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‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate’. THE COMMON GOOD, Noam Chomsky


A dormouse, leaping into a boiling cauldron,

leaps out, protesting. Some others, resting,

with breathing apparatus, trustingly

at the bottom of a pot of water

arctic-cold, will never ever notice

the incrementally increasing heat…


For nearly twenty five years the BBC

broadcast, on week days, a pre-school programme

called ‘Play School’ – its title no doubt to warn

its viewers there would be no play at Big School.

One of its features was three windows – arched,

round and square – through which short films would show…


Imagine the dystopian edition

broadcast to celebrate the abolition

of the civil service, and the launch

of compulsory, daily visits

to Wetherspoons in order to consume

buckets of chlorinated chicken wings…


‘Look, boys and girls, in the arched window

is Permanent Prime Minister Johnson

and Grand Adviser Cummings enjoying a joke!;

in the round window is the Permanent

Opposition being elected

every five years; in the square window…’


…are whatever scenes from a civic hell

you may fear to conjure – where clowns rule,

and the wise are laughed at, where prejudice

is extolled, learning punished, gradual

hierarchies of wealth and worth approved,

and official violence is esteemed…


You may choose whatever shape of window

you wish – from the range available, of course,

a range in which each one constrains your view

to the absolute limits of whatever

protocols of debate are acceptable

to stenographers and broadcasters

of those who control public discourse.

So, your choice: be a colony of dumb

dormice in a tepid pan – or be the one

that leaps, speaks…




© Copyright David Selzer
2 Responses
  • Elise Oliver
    July 25, 2020

    You missed a career opportunity as a political sketch writer. Very Orwellian, Kafkaesque and even Ursula le Guin(ish). Tragically, what you depict is not fantasy but reality in 2020. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tricks and Treachery are the practice of fools that don’t have brains enough to be honest”. I am proud to admit that I have never been to Wetherspoons or MacDonalds nor will I, out of principle, buy Warburtons’ bread. Other than those token gestures and signing a few petitions, I am too much of ‘an old woman’ to abandon my ‘colony of dumb dormice in a tepid pan’. Sad but guilty – your call to arms comes a few decades too late. Moreover, my memories of Play School will be forever clouded.

  • Mary Clark
    August 14, 2020

    Powerful poem. Let’s hope enough leap out, speak.

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