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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Parkin

Green Man, Folk Tales, Sloth-fox

Excellent news, I’ve been confirmed as performing in Einstein’s Garden at the Green Man Festival in August!

There is some information about it here:

I’ll be performing all seven Vermin poems, which I’m developing into a single performance – verminous costume and all – at the moment.

Last Wednesday, I performed some work at Folk Tales – which was excellent as ever, including gorgeous music and some top-rate storytellers. As I’d been working on it with a view to performing the whole sequence at festivals, I finished the final vermin piece – Fox/Sloth ‘Why Even Try?’ and read it there. It might be a slightly down-beat note to finish on, being as the fox’s sloth seems to take the form of nihilism (perhaps sloth’s ultimate conclusion) and I wanted it to be a ‘coda’ to the sequence – on the endeavour of writing and the possible futility of it.

As the most famous of ‘literary foxes’, I invoked Ted Hughes’ ‘The Thought-Fox’ – or rather, un-invoke it, with my sloth-fox’s diminishing refrain of ‘no thought-fox am I/so why even try?’ Hughes’ poem is very much about the act of writing – the poet watching the fox’s footprints printed in the snow’s white expanse, while the poet attempts to fill the page’s white expanse with something meaningful. All the Vermin pieces are written in the first-person, so it seemed like a good moment to have the fox ‘replying’ to the poet, looking back to him/me/her/whoever is writing, through the window, and questioning the whole venture. Perhaps, too, there is s’ome slothful cunning in there, as the fox attempts to discourage poetry while contrarily ‘becoming’ a poem. As fox’s have been at the heart of a lot of controversy through hunting, I bring this in at the beginning – as the ‘red pen’ of the hunting jackets attempt to ‘correct’ the fox. They may be inspiration for one of our greatest poets, but they’re also still considered ‘vermin’ by many in the countryside.

So as a point of reference, here’s Hughes’ poem:

The Thought-Fox

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest: Something else is alive Beside the clock’s loneliness And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star: Something more near Though deeper within darkness Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf; Two eyes serve a movement, that now And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow Between trees, and warily a lame Shadow lags by stump and in hollow Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye, A widening deepening greenness, Brilliantly, concentratedly, Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox It enters the dark hole of the head. The window is starless still; the clock ticks, The page is printed.

And a very elegant one it is. (And certainly much more formally constructed than my own!).

As I’ve no publishing deal lined up just yet, here is the working version (which may change – red pen and all) of the fox piece:

Vermin The Seventh:  Fox / Sloth

Why Even Try?

There they go again, correcting between the

furrows with the red-pen of their jackets;

the slick of their Hackett wax. Blowing

their own trumpets until

the air is thick with pomp

and gory details of the game:

they are set

on the catch.

And everyone says

we are meant to run

but where’s the fun

in that? Put me down,

if you like. Put me down,

I might bite – if the mood to do

anything takes me. I would fight

if the mood

not to move

eludes me.

Why even try?

No thought-fox am I

to be caught by the tail

and caged in your spry

and wily verbiage.

Sometimes, padding between

the eyelids of night, we catch you

tangled in light at the window.

Thinning paper to tissue,

forcing nothing to write,

your blankness is wrung

out on the page. Look at that fur

on your tongue: it’s not just our coats

that get mange.

Why even try?

No thought-fox am I

to be caught by the tail

and caged.

I’m hardly cunning, fantastic,

or no more than you might be

if committed to verse – or the

scabrous, sticky-back plastic

stories pursuing me.

What could be worse: outfoxed

by your own scent trails; by packs of

lies, baying for ever more tails.

So why even try?

No thought-fox am I.

Amidst your rubbish

I found evidence, clues,

of what mouldy-chicken talent

you have to lose. In the sluggish

trails of whose ideas were whose,

these stagnant scraps

caught my eye.

So why even try?

Fingers crossed there’ll be some more festivals I’ll be able to take Vermin to over the summer – I’ll update as and when…

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