Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week Yoga : A User's Guide By Zoë Walkington

Yoga : A User’s Guide

The regular practice of yoga over a five-year period will add 1cm to
your height and remove £4,890 from your bank balance.

Every time you do a sun salutation the positive energy generated saves
one aphid from a window-based peril.

Yoga is a great way to meet other people who look like they would
benefit from a good wash. Specifically, it is like nectar to hummus-
eating men with man-buns.

When you lie on the ground in Savasana invisible roots push down
through the earth and weave a warp and weft so in the event of an
anti-gravity situation you won’t fly off weightlessly and become
separated from your yin and yan water bottle from Sweaty Betty
(retail price £39.99).

When hungover in the yoga tent at festivals, it is best to avoid
attempting to do ‘bow pose’, try it if you must, but believe me – you
won’t know whether to shit or go blind.

Yoga is the one thing you can claim to “practice” as a grown adult. It
is unwise to make similar claims about driving a motorised vehicle or
having sexual intercourse.

It is part of an ancient collective conscious passed down through the
ages to think you are absolutely brilliant at yoga, until you practice in
a room with a mirror.

Time, we feel, to break the seal of seriousness. If our Poem of the Week strand is often characterised by the doom-laden and the tragic, by the introspective and the maudlin, it might be because today’s poetry is morse for the prevailing zeitgeist, which, in turn, is relentlessly depressing.

The collection from which Zoë Walkington’s satirical vignette is taken is filled with stylized puns, witticisms and unusually left-field reflections on that same zeitgeist. Delivered with a straight face, Walkington’s take is clear-eyed and deadpan: gloriously oblivious to propriety, including to considerations of poetic form, she cajoles her themes into submission by a kind of conspiratorial stealth.

Not least in ‘Yoga : A User’s Guide’, whose piss-take invites our collective approval because many of us are complicit in the pursuit’s inherent ridiculousness. Here is the underbelly of a practice whose seriousness is the measure of its adherence, and whose tortuous contortions yield benefits for mind and body. The poet goes to mock-heroic lengths to describe Yoga’s unassailable direction of energy, with a serpentine alliterative turn that anchors the ‘Savasana’ in the soil, rooting well enough to keep the airborne mind from remaining terminally aloft.

The Sweat Betty bottle’s inflated price is an apposite dig at product placement. A delicious turn in a poem of ‘poses’, of oneness with the natural world (the securing of the life of a greenfly by the power of positive energy is a relief, if only for the aphid), of overly earnest and smelly men with hummus fetishes, and of unachievable postures, Walkington posits the flatulent truth of being human, and thereby faulty, in opposition.

Most significant, her narrator is a willing participant: her quotidian referencing – the sexual intercourse, the man-buns, the unflattering pose in the mirror – underlines our failure to approximate to the ideals to which Yoga aspires. And sometimes we are obliged to conclude that we are the better for it.

‘Yoga : A User’s Guide’ is taken from I Hate to Be the One to Tell You This, published by smith|doorstop (2023), and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher.

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