2012: A Snapshot - the poem

A pub on stilts. Its shadow: long and dark,
cast along the tall grass, St George’s cross
ripples in breeze, a tartan kilt dangles off

a window sill, a sky ever stuffed with rain,
one red dragon - half sunk on the horizon
is how I picture the United Kingdom.

There are steps carved of wild wood and
old stone, they shake but master the weight
of all who come. Hung over the fireplace is:

a stuffed bird, sketches of veterans, framed
paintings of chalky cliffs, ceramic castles
adorn the mantle-piece, and if you listen

to those closest sat, whose voices rumble
out of broad chests decorated with medals
you’ll hear stories of days gone by,

when men were men and that was that.
The pub sits on stilts. By the long counter,
Miriam, 25, wise for her age, giggles

but finds enchanting the frayed man
who yells in opposing voices; she finds
truth in the rough quarrel of his tongue.

He yells: his voice is never heard, then
yells: he is just misunderstood and Liz,
46, seeking solitude, asks him to be quiet.

For her, we are snowflakes; our leaders
stand in blizzards, their task is difficult:
to sculpt us into beautiful. Further back,

in suits, tapping at computers, measuring
the slow gait of growth are the savvy mocha
drinkers, tech heavy heads who talk rapidly

of financial liquidity, the cost to the nation,
the worth of things. Dan thinks of whispering
to his unborn twins. He is with the fathers;

they nervously seem to count loose change,
frown, then order one drink. The cleaners
stop their second shift: a cup of water before

the third and overhear journalists speak of
finding ‘dirt’. For all their fancy talk, one thinks,
they don’t know the meaning of the word.

Tense are professors. By the dart boards, they
wonder if the veil will fall, if students priced
from tuition fees will cease to fill UCAS forms.

These young ones fill the centre, feel ignored,
battered, berated, bullied, bored by those who
speak for them. Betrayed by flashing bulbs,

some huddle into headphones, their heads
bound to driving beats. Their conversations
turn around music; how bass alleviates

the weight of their world, how sparse snares
hold their sense of loss, how rappers speak
best for them in this pub that sits on stilts.

By the juke box, the writers try to mix
free speech with unflinching sincerity.
The pastors preach their God’s true word,

scientists break what puzzles us. Athletes
shrink from alcohol to meditate on starting
guns, the gold, silver and bronze that call

for muscular perfection, turns the world
to our capital where identity gleams with
questions: Who are we? What's our thing?

Some murmur gently quiet themes of food,
beer, football, equality, a shifting cloud
of answers fill this pub that sits on stilts.

The economists, shop keepers, postmen,
midwives, bus drivers, the pharmacists,
mechanics, most want the simple things:

The farmers, chemists, bankers, plumbers,
chefs... the endless list want better healthcare,
decent housing, jobs and truth above all this;

Truth of headlines. Truth of law. Truth of 
taxes. Truth of war. Truth of power. Truth of
knowledge. Truth of who and what corrupts.

The pub rocks on stilts. The doors creak with
a passport’s opening, immigrants come;
strands of songs rise from their hopeful lungs

and outside, if you happen to walk along,
if you gather up our raging symphony,
if you catch our twisting varied tongues,

if you listen to our many songs, we will
teach you all the world’s knowledge:
the complex right, the complex wrong.

Find out more

Watch the film

See the film of the poem created by Stitchthat

Find out how the poem was created

Inua Ellams explains how he created a poem from crowd-sourced contributions from people across the UK

Our partners

2012: A Snapshot was created for Arts in Parliament.

Find out more about our project partners Inua Ellams and Apples and Snakes.