“The Poetry Monster,” by Seán Carabini

Apr 20th, 2014 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

And then there was chaos. Although it was a clear day with sunshine, people remember only occasional moderate sunshine. They recall seeing a crowd running past their windows—and joining that crowd and being part of that crowd as it then ran past other people’s windows. But window by-passing was only one of the reasons that this crowd had convened.

The crowd huddled in the Eastern corner of the village square, preferring that direction above all others—especially North. And they watched and they fell silent in order to listen.

A young boy with a Dickensian flatcap and a talent for cliché watched the reflection of his father’s face in the dim puddle on the ground. He was the first to spot the light ripples—and saw them as they began to increase in strength and temerity. They rippled across his father’s reflection and gave him the appearance of having an aging, wobbled and deep-lined face—which, in reality, he already had.

“Look!” shouted a woman needlessly, pointing to the hill.

They all watched in confused terror as the silhouette of a monster came into focus. Just like watching an anti-origamist, they could not believe what was unfolding before their eyes. Monsters were only supposed to exist in children’s fables. They were not supposed to be real – they had been invented only to terrorise the minds of children in the name of parenting.

They could now see the monster’s skin—green as an unsalable turnip, scaly as a turnip that was also unsalable, but for different reasons.

“He has the head of a gorgon,” shouted a villager with an until-then unused Masters in classical mythology. “And I should know—I have a Masters in classical mythology.”

“And look at the eyes! His yellow eyes! They have the intensity and coldness of a sheep,” said the sheepfarmer who had lost his wife to a stampede of sheep (though he still gets regular postcards from her).

“And his skin! He has the terrible skin of an armadillo,” declared a wild-eyed onlooker.

“No—no it’s really more akin to that of a pangolin,” said another. “It has those kind of pointy scales.”

“I’m not really sure that I’d agree with that,” said the first man in terror. “A pangolin’s scales are designed for more of an overlap than those of an armadillo. To me, his scales are clearly armadillo-like”, he said, breaking into a cold sweat.

“I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree”, said the second man in a panic. “After all – true friendships outlast disagreement.”

The monster drew nearer now to the villagers. They grew silent and huddled together like a gathering of individuals compressing themselves into a small space. Breaths sharpened. Hands trembled. A tourist stopped to ask directions.

And then, he was there. Large, green, breathing like a belaboured broodsow, he towered over the villagers – their futures focused on his large and terrible teeth, their present overshadowed by a sense of pure fear, their pasts haunted by varying and unresolved personal issues.

“What—what do you want”, asked Friar Whitby, his voice all atremble.

“I object to a priest speaking on my behalf,” noted Atheist Joe. “I’d like to ask you the same question, but to strip it of any religious connotation.”

“Are—are you going to eat us?” asked Mayor Farrington.

“Yes—are you here to eat us?” asked a token woman who happened to be the first black female to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the US Marines and thereby finally winning her estranged father’s approval.

“No. Monster—not—going—to—eat—villagers,” said the monster with a voice like a smoked fish.

“The monster speaks English!” declared a villager.

“But so do you,” replied another.

He contemplated this for a moment. “By God!” he exclaimed, wide-eyed. “I do!”

“Are you here to eat our houses,” asked the Mayor.

“No. Monster—not—eat—houses,” replied the monster.

“Are you here to eat our sheep?” asked the sheepfarmer, asking this question for the fourth time in his life.

“No. Monster—not—eat—livestock.”

“Well then—what exactly are you here to eat?” asked the Friar.


The villagers grew silent as they contemplated this.

“Well that’s not so bad,” came a voice from the back.

“Quick—bring him the poetry books from the library,” said the Mayor.

A group of villagers ran to the library and smashed through the front window. “Where is the poetry section,” demanded the mob.

“You can find it on our new online catalogue system. Have you used it before?” asked the librarian.

“No—I’m used to the old card system,” said the mob leader. “Do you maybe have a pamphlet on how the new system works?”

They study the pamphlet carefully and enter the details into the online catalogue. Soon, it became clear where the poetry section was. The investment in the online cataloguing system had been worthwhile after all.

With armfuls of books, the re-emerged onto the street and hurried back to the monster, dumping them at his feet (the books, not their arms).

“There, your monster-ship,” said the mob leader. “That’s all the poetry books in the library.”

“Monster—hungry,” exclaimed the monster as he reached down to begin eating.
Keats was the first to go. He devoured the entire collected works in one gulp. His mighty teeth smashed the works of Shelly in mere seconds. McGreevey, Wilde and Whitman were eaten together. The villagers watched on as this literary desecration continued.

“At least it’s only poetry. Thank God he doesn’t like mystery novels”, said one.

It took only forty-five minutes for the monster to eat the entire library collection.

“Monster—full. Monster—hungry—again—tomorrow,” said the monster.

“But—but you’ve eaten all of our poetry. We have no more to give you,” said the Friar.

The Mayor turned to the people. “My friends—return to your houses and write a poem. We’ll all bring them here to the monster tomorrow to feed him.”

“NO!” bellowed the monster. “Monster—only—eat—peer—reviewed—poetry.”

This sent the villagers into a tizzy. What will we do now?

“Wait! I have an idea,” said the Friar. “I had some poems published when I was younger and studied English at college. Would you accept me as a reviewer?”

“Yes—I too have had a few poems published,” said Atheist Joe. “And with the Friar and me reviewing together, you could be sure of religious balance.”

The monster pondered the proposal. “Very—well. If—you—form—a—committee—to—review—the—poetry—of—the—villagers—and—publish—a—daily—journal,—monster—can—eat—that.”

