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Walking down Renshaw Street from ‘Rumpelstiltskin’

at the Unity then along Bold Street,

with its strolling crowds and varied eateries,

to Central Station, thinking of spinning gold

from straw, we pass beggars in doorways.

‘What are they doing?’ our granddaughter asks.

We explain. ‘Why don’t they get jobs?’ We explain.


My mother would tell me how, when she moved

to London before the war to be a nurse,

she was appalled by the rough sleepers

on the benches along the Thames Embankment.

In the depressed provinces presumably

there were enough workhouses to hide them.

There being no workhouses under Thatcher

and too few shelters they were everywhere

from twilight onwards, androgynous bundles

in the world’s fifth largest economy.

Now they have returned exactly like

their forebears in the largest empire since Rome’s.

They are dragon’s teeth. Where is our shame, our fear?


The gusts of wind, that fling the scattered rain

against the panes and flail the apple tree –

which jerks as if a frantic, shaken doll –

are lowing in the chimney like an owl.

I draw the blinds as the twilight goes,

switch on the laptop and begin to write,

thinking of those who are without – homeless,

hungry, thirsty – no more than a mile

let alone a continent away.


Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, Idleness –

Beveridge’s gargantua – are alive,

well, and stalking in our city centres,

in run down estates with abandoned gardens,

in bed-and-breakfasts in cul-de-sac towns

with shut-up shops and rusting factories.

Spin as we may, stamp as we might, marvels

and wonders outsmart facts. ‘The needy

and the poor have only themselves to blame,’

say the sassy and the rich. Our consciences

have fallen among thieves.




© Copyright David Selzer
5 Responses
  • Clive Watkins
    October 25, 2019

    This rings very true, David, alarmingly so. From my own experience and that of my immediate family (in teaching and medicine) I could readily adduce many examples of the continuing presence of the Five Giants and their baleful influence on the lives of our fellows – and on the quality and honesty of our civic discourse about such matters. (And as you know, I have a long family history in this field, going back two hundred years.) It would be misguided to comment on ‘The Five Giants’ from a technical point of view as a poem, but as a political and human document it has its own particular power. Bravo!

    By the way, it’s decades now since I last walked down Bold Street – or Renshaw Street, or Leece Street, or Hardman Street. But what changes those thoroughfares have seen!

  • Ian Craine
    October 25, 2019


  • John Huddart
    October 25, 2019

    Back to the first stanza where the pantomime just seen evokes a world of magic and gold – and the very real streets of a city whose wealth and poverty have always run a parallel course – so how appropriate to produce a meditation on history, family and responsibility. I say bravo to the poem’s technical cleverness, as well is its many hearts!

  • Keith Johnson
    October 27, 2019

    Stunning! Now self-respect has been fully monetized, no price can be put on decency.

  • Alex Cox
    November 1, 2019

    A wonderful poem. Thank you.

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