Posted by: John Looker | 11 December, 2013

The Buzz


The Buzz

We enter the cave, the firelit cavern …
we enter the Forum …
we take off our shoes at the Bedouin tent …
at the Maori marae … we enter
the Durbar … the boardroom … the conference centre:

bright lights blazing on a colourful stage,
a speaker PowerPointing the hall at large,
and row upon row of badged delegates with their notes
balanced on their knees.

Let’s listen: not so much to the voice at the mic –
that’s for the delegates if they’re awake –
no, we’ll listen to the hiss of interpretation
for this is an international function,

listen to the languages seeping from unused headsets
on surplus seats,
to the self-conscious whispers
where the rows are restless, 

listen to the murmurs in corners
where little huddles
gossip and josh or are seen
in hushed negotiation.

in the dry recycled air
this unceasing
susurration … 

                … and then this happens:
somewhere right at the back of the mind a door opens
and we step out on the green floor of the Rift Valley
to find a rough circle

of sitting men, with a group of elders at the core
talking … talking with great care
and deliberate gestures over neat piles
of game and grains, of skins and stone tools,
and salt-water pearls …


© John Stevens 2013

This poem is the mid-point of a sequence of poems called The Silk Road which began with the post “Frequent Flyers” at:

Further poems are to come in the New Year, the next entitled “From The Shadows Of The Souk”.



  1. This is such a fine piece of craftsmanship, John!


  2. Aah, thank goodness you have enabled comments again. I LOVE this series, John, and intend to print them all off for many enjoyable future readings (personal use only, of course). You’ve hit the pulse of something, dead center.


    • Really?! I am most honoured, Elaine; thank you.


  3. I do enjoy your writing very much…
    Thanks 🙂


    • Thank you Michael – I really appreciate that.


  4. A thought provoking piece John.

    I can only assume you are contrasting the mundanity and uselessness of the modern conference where nobody is listening and the speaker has nothing original to say to the days on the Rift Valley where the elders were “talking with great care” and the audience were listening.

    Power Point ought to be a great tool but in my experience it is used remarkably badly almost all of the time as is that other modern invention – the autocue.

    The inspirational speakers I have heard have used neither!!!



    • That’s very interesting David. I know just what you mean about PowerPoint and inspirational speakers.


  5. What David so very well said 🙂 Thought provoking!


  6. So much can be said about the beauty of these poetic scenes you’ve given us so far in The Silk Road, but I’ll just mention one thing that strikes me immediately about this one—the appearance of the first person plural as its ostensible voice. It’s as if you’re inviting us into it…”we” follow you, our cinematic guide, into these places…as you show them to us (in your usual lovely slant rhyme, of course!) Bravo!


  7. You’re spot on as always Cynthia. These nine poems were all written with the sense that we are considering things together. This middle poem is explicitly in the first person plural, the first and last poems (which also take an over-view) less obviously, but the other six (the little vignettes about people) only implicitly. I hope it all works.


  8. Fascinating! Not listening to intentional messages is usually the sign of alienation, so the foregrounding of the white noise of meetings is itself a kind of discovery, but as you show, the mind will long for purposeful speech for the We not to implode. The primitive once again supplies a myth or consolation.


    • Yes, as you say, the mind will long for purposeful speech. I hadn’t seen the alienation angle but I like your insight here Tom.


  9. ‘Powerpointing’ indeed. Whatever else you want to say about PowerPoint, it is not generally used to usefully point at anything. (A very big aside: I use PowerPoint in class quite a bit. But they are not your traditional affair of bullet points and boring graphs. Try using the transition ‘vortex’ between slides—but slow it down so that it takes 15 seconds or so to transform. Put a lot of bright colors on each slide. And stir in a little Philip Glass, say, or Alva Noto on the sound channel—and you’ve got something that you will not find on most office presentations.)
    But, let’s assume PowerPoint to be what it often is, an easy way to bore people, and this is what is happening here. But not to us. We’ll listen to the hiss and murmurs and the susurration. Of what? Seems like the easily distracted travelers on their ersatz silk road are not listening on their headphones. Have they fled the caravan? Well, we do. We step outside the tent and into the Rift Valley. [John, since I’m always sending you to the Wikipedia, I took that trip myself. I hadn’t realized the Rift valley was once thought to extend up and out of Africa. Geographically not the case perhaps, but in name…yes. Interesting.]
    ‘ And then this happens…’
    Now poetry might be thought of as a type of travel. I often use that metaphor. I like a poem that takes me someplace I didn’t expect to go. Thus: when I find a poem that takes me there—and then…how shall I say this?—comments on the process?—perhaps smiles at me for my naiveté—what no hookah? Anyway plops me—I mean ‘us’—down into another reality altogether, wow, what a great ending. And this is the midpoint?


    • Thank you Jim. That’s really decent of you.
      Sounds like your classes could be a whole lot more fun than most.


  10. I just love the end of the poem. The end is such an opening, refreshing and green in contrast to the staleness of the conference room. This poem is wonderful to read twice, or more than once, because the opening lines are (on first reading) lost to the conference centre, but I found upon reading it again that the conference gained some meaning…the ancient meeting places are carried through and the poem feels whole. Such an inspiring series of poems:

    somewhere right at the back of the mind a door opens…

    It does.


  11. John: Great poem. I’ve been a student of behavior at conferences (having attended way too many in my academic career) and its relation to the patterns of social interaction (having studied anthropology to some extent), always comparing the the patterns of today with those of ancient times (even to those of other branches of the animal kingdom). This effort of yours is a masterful walk through the back alleys of my thoughts on the subject, though sometimes I go even further into the realm of tribal memory. :-).


    • That’s most interesting Chucky – thank you for telling us of your own thinking in this area. Patterns of interaction now and in the deep past: continuities and contrasts: what it is to be human.


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