Mathew Sweeney: Zero Hour GCSE examination unseen poem
Submitted by Janet Lewison on 24 May 2011
My son sat his GCSE literature this morning and this came up as the Unseen poetry analysis with the Welsh Board. My son's reaction was more enthusiastic than for his mock examination, perhaps because poems about love and nature have previously left him unmoved and bored. At least something had happened in this poem he felt. And that somehing seemed catstrophic enough to produce a fable, provoking enough to rouse the most disaffected teenage boy? We do feel stranded in this poem. Stranded by the punctuation which keeps closing off possibilities and stranded by the progressive shutting down of alternatives to this world where all the co-ordinates of the daily are being steadily undermined and even eradicated. The surreal image of the doctor on horseback with a rifle going to work rearranges any visual normalities. Human beings are flexible and can adapt. Yet the rapidity of this social implosion threatened to reveal human beings monstrous and capable of anything. Again the mention of the 'dogs' who are mysteriously congregating on runways offers an image that seems dystopian and surreal. The poet does not even incline himself to explain. He is watching the news with his bottle of whisky, waiting for the 'zero hour' when only God( who has left us) can explain what we are left to expereince and to suffer. And would we all slide into mental instability without our yardsticks of the 'normal'? Would it be left to our acts of remembrance to sustain us? Would this be a battle? Or would we just side away into chaos?