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by wordman 

Posted: 10 February 2012
Word Count: 20

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Stuck on dead mans handle

Black shiny soot waxing


Nights engine foot.

Record breaking railway sleeper


Tomorrows lever.

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James Graham at 12:42 on 11 March 2012  Report this post
Apologies for the long delay in posting a comment. I’d like to invite other members to comment too - partly because I need a little help with this poem!

The language is very condensed. On first reading I didn’t quite draw a blank, but found it hard to grasp the idea and the significance of some words. This is not necessarily a fault; some poems require the reader to work hard to get to the meaning.

I found I had to fill out the lines to make sentences. There is a slug sticking to a dead man’s handle [train driver’s safety device]. It is as black as soot but also shiny; it has waxed the handle with its trail. Its foot is an engine that is active by night when the engine of the train is stopped. It is a railway ‘sleeper’ in another sense - it moves so imperceptibly it seems asleep. [‘Record breaking’ I’m not sure of.] It is ‘sluggish’ in both literal and metaphorical senses. It sits on the thing that will return to ‘life’ as a lever tomorrow.

OR - a version of the last three lines - The handle, which has been a record breaker [in some sense - speed?] is now sluggish because it’s unused during the night, but will be active again tomorrow.

The poem doesn’t have to be fleshed out like that. Poetry can be very compressed. But expanding it led me to some kind of understanding of the meaning. Does my version mean anything to you, or have I got it wrong?

If you would get back to me on this, we could go on from there. If I have grasped the meaning of the poem, it’s a striking and rather offbeat idea. I’m fascinated by it, but you need to tell me - since we’re talking about railways - if I’m on the right track, or off the rails.


Dave Morehouse at 20:43 on 11 March 2012  Report this post
I am afraid I missed the mark and read too literally. I read through several times. The first read I imagined a shovel stuck in the soil of a garden with a man, presumably dead from heart failure, lying next to it. The slug was an actual slug atop the shovel handle leaving a monoped trail along the handle's length. The record holding sleeper would be the dead man and tomorrow's lever the shovel taken up by its new owner. Now that I see the railway connection it makes better sense though I still like my interpretation. Regardless of the meaning that lies behind the verse I can make the following general comments and feel good about them:

I enjoy the sparse use of words and the fact that each line builds or carries a sense of action. This poem is well crafted in that respect. It makes me read and think, and reread, and think. Isn't that what a good poem does? Whether I catch the author's meaning or not isn't relevant to my personal process and enjoyment.

This led me to believe there was a real slug involved..
Black shiny soot waxing


Nights engine foot.

If the slug is a metaphor for the train, so be it. I still think the image is beautiful and stands up either literally or metaphorically. Nice work. Dave

FelixBenson at 12:40 on 12 March 2012  Report this post
Hi Andre,

I agree with James and Dave - the concise, fragmentary lines you have written are very well crafted and make for an intriguing poem.

I like how the poem travels lightly from one image to the next, almost by association. I'd be interested to hear what you make of James' and Dave's conclusions, but it occurred to me that this could also be a poem about how things are connected - or rather, how the mind makes connections.

Through the image of the slug you connect (or compare) perceptions of speed and slowness - the slug is slow, 'waxing' and 'stuck', and yet, overnight becomes
Record breaking railway sleeper
or "Nights engine foot" which suggests this incredible movement and power.

It's almost like the poem is making a contrast between the different ways the slug can be perceived - is it an unfortunate creature to be pitied, 'sluggish' and 'stuck' with no hope (dead mans handle is a very effective way of expressing a dead end)? Or, by contrast is it an engine, a train, a powerful mover leaving an oily black trail just like a locomotive?

The fact that the poem moves from stuck to this image of momentum suggests the latter, or a move towards the positive. If the slug is just a slug, then perhaps there is more to him than meets the eye, you could be saying, or perhaps the slug reprents us - our feelings of being stuck and trapped, how we can feel like we are in a dead end. Then overnight this trapped, stuck thought (or our trapped stuck selves) can be transformed by an idea or a plan, or simply by our own imagination. And so you leave us on this fantastic image of (the slu's? ours? anyone's?) potential:

Tomorrows lever.

