Harry Baker (b. 1992) is a slam poetry champion who used to study math. An enticing combination that makes for some interesting slam poetry. Today I read “paper people”, a lovely allegory for society culminating in a touching personal reminder. I quote the entire poem here with his kind permission (how #twitter makes our life easier):
I like people.
I’d like some paper people.
They’d be purple paper people. Maybe pop-up purple paper people.
Proper pop-up purple paper people.
“How do you prop up pop-up purple paper people?”
I hear you cry. Well I …
I’d probably prop up proper pop-up purple paper people
With a proper pop-up purple people paperclip,
But I’d pre-prepare appropriate adhesives as alternatives,
A cheeky pack of Blu Tack just in case the paper slipped.
Because I could build a pop-up metropolis.
But I wouldn’t wanna deal with all the paper people politics.
Paper politicians with their paper-thin policies,
Broken promises without appropriate apologies.
There’d be a little paper me. And a little paper you.
And we could watch paper TV and it would all be pay-per-view.
We’d see the poppy paper rappers rap about their paper package
Or watch paper people carriers get stuck in paper traffic on the A4. Paper.
There’d be a paper princess Kate but we’d all stare at paper Pippa,
And then we’d all live in fear of killer Jack the Paper-Ripper,
Because the paper propaganda propagates the people’s prejudices,
Papers printing pictures of the photogenic terrorists.
A little paper me. And a little paper you.
And in a pop-up population people’s problems pop up too.
There’d be a pompous paper parliament who remained out of touch,
And who ignored the people’s protests about all the paper cuts,
Then the peaceful paper protests would get blown to paper pieces,
By the confetti cannons manned by pre-emptive police.
And yes there’d still be paper money, so there’d still be paper greed,
And the paper piggy bankers pocketing more than they need,
Purchasing the potpourri to pepper their paper properties,
Others live in poverty and ain’t acknowledged properly.
A proper poor economy where so many are proper poor,
But while their needs are ignored the money goes to big wars.
Origami armies unfold plans for paper planes
And we remain imprisoned in our own paper chains,
But the greater shame is that it always seems to stay the same,
What changes is who’s in power choosing how to lay the blame,
They’re naming names, forgetting these are names of people,
Because in the end it all comes down to people.
I like people.
’Cause even when the situation’s dire,
It is only ever people who are able to inspire,
And on paper, it’s hard to see how we all cope.
But in the bottom of Pandora’s box there’s still hope,
And I still hope ’cause I believe in people.
People like my grandparents.
Who every single day since I was born, have taken time out of their morning to pray for me.
That’s 7892 days straight of someone checking I’m okay, and that’s amazing.
People like my aunt who puts on plays with prisoners.
People who are capable of genuine forgiveness.
People like the persecuted Palestinians.
People who go out of their way to make your life better, and expect nothing in return.
You see, people have potential to be powerful.
Just because the people in power tend to pretend to be victims
We don’t need to succumb to that system.
And a paper population is no different.
There’s a little paper me. And a little paper you.
And in a pop-up population people’s problems pop up too,
But even if the whole world fell apart then we’d still make it through.
Because we’re people.
First off, this is (ironically) poetry for performance not paper, so listen to Harry performing this poem, along with some others, during a TEDx-presentation.
Rhythm and rhyme are done with gusto and intelligence. For example, pay-per-view and A4. paper made me smile.
But there is more to this poetry than word play. It’s not just profligate word posturing, prosodic perambulations of a proper prodigy playing with plosives. The paper world in the poem is interesting once we see “paper” as a metaphor for the routine of shallowness we are subjected to on social media. Issues become paper thin on twitter, and you are supposed to take a side that is crudely defined by a vicious group dynamic that is hostile to nuance.
The observation that what matters in the end is people may seem trivial, but read the line “And a paper population it’s no different” with care. Even in the worst bureaucracy where people seem no more than paperwork and replaceable stacks of pop-up figures, being human always means there is greed and corruption, but also hope.