God's Poem

It is something of a truism that more people write poetry than read it. I once tried it. I had a notebook in jail and a Derry man using calligraphy sketched a title on its cover for me: ‘The Cynic’s Book of Alternative Poetry and Prose.’ It was meant to be an outlet for poetry and verse that was not simply an act of worship towards the great and the good in the republican prison hierarchy. I found it relaxing, others found it wittily subversive. There is a similarity between composing poetry and penning polemic. Both have a therapeutic character, cathartic even.

For a while inside I also took to reading some of the heavy hitters of the world of poetry, although I did find some of the verse of Gino McCormack and Lawrence McKeown, fellow prisoners, much more authentic than the literary greats. My first foray into the world of poetry was through the poems of Mao Tse Tung, written on his Long March. My long time neighbour from the blanket protest, Martin Livingstone, had a liking for poetry. He pushed me toward it without even trying, catching my interest as he recited snatched verses out the window of a barren H-Block cell. One of his favourites was a poem by Robert Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
There was a certain haunting quality to it which has never diminished with time. Often he would discuss the meaning of poems. There was no great depth to our conversation. We were 21 years of age, banged up in a cell 24/7/365, and ever on the lookout for ways to put our day in. If discussing poetry filled the miles until we slept then it was a welcome break from the daily grind of endless protest.

Years later I would read and derive enjoyment from Philip Larkin and Berthold Brecht. There was also a Liverpudlian who wrote working class prose whose name, despite his brilliance, escapes me. I came across Larkin again in the Martin Amis memoir, Experience. In that book there is a brilliant poem composed by Kingsley Amis, the father of Martin. It is not anything a wordsmith would get excited over but its meaning is sharp, its blade deftly thrust into the heart of pious cant. I loved it because it scathingly sliced through the Christian myth of a loving god and in its place gave us a god of callousness who delighted in the pain of his subjects; the only type of god there could be if one were to exist. The poem sneeringly rubbishes the silliness of a religion that somehow finds immense suffering compatible with a benign creator.

In the book where the poem is drawn from, Kingsley Amis creates god as the poetic narrator who mercilessly taunts a boy without arms or legs, the type of god that would be at ease in the minds of the clergy of Ireland. The poem, sent anonymously to an army chaplain, more or less to subvert his addiction to rubbish, is a fillip for those appalled by the loving god of misery and suffering. My eight year old daughter dictated it to me as I typed. She has a great reading voice, and with emphases, pitch and cadence throughout blended an alluring character into the poem.

To A Baby Born Without Limbs

This is just to show you who's boss around here
It’ll keep you on your toes, so to speak
Make you put your best foot forward so to speak
And give you something to turn your hand to, so to speak
You can face up to it like a man
Or snivel and blubber like a baby
That’s up to you. Nothing to do with Me
If you take it in the right spirit
You can have a bloody marvellous life
With the great rewards courage brings
And the beauty of accepting your LOT
And think how much good it’ll do your mum and dad
And your Grans and Gramps and the rest of the shower
To be stopped being complacent
Make sure they baptise you, though
In case some murdering bastard
Decides to put you away quick
Which would send you straight to LIMB-O, ha ha ha
But just a word in your ear, if you’ve got one
Mind you DO take this in the right spirit
And keep a civil tongue in your head about Me.
Because if you DON’T
I’ve got plenty of other stuff up My sleeve
Such as Leukaemia and polio
(Which incidentally your welcome to any time,
Whatever spirit you take this in.)
I’ve given you one love-pat, right?
You don’t want another
So watch it, Jack


  1. I have not believed in the IRA since the death of Jean McConville.
    Many a man, woman or child has been maimed by the IRA and its no good saying The Loyalists did it first or did it more. We must each take responsibility for our own actions. I believe in Ireland, obviously you do too. Ireland has known such pain while men and women concentrated on hating the English children were being abuse in our Churches. The poem shows a cruel and careless God, well look around you and thank whichever god you believe in that your daughter is safe, well and happy. I sincerely hope you and yours will grow and prosper in peace.

  2. dedicated to all those superior clerics, incy wincy spider sitting on a wall. you think your smart,you know fuck all. your sitting on a wall,thats just been plastered, now your stuck you stupid bastard. Marty F

  3. I like the poem. However, I have a 'but'. It's that God's sovereignty is never to be stressed above his character (and it has been here). The God who is led to the cross is the Christian revelation of who God is. I have a friend, mother of two children, 5 and 2 year olds, in fourth stage cancer. She is beautiful, with her lymphatic arm, drug confused mind, horrific pain. My wife had a vision of Jesus with a shaved head and a swollen arm in complete union with her in her suffering. That is God/Jesus.
    We can reconcile the suffering world and the goodness of God, we just can't have a God who is fully in control, at least not at the moment. And he isn't. Right now the world is under the control of shits (not to put to fine a point on it). God is breaking in, but look what happened when he came - he got crucified. There is no remote standoff-ness in Jesus' engagement with us - and he can take our kicks and our pain and anger about the state of things. But get this, it is his sovereignty that is temporarily limited, not his character that is deficient. You'd love him!

  4. Roderick, I’m afraid not. This is pure theology and has no basis in anything material or scientific. Distinctions between sovereignty and character are meaningless in the context of a god that is supposed to be indivisible. The god led to the cross is one of many knocking around at the time claiming some special status. Revelation cannot be very revealing given that the words that revealed were written long after the existence of what was later revealed.

    It is a terrible personal tragedy for your friend. But a vision is not proof of the presence of Christ but proof of a human being thinking they saw something. At the moment there is a man in Ireland who has caused people to be blinded by the sun because he claims to have seen the mother of god and has the crowd gazing skyward on the promise of a repeat performance. There are less criminally negligent in jail.

    I can never reconcile the god of Nazi Germany and Rwanda with a loving creator. For that reason I could never love the concept Jesus. What we knew of in advance and failed to stop we are must bear responsibility for.

    Why does god have to break in? Has he lost the keys and needs to find another way into his property? And if he has, then how is he omniscient? And if he is not omniscient he is not god.

    Jesus the god is myth, Roderick, to help us cope with the dark of what does not lie beyond. I am quite happy that at the end of my days it is the end. My lack of faith sustains me. I worry not about what lies beyond. There is as much for me there as there is for one of the fish reeled in off Alaska yesterday.