Which is all the more effective because it is quite understated.

I may have got very far off track with these musings - and travelled some distance from your intentions, I'm not sure, but it shows at least the potential in a short and rather elliptical poem. How much the reader can see in it.

I've enjoyed thinking through and making interpretations of your poem, and I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on my comments and the comments that other have made.


wordman at 22:14 on 12 March 2012  Report this post

Thank you all very much for your kind & fascinating words on my Slug poem. You are all right! The words in my slug poem stemmed from my frustration in not being able to describe a slug 'simply'. The slug black sticky blob thing in question was at the foot of the cupboard in my kitchen trying to negotiate left & right. He/she was black as black and did not seem to want to go anywhere in particular. To cut a long story short I ended up with my poem. All the while I was thinking of the night and those sooty black 50's style trains speeding along with the silver rails glinting. 'Record breaking' was a simple reference to how much damage they can do during the hours of darkness.I wanted the poem to be a metaphor for something to do with speed & time life & death but without being heavy & depressing. The machine idea versus nature is compelling. My friend Fiona found the poem to be very sexual which is interesting as the poem originally had words describing 'baby bubbles' salacious behaviour etc. This might be where the train has a different meaning. I have an allotment and slugs are always there in abundance but I see them in a different light when they turn up in my flat. Awesome mysterious little creatures! I love the little things in life every time I see a slug I think to myself 'you could not make one of those for all the money in the world'. Top marks to Dave Moorhouse for knowing there was a real slug involved. James you are not off the rails, maybe we are on different stations. Incidentally I love dark British movies and those spooky railway clocks that you often see. My slug 'event' represents motion for fast thinkers and slow a like.. Enjoy.

James Graham at 13:33 on 13 March 2012  Report this post
There have been different takes on 'Slug'. Different readers have been at 'different stations'. That's not a bad thing. It's a good thing. Not all poems work like that to the same extent, but this is the kind of poem that's very open to different understandings. You don't spell out, make explicit, what you want the reader to see or think. I look forward to your next poem - maybe in a similar form? Or maybe something different?

What you say about the fascination of slugs suggests that you might write a poem series on them. It's very much a direction taken by contemporary poets, to focus on the 'little things in life', especially those that are despised, or considered ugly and unpleasant. Some gardeners use highly toxic pellets to kill slugs, which they see only as a nuisance. But poets (and some who are not poets) see them differently.


Dave Morehouse at 14:37 on 13 March 2012  Report this post
I look forward to your next poem - maybe in a similar form? Or maybe something different?


wordman at 21:30 on 13 March 2012  Report this post

I am very impressed with your creative intelligent enthusiasm its very reassuring and helpful,thanks. I have 23 more 'poems' & will load another one up soon. James you must be able to read my mind I was thinking of doing a series of poems on the slug. I have moved on from the slug now the slug has moved on too! Andre.

TessaF at 09:49 on 15 March 2012  Report this post
Hi Andre

You say a lot with a very few words in your poem and I see that it has sparked quite a discussion! I think the pairing of the slug with the train is inspired. I like that each line (even when just one word) can be read in more than one way.

I look forward to reading more of your work.


wordman at 15:49 on 15 March 2012  Report this post

Thanks Tessa glad you enjoyed reading my poem. I will be loading a poem up shortly. rgrds

gard at 14:55 on 16 March 2012  Report this post
Wonderful opening line Andre.

I felt that as soon as I read the first line I was drawn in with no return other than to "take the train journey" i.e. read the poem. Of course being "Stuck on dead man's handle" brings so many images to mind for instance those of human doom and darkness despair war - quite possibly for most people things associated with a slug (like other insects such as spiders etc)...

I like slugs despite their "simplicity in design" they seem to live a full life hee hee.

Beautiful and unique piece of work.

Looking forward to some more uploads Andre...

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