Barry Smith

Being & Nothingness
(Lines on sorting a book collection)

To be or not to be that is the question
which has bedevilled our existential angst
since William Shakespeare – or was it Thomas Kyd? –
crystallised our dizzying predicament.
And so, Jean Paul, here’s the rub, for I weigh
your fate, like a bare bodkin, in my hand
poised betwixt the suffocating dark
or temporary reprieve to rest
amongst the riddling heroes of the pen,
to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to man.

Alas, poor Sartre, liberated one day
from sedately curated shelves of academe
between black coffee in the campus bar
and metaphysical poetry seminar,
left-bank arbiter of hawks and handsaws,
embodies for a while that cool ennui,
somnambulantly drifts through long neglect,
to sleep, perchance to dream, in dusty
seclusion, king of shreds and patches
bounded in a nutshell of infinite space.

By indirections we find directions out:
your magnum opus, fretful high-wire act
awaits the determinant curtain call,
but the rest, as the man said, is silence.

Barry Smith is director of Chichester Poetry and co-ordinator of the Festival of Chichester. His work has appeared online, on youtube and in magazines. He was runner up in a BBC Proms Poetry competition. Barry is co-editor of Poetry & All That Jazz magazine. Recent readings include the South Downs Poetry Festival.