrush, —
— Breakfast of tea, bread, and butter, at nine o’clock in the morning,
Sending my carpet-bag onward I reached the Twickenham station,
(Thanks to the civil domestics of good Lady Wald’grave’s establishment,)
Just as the big buzzing brown booming bottlegreen bumblebizz boiler
Stood on the point of departing for Richmond and England’s metropolis.

I say — (and if ever I said anything to the contrary I hereby retract it) —
I say — I took away altogether unconsciously your borrowed white fillagree handkerchief;
After the lapse of a week I will surely return it,
And then you may either devour it, or keep it, or burn it,–
Just as you please. But remember, I have not forgotten,
After the 26th day of the month of the present July,
That is the time I am booked for a visit to Nuneham.

Certain ideas have arisen and flourished within me,
As to a possible visit to Ireland, — but nobody
Comes to a positive certainty all in a hurry:
If you are free and in London, next week shall we dine at the Blue Posts?

Both Mrs. Clive and her husband have written most kindly
Saying the picture delights them (the Dead Sea) extremely.
Bother all painting! I wish I’d 200 per annum!
Wouldn’t I sell all my colours and brushes and damnable messes!
Over the world I should rove, North, South, East and West, I would
Marrying a black girl at last, and slowly preparing to walk into Paradise!

A week or a month hence, I will find time to make a queer Alphabet,
All with the letters beversed and be-aided with pictures,
Which I shall give — (but don’t tell him just yet) to Charles Braham’s little one.

Just only look in the ‘Times’ of to-day for accounts of the ‘Lebanon!’
Now I must stop this jaw, and write myself quite simultaneous,
Yours with a lot of affection — the Globular foolish Topographer.

E.L.

Apparently he’d been reading Arthur Hugh Clough’s epistolary verse-novel Amours de Voyage. “The metre is the same,” noted Lady Strachey, editor of his letters, “and the imitation of the style is clever.”

Literary Limericks

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Did Ophelia ask Hamlet to bed?
Was Gertrude incestuously wed?
Is there anything certain?
By the fall of the curtain
Almost everyone’s certainly dead.

— A. Cinna

Once a raven on Pluto’s dark shore
Brought the singular news: “Nevermore.”
‘Twas of useless avail
To ask further detail,
His reply was the same as before.

— Anthony Euwer

There once was a fellow called Hyde,
Whose twin self he couldn’t abide;
But Jekyll, the Devil,
Dragged Hyde to his level,
“Inside job,” cried Hyde, as he died.

— E.J. Jackson

When Ireland was bloody and leaderless,
The tedious, garrulous Daedalus —
Having failed both as priest
And as Glorious Beast —
Sailed away to write books that were readerless.

— Gina Berkeley

“Correction”

The burdens of the world
on my back
lighten the world
not a whit while
removing them greatly
decreases my specific
gravity

— A.R. Ammons

Political Science

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Democracy works (entre nous) —
When a knowing intelligent few
Tell the people: “You rule!”
And each plebian fool
Says: “Right, Guv’nor, what must we do?”

— W. Stewart