89

by Sarah Tolmie

copyright ©Sarah Tolmie 2018

Tonight the fattened mermaids sing
To issue in the internet of things.
Let me tell you what you can do with that misnomer.
I sit here gloomily and think of Homer,

On the dimming beach, as drifts of trash
Clatter softly against my ankles,
The melancholy, long, withdrawing roar
Of everything a humanist holds dear.

Skyward the sad elite have all withdrawn,
To their electric world. They’ve pulled it on
Over the old like a transparent plastic glove.

I hear them pinging dismally afar.
Here on the quiet earth that I still love,
Where the last humans are.

Copyright © Sarah Tolmie 2018

Notes on the Poem

In the 89th and final poem of The Art of Dying by Sarah Tolmie, shortlisted for the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize, we are surprisingly and wonderfully moved when the perpetual cynic who has accompanied us through this collection suddenly becomes wistful. The Art of Dying is a compendium of incisive observations and witticisms on how death pervades all - and how, in the modern day, that includes news, television and social media. The fierce irreverence with which Tolmie tackles weighty subjects, from abortion to politics to aging and disease and more - and leavens it with well-placed pop culture references - is borne out in her feisty and lively presentation of her work at the 2019 shortlist readings. Take a look, just over there below the poem text. Tolmie has not diluted the impact of her themes just because she interjects humour - you know, even if we do suspect the mention of "Homer" in the first stanza could as likely be the Simpson patriarch as the author of epic works the Iliad and the Odyssey. In fact, another Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted poet, Matthew Rohrer, defends perfectly her approach in his excellent 2004 essay "Serious Art That's Funny: Humor in Poetry". As he points out:
"But there's a kind of humor that is bigger than a giggle, bigger than a laugh. There's a kind of humor that is as serious as the most earnest exhortation to support the troops. I'm talking about satire and irony. Satire and irony make people laugh. But they're serious and multidimensional in a way that earnestness often just can't be, and to discount them is to be blind to the possibility of serious art that's funny."
and we think The Art of Dying is decidedly in that league. So beautifully, perhaps the greatest irony of all is that after putting it all so entertainingly through her satirical mill, Tolmie grows delicately, poignantly serious at the very end.

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