I was walking with a friend the other day—how marvellous to be able to write that again—and she was telling me how she’d been co-opted without consultation into a cheesy social-media-platform birthday tribute to someone she hasn’t even seen for about many years, and with whom she had no significant relationship anyway. Something about this, or rather, our reaction to this, put me in mind of the glorious ‘No, Thanks’, by Dennis O’Driscoll. This is the only version of the whole text I can find online, and it’s been very slightly edited from the print version I have. You have to scroll almost to the bottom of the page and when you get there it’s not laid out well. But I reckon it’s better to have a “nearly” version of this poem than not. Do read it out loud to yourself. It’s one of those poems which tells you exactly how it wants to be read.
I love it that this poem is called ‘No, Thanks‘. The apparent politeness of ‘Thanks’ allows the poet to say what might otherwise be unsayable. In this it mimics the way that a breezy, “Hey Guys”, advertisers’ vocabulary allows a kind of social coercion, a manipulation, which we might find easier to stay out of were it more upfront: it spins in order to expose and refuse spin. The sending-up of that vocabulary is also just funny: the poem’s accelerando from plain speaking into a kind of splendidly scathing vehement bluntness is quite delicious. ‘No, Thanks’ doesn’t need me to labour its point; but in these strange days of clap-shaming and the like I wanted to honour the voice in me—I’m sure, in a lot of us—which refuses (or wants to refuse) to do what I’m pressurised to do. Probably lots of us find it hard to say no. Probably many of us have a voice inside which sounds a bit like this poem, snarling an unheard NO! behind that outwardly polite Yes.
And beside, I wanted to post about this poem so I could honour those precious people in our lives who realise that we aren’t hugely interested in how Nicholas’s Grade 5 Trumpet went. They know we can muster only moderate (if any) enthusiasm for brunch/after work drinks meet/product launch reception/other people’s children, so they don’t trouble us with a request. They accept our limitations, our occasional curmudgeonliness (even that WORD is great!). They don’t participate in the bullshit culture, or expect us to. What a relief.
You know who you are, people. Thanks for being you.