Tracey’s Bed

The Gallery steps are littered
With youths who lounge and smoke
And chatter and bray. I thread my way
Through their indifference. History
To their geography.

An orderly queue snakes back
And forth in squiggly, theme-park lines
That Miro might have painted
Or Chagall, shapes flowing freely
Till held fast forever.

I shuffle along with the crowd,
A bumbling water buffalo
Amongst a herd of frisky gazelles.
To those about me I am neither
Predator nor prey.

Tracey’s bed, unkempt, unmade,
Is roped off like period furniture
In a country house: around me
The air is filled with murmurous flutterings
Of appreciation and disparagement.

From the frayed mat on the floor
A trio of vodka bottles
Wink at me
Like whores in a doorway
Recognising a trick.

Pissing in the men’s room
I recall Duchamp’s urinal
And Magritte’s pipe that was
Not a pipe: Is this Art
That is not Art? Or maybe

It’s a matter of perspective. A body
Becomes an outline on the pavement
To the young busker with his pastels
And disarming grin.
Over fifty and you’re a ghost.

Commentary

I wrote this poem after visiting the Sensation exhibition at Tate Britain in late 1997 in which Tracey Emin’s notorious unmade, unkempt bed attracted considerable discussion. Most of the visitors were young and that became a theme of my poem, how old age sets us oldies apart and how young people hardly see us at all. The bed challenged my idea of what art is and brought to mind other artists who in their time had similarly challenged the conventional idea of Art.