“I can be on the committee,” asked a man who held an unused Masters in Classical Mythology. “I hold a Masters in Classical Mythology.”

“Is—it—unused—Masters”, enquired the monster?

“Well—yes. I suppose it is.”


Within an hour, the villagers had cobbled together a committee of three and signed a printing contract for the production of one volume each day. The final member of the committee was the first decorated African American to serve on a poetry journal review board.

“Return to your houses—take out your quills and your laptops—and write. The journal needs poetry. I need everyone to submit a poem for our consideration by tomorrow morning. Otherwise, the monster will return and he will be angry. Fear the wrath of the monster left hungry for poetry.” And with these words form the mayor, the people dissipated and the monster stomped back over the hill.


The first issue of the Village Journal was a success. Twelve villagers were published for the first time and began to dream of future publishing deals. The monster arrived at dinner time and declared satisfaction with the first issue of the journal. Issue two was equally as successful—with the Friar himself having a poem published.

And so, for three weeks, the villagers continued to produce their journal and appease the monster. Soon, however, problems began to appear. The villagers found it more and more difficult to continually produce new poetry and the volume of submissions began to slacken. In response, the Mayor issued a decree that every citizen must submit a poem each day. And, indeed, this ensured the submissions—though their quality had begun to dip.

The Friar and Atheist Joe began to argue more and more about what should and should not be included. Atheist Joe insisted that each journal should carry twelve poems—whereas the Friar felt that the quality was not there to sustain twelve each day. The decorated Marine proffered no opinion as she is only a token character in this story.


During the fifth week, things reached desperation point (it was located at the corner of Main Street). The monster continued to stomp into the village square at dinner time to receive his daily journal and the Mayor continued to reassure the people that as long as the journal was produced, the village would be safe. And the people continued to write poetry.

Behind the scenes, however, cracks had started to show. The villagers had begun to run out of subjects for their poetry. They had started out with poems about love, about death and about their village. Lately, however, the topics were becoming more and more obscure. The most recent issue of the Village Journal had included a poem about cattle scower and another advocating the non-surgery options for bunion treatment.

The Friar did not believe that such poetry topics should be carried in the Village Journal. He felt that they compromised the quality and reputation of the publication.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Atheist Joe. “All we have to do is publish twelve poems on a daily basis. The quality is irrelevant.”

Things soon came to a head between the two men when a villager tried to pass a fifteen-line poem off as a sonnet. The Friar would not accept it. Atheist Joe resigned in protest from the committee—though, in reality, he had been looking for an excuse for a while to step down. It had taken up too much of his time—time he needed to pursue his true passion: refrigeration school.


The following day was a Wednesday morning. The Friar specifically remembers this detail as it had come after a Tuesday evening. The journal entries had arrived. The committee—now comprising of just two—began to sift through them. The Friar, knowing that the other committee member did not have an active part in this story, realised that it would fall to him to make the selection decisions.

The first five poems chose themselves. They were good, solid pieces of poetry that dealt with classical themes: love, loss and labour. The second five were more of a challenge—but—again—he was able to make a selection. He could not, however, find the final two pieces. The quality was not there. One piece—‘Ode to an apple pie’ appeared to simply be an apple pie recipe. Another—‘Ode to a driver’s licence application form’—appeared to be a driver’s licence application form. What would he do?

The Friar spoke to the Mayor and asked him to assemble the villagers at five O’clock. When the time came, the Friar stepped out to address them.

“My friends—there will be no Village Journal published today.”

The villagers took a sharp intake of breath.

“But the monster—he will kill us all!” The people panicked.

“The truth, my friends, is that there were not enough worthy submissions. We needed twelve. There were only ten that were any good.”

“Could you not publish it as a chapbook,” asked a voice?

“What—and ruin the reputation of the journal?” retorted the Friar with a snarl.

Suddenly, the ground began to rumble. The footsteps of the monster! The monster is coming! The monster is coming!

The monster loomed large over the rehuddled masses. He looked around—but could not see his daily poetry journal.

“Monster—hungry. Where—monster’s—poetry—journal?”

As the Friar stepped forward, the crowd hushed and gasped into a silence—just as they had rehearsed.

“Monster,” began the Friar, “We do not have a journal for you today.”

“NO JOURNAL?” bellowed the monster.

“No—I’m afraid not. The submissions were just not of a high enough quality. I couldn’t publish them without compromising the journal’s integrity.”

The Mayor stepped forward. “Monster—if you’ll allow me—I think I have a solution to this problem. I plan on passing another law that sets up a sub-committee that must pre-vet all submissions before they are submitted. I think …”

“ENOUGH!” roared the monster. “MONSTER—NOT—HAPPY. MONSTER—ANGRY!” he said, beating his chest to help ease the pain of his pleurisy.
The villagers began to shriek. “We’re done for,” screamed one. “We’re doomed,” exclaimed another. “I think I left the iron plugged in!” wailed another.

The Friar began to speak. “Monster—if you’re going to eat the villagers, you may as well start with me. My surplice is made of bacon and my underwear is knitted from spaghetti.”


The villagers grew both silent and perplexed at these words—though it is not known which they grew first.

“What—you mean that you were never going to harm us? We were never under threat?”

“Monster—just—like—poetry, but—good—poetry—so—hard—to—find—these—days.”

And so the villagers watched as the monster trudged away into the distance, his silhouette losing itself in a grey fog inserted into the story by the author for the sake of atmosphere.


Defenestration-Sean CarabiniSeán Carabini is an Irish farce and travel writer, known for the books Sticking Out in Minnesota and American Road. Seán blogs regularly at www.seancarabini.org and is the current Chairperson of the Irish Writers’ Union.

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