The Sunday Sermon

To get to the little casazinha in which I stay in Picinguaba, you climb some stairs from the beach to an old Catholic chapel. Constructed in the traditional style of Brazil, it had long been out of use—as the Evangelicals have something of a hold here—and was thus quaintly dilapidated, with rusty streaks and incipient lichen on the whitewashed walls. But in the two years that I’ve been away, it has returned to use—two Sundays a month—and has been spruced up and given a lick of paint. They are singing there, now, glorifying God; and it says something about the state of religion in this country that I am happier for them to do so there than in the rapacious Evangelical church down the road, with its smartly-suited unsmiling doormen and bottomless collection plate.

From the chapel, the quickest way to my house is across a small patch of grass, maybe twenty foot by ten. But during the day, at least, I will not pass this way, because it is infested with marimbondos, and they put the fear of God into me in a way that the brimstone preachers of the chapel will never achieve. Marimbondos are a type of wasp—though to make that claim to one who has never seen anything but the British variant of this genus is analogous to describing the ocean as a type of pond. They are two or three inches long, black as the devil, and aggressively protective of this small patch of grass. As well they might be, for below that grass, in burrows that they have built, their children are growing to adulthood.

And how! The marimbondos terrify me because their sting is notoriously painful, but what they do to another species—well that is something else again. The burrows under the grass contain not just marimbondo larvae: each larva has been lovingly, caringly deposited upon the inert but living body of a spider, paralysed—but not killed—by this same sting, and dragged into the burrow by the mother wasp, there to provide all the nutrients that her child needs. So sophisticated, so well-designed is this rearing system that the larvae even instinctively leave the spider’s vital organs to last, as they slowly consume it. The larva thus has the freshest possible food—for it is still living—for its entire infancy.

The marimbondos terrify me, indeed; but the God they are glorifying in the building next door to them terrifies me more. For He created this wasp, this creature whose act of supreme loving care for her offspring involves the prolonged torture of another creature. He saw fit to design a world thus, where the horrible slow demise of one being is necessary for the very survival of another. As His worshippers leave their church later this evening, having raised their voices in song praising his goodness and all-lovingness, I wonder how many of them will glance at that small patch of scrubbish grass to their right, and think upon the viciousness and sadism encapsulated there—not of the marimbondo, who is only acting as she must to continue her species, but of her Creator who designed her, and made her a torturer.

The Catholic church in Picinguaba

The Catholic church in Picinguaba

The International Court of Poetic Justice

Poetry, as I observed recently in that most august of domains—a Facebook comment thread—is like war. Neither of them do I fundamentally object to as a point of principle: both are occasionally necessary, though almost always regrettably so. It may even be possible to defend an instance of either as having provided, in the past, a net benefit to society. But this is no reason to encourage the production of more.

Wars beget more wars, and poetry—especially the bad—begets more poetry. Yet whilst the world has procedures, however flawed, intended to hold those who conduct illegitimate warfare to account, we have no comparable system in place with which to punish the perpetrators of literary crimes.

This can no longer stand. I therefore hereby convene, and declare myself the sole advocate, jury, and judge of the International Court of Poetic Justice (ICPJ), which will hear cases from across all time and duly, summarily, and wholly arbitrarily dispense justice. No case shall be too big for us, and none too small. Our nets shall be cast wide. Be it the krakens of the literary deeps—ancient, silent and brooding, yet still capable of rising to the surface covered in the centuries’ accreted slime of mindless and unquestioning reverence—or the minnows of poetic world—flashing rapidly past us with barely a mouthful of mawkish nonsense, individually little more than a sickly sweet burst of sentimentality, but en masse forming a vast, swirling maelstrom of maudlin gush—the court considers itself fit to try them all.

The court is well named, for not only will its sole task be the handing down of judgments upon these poetic violations of reason, but the penalties imposed shall be apposite to the nature of the offense. As a minimum they shall manifest poetic justice, but the court reserves the right to extend its punitive powers to the ironic, the sarcastic, the vexatiously obscure (where fitting: watch out, Ezra Pound, we’ve got our eye on you), and almost certainly the excessive and hyperbolic.

The first case has already been dealt with.

Re: The Court vs Andrew Motion

No poems were cited in evidence, for none were needed. The sole exhibit offered by the prosecution was a 2002 interview with the Daily Telegraph, in which the guilty—sorry, accused—indicated that he drank a daily cup of Lemsip to aid his poetic muse. It helped him achieve the sensation of having a cold, “that sort of slightly introverted self-pitying mood that a mild illness can give”; a state which, the defendant brazenly admitted, was “absolutely conducive to poems.”

Held, that the court could think of no other such open and shameless defence of everything that it stands against. That, on those few occasions where it is justifiable, poetry is so by virtue of concision in both language and imagery; the making of a precise and effective point. That “introverted self-pity” is for teenagers’ bedrooms, and should not be paraded anywhere else. That the defendant has willfully promoted exactly the kind of mawkish, intellectually flaccid, and emotionally vapid view of poetry that the court exists to stamp out.

Noted, that though the court has not read any of the defendant’s works, it vaguely recalls he wrote a poem on Diana’s death. Holy crap, wasn’t there enough unrestrained emotional diarrhoea over those few days?

Ruled, that since Motion appears so fond of snot, he is to be immersed in a lake of it up to his neck, until he has had enough (we are stern but humane, here at the ICPJ). His poems, since they were assembled deliberately and with scant regard for public welfare to emulate the excreta of contagious illnesses, shall be declared a species of biological weapon, and handed over to the corresponding authorities to safely destroy.

We shall, I suspect, hear more from the ICPJ. Its backlog of cases may be vast, but its mission is vital.