Taking a headbut by William Letford
your pal ruffled ma hat
i said, what? made the mistake of leaning forward
and that was that
blood-metal darkness and the taste of brass
the bell was rung
i know i went somewhere
because i had to come back
Well, it’s funny, but it’s also brilliantly achieved in formal terms. The heavy use of rhyme in the first stanza -- ‘that’ (twice),‘hat’; ‘what’, ‘forward’ -- eases off in stanza two until the very last word -- ‘back’ -- does indeed call the ear back to where we began, only slightly adjusted by the experience.
from New Poetries V © William Letford
Line two leans dangerously forward, awkwardly (foolishly) proud of the rest of the poem, inviting attack; and the detached and understated tone allows itself a flourish with ‘blood-metal darkness’. There is some really fabulous imagery here for the moment of impact, or of ebbing consciousness, where the sound of the knockout bell, the taste of blood and metal, and encroaching blackness, collide and reverberate, giving both resonance, and a very appropriate sensory confusion. And there is another subtle use of rhyme: after the ‘taste’ of ‘blood-metal’, ‘rung’ cannot help but invoke it’s absent rhyme-mate, ‘tongue’. The journey of the poem is into the body, and out of this world.
The last two lines are epigrammatic, bathetic, zen-like and cartoonish all at the same time. ‘Come back’ expresses the gravity of the situation, the sense that things might have been touch-and-go there for a moment, that there was ground to be covered to regain consciousness, and even the suggestion of a near-death experience. But they also call to mind the soul of Tom wafting gently to the ceiling as Jerry smashes his skull with a mallet. It’s all held together by a voice which, while scrupulously objective and devoid of self-pity, has a profound interest in the mysterious process of receiving a headbutt. This is awe as well as shock.