Patrick’s SST5 piece – “A Christmas Carol for Ceausescu”

26 Apr

(Working subtitle: “Yet another communist dictator poem”)

Some editing details:

Length: Roughly 1 minute in my current reading. That might change as my performance develops but will probably stay between 45 seconds and 1m 30 seconds.

Theme: Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu

Feedback guidelines:

– I’m writing about quite obscure subject matter and I’d welcome suggestions on how to make it clearer without sacrificing imagery.

– How could I make the stanzas relate to each other better?


“A Christmas Carol for Ceausescu”


In the smothering of a restless autumn

December comes in creeping cages

Famine has dulled the lights to oily yolks

That dry to blackness on the concrete


In a hundred thousand unattended nativities

Saviours squall in their matted mangers

And, hidden in the reds of the choking dusk

A throbbing throat has spread across the sky


It is fed newborn sons by this new Herod

At the whim of his Salome, and the vanity

That admires his gastropod reflection

In the spare voodoo dolls on the walls


The virgin birth of a wildcat

Will not crown among these conifers

But the carcass will claw at the spaces

Under the skin where the father is not found


In a dream, you will disgorge

The bones of your crucified past

And ignore the orphans building fires in the snow

Making instead the long journey to the cannibal court

To face the ghost of Christmas future

5 Responses to “Patrick’s SST5 piece – “A Christmas Carol for Ceausescu””

  1. mouthypoets April 26, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    great images ‘throbbing throat has spread across the sky’,’ the virgin birth of a wild cat’, ‘orphans building fires in snow’ i could go on…they really build a strong sense of tension and drama. i’m not entirly sure what tis poem is about- that is just probably my ignorance, but you may want to think of a way of making it accessable- maybe an intro to the characters to help set the scene before you perform?? But at the same time you don’t want to spoon feed the audience- they can always go and research..i

  2. Matt April 27, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    I agree. It’s tricky to follow a narrative but on an immediate reading it seems not to matter because the imagery is so concise and clearly thought through, linking emotion and scene setting very economically. Works very well on the page – again I agree that there are too many good lines to pick out individual favourites (that and I’ve been sat at my computer for two hours and I’m getting lazy).

    On the idea of giving context . . .
    Following a page reading, immediate research is possible and I’m sure it would add new insight to this piece which nevertheless stands on its own for the beauty of the writing. For a performance maybe a little context in your intro would work, as I feel people often expect to be told something in a performance piece – they might appreciate a smidgeon of background knowledge about what they’re being told about.

    Nicely done,


  3. Matt April 27, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    actually I think I do have a favourite line – it’s the second one. That’s my favourite.
    ‘And, hidden in the reds of the choking dusk’ is also lovely. Could there maybe be a comma at the end to close off the sub-clause? The comma after and, though functional, works really nicely and I think would be complimented by another at the end of this line

    Again, Matt

  4. mouthypoets May 17, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    Patrick the language and texture of the poem is great. I love the imagery. The challenge I think you will have is making sure your audience is on same journey you are and that this doesn’t become a poem to yourself. I’m not sure I would tamper with the language too much as I think it’s very strong. This may require a bit of a set up as you say it is an obscure topic. I don’t always subscribe to intros to poems it may help here or something at the start of the poem that sets the stage as to what you hope the audience to feel as its not intuitive

    Ie. Christmas is not the same for everyone. Or the face of Christmas wears many a mask when…….. Makes sense ? .

    Hope this helps

  5. mouthypoets May 24, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Hi Patrick,

    I am finally here (Debris) reading this on the page, and it is very interesting doing so after hearing you perform it last Friday. Hopefully a bit of textual feedback is still helpful at this point!…

    -I love love love love this line “And ignore the orphans building fires in the snow”… so much so, is there any way of making it the last line? It is such a strong image, I think it would be a impactful and memorable way to leave them. Maybe just move it to the end, I think ti would make no less sense if you did so?

    -Describing light as oily yolks

    -I really like your use of meter and consistent stanza’s, it makes me feel stable and confident in you as I read it. I feel there is a purpose and it is my job as the reader/listener to work it out.

    -Great line – “The virgin birth of a wildcat” – It was here that I started to really get the nativity references and understand what you were doing with them by tipping them on their head and loving it. I didn’t get that in performance or before in the poem, maybe it is worth pushing that further and balancing this language out with more understandable and instinctive nouns and verbs (look into suggestions for more info on this).

    -This is potentially a mind blowing image, I think it needs tightening a little for sense purposes though…
    “But the carcass will claw at the spaces
    Under the skin where the father is not found”
    “But the carcass will claw under
    the skin where there is no father”

    -Why have you chosen this title? In terms of this piece making sense I think your title could be doing more work to clarify the Universality of this otherwise niche piece? Is there anything about the message of this story that is more topical or personal that could be featured in the title and therefore make your audience/reader connect with it more despite a lack of understanding of the content?

    -I don’t understand what this means? “gastropod reflection” like I know what the separate words mean but I don’t get what kind of image you are trying to give me? And how can he see his reflection in Voodoo dolls? There needs to be a balance of metaphor and instinctive sense, I feel there isn’t that here. I get what you are trying to do but it doesn’t work for me.

    -The sound of your lines and the way you perform them eludes to meaning and I love that. But I think there is a way to maintain that, but make your stanza’s slightly clearer and also sharper. There are a lot of ings and ly’s and ness’ in your lines + connectives and general description – this can make it harder to follow the nouns and verbs. I have tried to prune away some and add punctuation to make them stronger…

    The smothering of autumn.

    As december came in a cage.

    Famine dulled the light:

    oily yolks dried black on concrete.

    -In trying to make this edit, I noticed you nearly always have to qualify your verbs and nouns with at least one descriptive word, ask yourself is there one word that is stronger than these two, or is one of these descriptive words good enough e.g. I think describing an autumn as smothering infers a sense of restlessness so you don’t need both! Work closely with a thesaurus & punctuation. I think the meaning and the lines can stay very similar nothing really needs to be added it is just a matter of tightening up the lines. Because at the moment I get lost in them and all I get is the music, which is lovely, but I know you can do that already! Lets push it a step further shall we?

    -It’s also worth thinking about what image each line gives the audience… “In a hundred thousand unattended nativities” gives me no image, it really means nothing to me, what image did you want to give me or what unit of meaning? Because there are more of them (I don’t know what them is) than I can imagine and there is no-one there (I don’t they who they might have been anyway) and nativities I only understand in relation to Christmas but I don’t really know what they are as a noun? Whereas “hidden in the reds of choking dusk” has a strong movement hidden (=someone hiding) in the reds of a choaking (in somewhere sinister and scary and pungent and suffocating) dusk (the end of something light and the beginning of something dark and scary). Also consider this when looking at the tightness of the lines.

    I hope this is helpful!

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