The Modern. On a whim I set the theme, and asked for poems in celebration. A few cheerful whimsies crawled into the Snakeskin Inbox, but there's no doubt that the general tendency of e-poets is anti-progressive, verging on Luddite. So I've tempered my original resolution and allowed in more of the sceptical than I'd originally intended.

But the assignment was a tough one, no doubt of it. Many contributions from talented writers just didn't cut the mustard.

For example, my own projected contribution, "For the Celebrity Dead: A Cantata of Supplication" proved more notable in the conception than in the execution, and has been regretfully tossed onto the junkpile. This work (several megabytes in length, and incorporating all the latest multimedia technology) the libretto for an oratorio for soloists and massed choirs, to be set (hopefully) by the Master of the Queen's Musick, and performed in Westminster Abbey, or possibly at the re-opening of the new Wembley Stadium. It would graphically represent the yearnings of the British people, and takesthe form of pleas to the shades of Jill Dando, Ernie Wise, Cardinal Basil Hume and Princess Diana to help them in their hour of need. Perhaps only the final chorus (for a sub-chorus of supermodels and castrati), really works as poetry:

Diana, Queen of our Hearts
From husbands colder than suet
From in-laws fiercer than vultures
From the hunting fraternity
From the cold and the unfashionable

From visible panty-line
Diana defend us!

Where is the modern? It seems to hang around us like a promise in the air, yet when I walked through a city street last week looking for something decidedly, unshakeably modern, there was none to be seen. Everything in the real world seemed old fashioned. You may with reason protest that the city I roamed was, after all, Oxford, but I strode purposefully through precisely those streets deliberately ruined in the name of modernity. All of it, without exception, seemed out of date. I entered Smiths, and looked at the magazines. The covers promised Today; the insides were Yesterday.

The modern is our dream, the potential that nothing tangible quite reaches, the golden apple on the other side of the millennium.

It is the words of Tony Blair, our cover-boy of the month. How his pieties impress, how his visions delight; but oh how evenescent is his meaning.

Of course in five years time we'll look back, and we'll know then what was truly modern now. It will not have been in the computer shops, with their fixed eighties-style grins. Not in the clothes shops, despairingly trying to be with it. Not in the sports shops, with their pathetic swooshes designer-made for the gullible. Maybe it will have something to do with guttering.

But I ramble.

Read the poems.


Or, if you want an example of the very pits of the modern world...