Roald Dahl calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: As I was going to St Ives

COUNSELOR: This sounds familiar.

CALLER: I met a man with seven wives

COUNSELOR: And you want to know how many cats they had in their forty-nine sacks?

CALLER: Said he, ‘I think it’s much more fun / Than getting stuck with only one.’

COUNSELOR: But more work too, I’d imagine.

CALLER: . . .

COUNSELOR: I mean, emotional labor. With eight people, the housework must go swimmingly.

CALLER: . . .

COUNSELOR: Uh. . . except for cleaning up after three hundred and forty-three cats.


Click here to read “St. Ives” and other poems by Roald Dahl.

Queen of Cheese Classics: “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese Weighing over 7,000 Pounds,” by James McIntyre

We have seen the Queen of cheese,
Laying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze —
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you’ll go
To the great Provincial Show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Cows numerous as a swarm of bees —
Or as the leaves upon the trees —
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unrivalled Queen of Cheese.

May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to send you off as far as
The great World’s show at Paris.

Of the youth — beware of these —
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek; then songs or glees
We could not sing o’ Queen of Cheese.

We’rt thou suspended from baloon,
You’d cast a shade, even at noon;
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

Poetry Crisis Line training: Hamlet

Occasionally, the Poetry Crisis Line counselors need retraining. Below is the transcript of a meeting with counselors from the Main Desk, the Deus ex Machina department, and the Unrequited Love Desk.

(If you’ve missed the run-up, you can follow these links to read part 1, part 2, and part 3)

SUPERVISOR: Do you know why I called this meeting?

UNREQUITED LOVE: Screening errors?

MAIN: Mixed metaphors?

SUPERVISOR: Do you remember this caller?

[plays back recording of HAMLET call]

HAMLET [recorded]: To be or not to be…

MAIN: Oh yeah. I transferred him to the Deus Ex Machina Desk.

DEUS EX MACHINA: And I sent him to Unrequited Love.

UNREQUITED: And he wadered off in the middle of the call. How is he?

SUP: Dead.

MAIN: Oh no.

UNREQUITED: Did he kill himself?

SUP [nods]: And his girlfriend.

UNREQ: Oh no.

SUP: And her brother.

MAIN: That’s terrible.

SUP: And their father.

UNREQ: Damn.

SUP:  And his mother.

DEUS: Crap.

MAIN: Are you sure? All of these people?

SUP: And his uncle and stepfather.

MAIN: His uncle and his stepfather. On top of all the rest?

SUP: No, his uncle and stepfather. One person.

UNREQ: That’s kind of creepy.

SUP: Apparently he was the target. The rest were collateral damage.

MAIN: Really?

DEUS: Dude must have lousy aim.

SUP: So when you had this caller on the phone, did he seem depressed.

MAIN: Oh yeah.

DEUS: Clearly.

UNREQ: Totally.

SUP: Did he talk about death?

UNREQ: Oh yeah

MAIN: Constantly.

DEUS: Whatever he said, it always came back to death.

SUP: And you didnn’t think to call me?


UNREQ? Not really.

MAIN: Why would we?

SUP: Because he was depressed, and talking about death.

DEUS: And?

MAIN: This is the Poetry Crisis Line, you know.

UNREQ: Everyone’s depressed.

DEUS: And death obsessed.

UNREQ: And lonely.

SUP: [long sigh] OK, we’re going to do some training to recognize when a caller is in danger. But if something like this happens again, please get a supervisor on right away. Or…at least somewhere along the line.

Seamus Heaney calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Cloudburst and steady downpour now

COUNSELOR: So you’re calling to talk about the weather?

CALLER: for days.

COUNSELOR: Right. If you want to talk to days, I may need to transfer you to another counselor when my shift ends.

CALLER: Still mammal,

COUNSELOR: That’s correct. I don’t think we have any birds or reptiles working today.

CALLER: straw-footed on the mud,

COUNSELOR: I don’t know what shoes the other counselor will be wearing.

CALLER: he begins to sense the weather / by his skin.

COUNSELOR: Um, yes. If you go out in the rain, your skin will feel it.

CALLER: A nimble snout of flood

COUNSELOR: So there’s rain up your nose?

CALLER: licks over stepping-stones

COUNSELOR: So you’ve got a dog out in the rain? They love that.

CALLER: and goes uprooting.

COUNSELOR: So you need to get him out of your garden. Do you have any dog treats?

CALLER: He fords

COUNSELOR: No—you want him out of the garden, but don’t encourage him to chase cars.

CALLER: his life by

COUNSELOR: Yeah, it could risk his life. Can you call him? What’s his name?

CALLER: sounding.

COUNSELOR: You mean Sounder? Like in the book?

CALLER: Soundings.

COUNSELOR: That’s a strange name for a dog, but OK.


From “Gifts of Rain” by Seamus Heaney

From the all-female adaptation of The Hobbit

BILBELLE: What have I got in my pockets?

GOLLUMME: It has pocketses?

BILBELLE: Yes, but what is inside?

GOLLUMME: We wants the pocketses! GIVE US THE POCKETSES!

BILBELLE: Uh, they’re attached.


BILBELLE: I mean they’re attached to my pants. I can give you my waistcoat.

GOLLUMME: It has pocketses?

BILBELLE: Yes, it has pocketses. Um, I mean pockets.

GOLLUMME: My precious.

Mark Antony calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: I am dying,

COUNSELOR: Can I send an ambulance? Where are you calling from?

CALLER: Egypt,

COUNSELOR: Egypt? What are you doing there?

CALLER: dying;

COUNSELOR: Right. Is there something I can do for you?

CALLER: Give me some wine,

COUNSELOR: I thought you were in Egypt?


COUNSELOR: You’re somewhere else as well?

CALLER: let me speak a little.

COUNSELOR: Right, you’re the dying guy. I’ll shut up now.

Charles Bukowski re-calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: there’s a bluebird in my heart that / wants to get out

COUNSELOR: Literally? Or is that a metaphor? Or, like, a simile?

CALLER: but I’m too tough for him,

COUNSELOR: It’s OK. You can admit if your heart is fluttering.

CALLER: I say, stay in there,

COUNSELOR: So you recognize that you want him there?

CALLER: I’m not going / to let anybody see / you.

COUNSELOR: So you’ve made a birdhouse in your soul, but it’s on the down-low?


Read the rest of “bluebird” by Charles Bukowski here.