Today is the birthday of Edgar Rice Burroughs who never saw himself as a literary man.
He said: “if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines”
And so he did. In the process he created the character of John Carter in the Barzoom novels and Tarzan of the Apes. Tarzan has become one of the stock remake stalwarts of Hollywood and is re-created for every generation. I grew up with the black and white Johnny Weissmuller movies and the 1960’s colour TV series starring Ron Ely. I was in college when “Greystoke” was released in 1984 with Christopher Lambert in the lead role. I brought my kids to the Disney version released in 1999.
The poem I chose for today is Helpline. It is a bizarre journey beautifully rendered. At first it will bring to mind the suffering of disaster victims and the heroism of the support service workers like those in Texas, Mumbai and Bangladesh today.
Then it segues into the pressure cooker environment of the modern day call center, environments described as the “dark satanic mills” of the 21st century.
Finally it resolves into the personal relationship of a daughter with her ageing lonely mother for whom her missing dog does seem like the end of the world.
Helpline; by Suzannah Evans
In the call centre at the end of the world
everyone is wearing the rags
of the clothes they came to work in two weeks ago.
From floor ten we count fires in the distance
the smoking remains of suburbs.
Tea breaks are strictly monitored
and the internet is still there
but we are getting tired of news.
We sleep where we’re comfortable –
stairwells, carpet, canteen chairs.
Lateness for shifts is not tolerated
although at this stage few of us
have homes to go to.
Demand for the service is high.
I don’t know why I’ve stayed so long in this job
when the world in which I could spend its ample wage
has disintegrated –
politicians in hiding
supermarkets forced open on burst streets
perhaps it’s because they all tell me
that my voice could be the last one they hear
perhaps it’s because almost every worried caller
reminds me of my worried mother
or because we talk about wallflowers,
the hunger, the smell of burned paint
reminisce about summer in the park.
Her dog went out two days ago and hasn’t come back
If I’d died he could have eaten me
it sounds like a regret.