‘A Memory of Rhinoceroses’ by Ian Whiteley is our Poem of the Week

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Ian Whiteley is a Write Out Loud regular – his profile has had over half a million views – and very active on the live poetry scene, performing as part of political/music/comedy four-piece combo Bard Company, as a straight spoken-word performer, and at music events performing pieces of his work set to backing tracks. A Memory Of Rhinoceroses is the second time he’s won Poem of the Week. Here are Ian's answers to our fresh set of questions: 



What inspired this poem?
I saw the news report about the death of the last male northern white rhino and, despite this being through natural causes, felt saddened that it had come to this and all the slaughter that must have gone on to be the last of a species. It got me thinking that I hadn’t known anything about the plight of this animal and that, in future, people would know even less (if anything at all) about them, and what they did know might be clouded or confused with the distance of time – pretty much like we feel now about dinosaurs or the dodo. The seed was planted and I started to write.
You've not gone for the obvious route of writing in anger about a species’ extinction. Why did you make that choice?
I have been writing a lot of quite deep and spiritual pieces recently about the loss of a very close friend over Christmas. I wanted to write something in a lighter vein – but, obviously, there are dark undertones to this particular topic. It was pretty much a ‘stream of consciousness’ undertaking – I had the subject matter, I wanted to write something lighter and humorous, the flow just ‘happened’
Has your writing changed much over the years? If so, what lessons would you pass on to other poets?
I’m often influenced by the news or an image I see – over the years I have become much more political and a lot of my stuff is based on left wing, socialist values. I wrote a whole album of war poetry in 2014 to commemorate the Great War and I’m still performing those pieces at selected commemorative events. I also like to write on spiritual or supernatural themes – this gives me a good canon of work to go at, whatever the occasion. I wanted very much to perform my poetry, and have found that strict rhyme/rhythm pieces work best for this.
My advice for other poets? Take as wide an approach as possible to what you write and how you present it, try not to be pigeon-holed on subject matter or style of delivery, and read and learn from poets and performers you admire.
Do you have any gigs coming up where people can listen to your work?
Yes! This November I’m doing a series of gigs based on the World War 1 material to commemorate the centenary of the armistice. Bard Company are doing a number of Socialist festivals and gigs for the We Shall Overcome campaign, which raises funds for food banks, and I am trying to get more spoken word slots alongside this, because I really enjoy getting up and doing the poems in their raw and original forms. A selection of my musical pieces are posted here on Soundcloud, and all my gigs are listed on my website, The Crows Of Albion.
You can have four dinner guests (living or dead) to supper. Who would they be?
Eric Morecambe, John F Kennedy, Yorkshire’s greatest batsman Geoffrey Boycott, and the American Outlaw Country performer Steve Earle.


A Memory of Rhinoceroses
by Ian Whiteley


they were bigger than a house
and had heads the shape of cars
I think
four of them
or maybe more
one was hooked like a sabre
they didn’t have genitals
that’s why they died out
I think
couldn’t procreate
you see
their flesh tasted of pork
or maybe beef
I’m not sure
and they used to farm them
in Kent
or possibly Kenya
they made a sound
like a barking dog
no - more like a chimpanzee
and they laughed a lot
a low growling sound
like a chuckle
or was that hyenas
they were dangerous
because they kept blocking the roads
in Hampshire
and causing car crashes
over using horns
yes - I think their horns
were made of wood
and people really wanted them
so they cut them off
like trees
they grew back
being made of wood
everybody hated them
they were stupid
and smelled of old cheese
to be honest
I’m not even sure
they ever existed
I mean
have you seen the pictures…
unbelievable right…


◄ Sinéad Morrissey to judge £1,500 McLellan prize

Project inspired by Northumberland coast at Newcastle poetry festival ►


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Dave Morgan

Tue 3rd Apr 2018 17:57

Liked that very much Ian for a number of reasons. Really very good in my opinion.

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Ian Whiteley

Sat 31st Mar 2018 15:03

Many thanks to all you kind folk for reading and commenting. I am very grateful that you took the time to provide feedback - I wasn't too sure about this poem when I wrote it - I was just trying to break out of a dark period and didn't really know how best to do that. Your kind words have given me a bit of a lift - so onwards and upwards as they say - just goes to show what I know :-)

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suki spangles

Sat 31st Mar 2018 13:29

Hi there Ian,

I can only agree with the previous commenters ~ very well deserved. An original and wry take on an important subject, delivered with a lovely lightness of touch. Oh, and I also enjoyed the interview.

All the best to you.

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Martin Elder

Sat 31st Mar 2018 10:10

I love the slant you take on this subject Ian. I can actually believe that there might somebody in the future who might say that about Rhino's
As ever a brilliant poem and a well deserved POTW

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Dominic James

Fri 30th Mar 2018 17:41

a light reflection with the sadness all beneath the surface, I like it. Congratulations Ian.

<Deleted User> (13762)

Thu 29th Mar 2018 08:06

An excellent choice for POTW - well done Ian. The way you have gone about this poem is simply genius. Col.

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Cynthia Buell Thomas

Wed 28th Mar 2018 11:05

IMO, totally fabulous. It's the 'take' on the subject, 'off the cuff' so to speak, with tons of thought behind it.

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Brian Maryon

Mon 26th Mar 2018 15:08

Well done Ian. I'm pleased about this as it was one I liked a lot.

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