Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: 'We Won't Get Fooled Again' By Blake Morrison

Blake Morrison
Blake Morrison
We Won’t Get Fooled Again

Among the Saturday bargains – hose pipes,
open-crotch panties, inflatable chairs –
this one: ‘Front-door spyhole. Six-foot span.
You see unwanted callers. They don’t see you.’

The picture’s inspired. A curlered housewife
safe behind her door figures immediately
the scar-faced stranger looming outside
is not selling brushes. She won’t open up.

Europe’s new frontier! The end of the terror!
Never again those games of happy families
cut short by a rap in the heart of the door –
father leaving us to answer it,
then the loud, unfamiliar voices
and the silence for a moment or two.

The title of Blake Morrison’s deeply insightful poem, with its ironic nod to the Who’s 1971 single, is a disingenuous clarion call to the nonplussed and the credulous. The faint absurdity of the scene Morrison sets – the gadgetry of commerce wheels in a litter bin of ‘everything you never knew you needed’ - is a trim reckoning. The spyhole on offer in the ‘Saturday bargains’ may yield a reassuring panorama, but its cut-price blandishments give only an approximation of security.

The high symbolism of the poem’s final sestet gives notice of its own inadequacy in the trumpeting of exclamatory paradox. The dangers we perceive – real and imagined – legitimise the vigilance of our response, and keep vested interests in gainful business; the be-scarred stereotype, the catch-all ‘crim’ is a bête-noire, a doorstep conman, a terror to old ladies.

But the terror whose end is promised is a darker presence, emergent as we dream stable dreams. The rap at the door, the unfamiliar voices might be those of Republican gunmen or the Gestapo, the KGB or Stazi. The equipage of civilised behaviour to which Morrison’s poem holds up a mirror may, in the end, be as insubstantial as our sense of national purpose.

‘We Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is published in Penguin Modern Poets: James Fenton, Blake Morrison, Kit Wright.