In a funny country with no name
the dead are embalmed in such a way
they keep as fresh as a fallen log.
The living carry them here and there
to picnics or to the cricket match
and they engage them in dialogue.
In this lovely little land success
is all that folks are left with when
they don’t try hard enough to fail.
Success goes hand in hand with shame
but failure has a nobler sort of name.
Success is something to condemn.
For it makes a fool of them and it
chokes them in their dark and dirty sleep.
Failure’s grand and it’s hard and deep.
Notes on the PoemAs we prepare for the announcement of the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist, let's reprise and savour again a poem from one of our 2013 winners. David McFadden's poem "Funny Country", 32nd in a series of 99 from his collection "What's the Score?" manages to be both pointedly critical and disarmingly whimsical at the same time. His sharp observations seem to stick because they're delivered with a dash or two of surreal levity. Griffin Poetry Prize judge Suzanne Buffam captures how McFadden pulls it off, not just here but in all of the poems in this spritely collection: "With their arch yet affable tone, these ninety-nine irreverent and mock-earnest poems lay siege to the feelings of boredom, anxiety, and alienation that afflict a culture obsessed with wealth and prestige, leading us, again and again, down the road of excess to the palace of wisdom." How does "Funny Country" do it? Starting with an image of the dead that is downright cheerful, rather than using a fashionably zombie-esque approach, is refreshing and subversive. What exactly is it that the living think they're keeping alive ... but are actually lugging around like cumbersome "fallen log[s]" that are, in fact, still going to rot at some point? Is what is being kept alive the notion that everyone needs to feel they're successful? In order to do that, is it best to cautiously "[not] try hard enough to fail"? The light tone - well, light until the searing final lines - conveys the sense that a friend is telling you gently but firmly that perhaps you need to toughen up, pull up your socks and face some "hard and deep" realities. McFadden has indeed laid seige to that funny country and its bored and/or anxious and/or alienated citizens.