This poem was commissioned by the Brighton Festival who asked seven poets each to write a poem about one of the seven deadly sins and the sin that I was allocated was envy – we didn’t get a choice, we just had to make the best of the sin we were given. So, this poem is about envy and it is also about somebody who is having an ongoing feud with their next door neighbour who is envious of them, and at the time I had a friend who was having a battle with his neighbour. Whenever he bitched about the neighbour he would always refer to them as ‘next door’ as if ‘next door’ was this person’s name. He said “you’ll never guess what next door have done now”, so I put all these ideas together for this poem.
Next Door Despised
Next door despised
your city. The would much prefer a town.
Your tree – they’d like a twig.
Your oil rig,
your salmon satin crown,
so can you cut it down and cut it down?
Next door began
a harsh campaign. They hired a ticket tout
to sell your oily tree,
crown for a well of drought,
and then they bricked it up and shut it out.
Next door perceived
an envelope was lying on your stoop
but no one wrote to them
so your silk hem
deserved their mushroom soup.
Next door made plans to follow you to group
your problems, change their characters and looks.
Next door alleged your streams
gave them bad dreams.
Couldn’t you call them brooks?
Couldn’t you write some better, shorter books?
Next door observed
your shoulder stump, asked what was up your sleeve,
swore that they meant to harm,
said that to arm
dictators was naïve
(no pun intended). Next door don’t believe
you’ve gone to work,
neither the place nor the activity.
While next door’s squirrel slipped,
lolled on the balcony
which might seem natural to you or me
but to next door
it was a gate wide enough to admit
the dwarves in overcoats
who chase weak votes,
whose coffee smells of shit,
whose stubble shakes only when candle-lit.
Next door have got
their own house but they choose to squat in yours.
If you brought up their theft
of what was left
and asked whose ceilings, floors
and walls these were, next door would say next door’s.
from Leaving and Leaving You (Carcanet, 1999) © Sophie Hannah 1999, used by permission of the author and the publisher.