Coin Opera: Poems inspired by video games

Think it's impossible to write poetry about video games? Wrong! A selection of poems by Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone.

Ten Green Bottles
(after Lemmings)

By Kirsten Irving

She tells me she was a builder before all this.
Before that, a miner. I have been staring
at her flexed palm for an hour.
In the distance, Francis has climbed
a glowing cliff and walks towards the edge.
He’s going to fall. Let me through,
I beg. She shakes her mossy hair
and holds her T-shape.
Frank plummets,
with a small cry, into chalk.
Mike begins to scale the side.
I ask her again to step by.
She nods towards the new mountaineer,
who walks off the edge, but opens
a yellow parasol and drifts down.
The gods are learning, she says.
And then Mike stops, over the other side,
inches from escape, and spreads his arms like her.
Now, she says, and I find myself scrambling
up the bright block. Which, I see now,
has arrows pointing to her and the trapped hundreds.
We must start from the other side, she calls,
to get there at all. Now open your parasol.
And I do. And as I float to the floor,
the golden door is there, just beyond
my steadfast predecessor. You spoke
to Marianne, Mike grunts, his fleshy blockade
so like hers. Do you want to save the others?
He is such a different creature
to the one who went up.
Yes, I want to save them.
Then turn around and dig.
As I start to claw, I hear muffled
crying and scurrying: the others panicking
that we will always be stuck here,
chanting the names
of the dead and the missing.
I am not a miner like you, Marianne –
help me, I shout into the stone face.
I am not a miner comes back.
Just as my stripped hands
threaten to show bone,
and my small heart nearly clocks out,
an eye appears in the tunnel,
and joy and feet flood it.

I can see it I can see the door oh Gerard is it true it’s not a myth I see it too
They run as their robes will allow,
towards freedom,
towards Mike,

who screams STOP
and explodes.
And it’s over the crumbs of his body they go
it’s the door it’s the door at last woo hoo
I –
Marianne: Go. GO, YOU IDIOT.
So I do,
and only when my hand is on the door frame
and I can smell grass, do I turn
to see the countdown start
above her head.



By Kirsten Irving

"Today Arcadia was closed off to all but paying customers. The man hires me to build a forest at the bottom of the ocean, and then turns a walk in the woods into a luxury."

Julie Langford, Bioshock

Look closely: you’ll see the water above
projected in hula arms of light
across the leaves of this blue fan palm,
slipping down from our wet, shifting sky
to tickle an orchid’s dragon tongues.
You get the feeling
something wants us to remember
the surface world? Here, miles beneath
the North Atlantic’s waves, I can make you
the fattest, glossiest leaves.
I can make you a tree farm.
After all, we govern the weather.
We have tricked nature
into shunning the sun
and throwing its tendrils at electricity.
Oh, and aren’t we so civilised?
Here in the tea garden, plucking crisp fennel,
screened from the commerce laying eggs
in the systems outside. Let us inhale,
drink, and forget for a moment.
The background hum
of the generators has become
the bees for us; the register of coin in slot
the rubbing of crickets’ legs, but there is
nothing false about this leaf. Touch it.
When they close the hothouse doors,
having wafted a sniff of earth at you,
and ransom the grass, set against
the tombish iron corridors, we both know
we will pay whatever they ask.


Harley Quinn
(Collaged from Mad Love and Other Stories, Harley and Ivy and Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes*)
My first day at Arkham.
I’ve always had this attraction for extreme personalities
My fault ... I didn’t get the joke...
I goofed. It felt like a kiss.
I had fallen in love with my patient.
Circus. He said it was the circus.
A lost injured child hoping to make the world laugh.
A murderous, psychopathic clown.
At what point did my life go Looney Tunes?
Knock Knock, Puddin’!
Feed me some candy!
Don’t ya wanna rev up your Harley?
I’ll be your best friend.
We gots trouble to get into. Oopsie!
A girl’s heinie is sensitive, bub!
We’ve relocated again. Not good.
Looks like I gotta get my keister in gear.
Popgun popgun popgun...

No more obsession.
No more craziness. No more Joker.
The party’s over. Dibs on the museum!
Now you’re gonna die and make everything right!
I can tell you’re less than thrilled.
Well, stick my finger in a socket - I really don’t care!
Jeez Louise!
Put on a happy face.
Ha. Cartoon. Funny.


No Fish Are We Now

By Kirsten Irving
A fortnight adrift, the crew spot a mermaid
and try to harpoon it. Thus we lose our harpoons.
The masts felled by round shot, I send crew to hoist them.
The splintered trunks bloody us. Thus we lose blood.
Cracked lips and calenture: the midday sun makes us
squabble, spill water. Thus we lose water.
The disguised girl midshipman, clutching her stomach,
makes off with the rowboat. Thus we lose the rowboat.
We slice into bandages, and later, into winding sheets,
the crumpled sails. Thus we lose our sails.
The cook, without a task, goes mad and we must
put a knife through his heart. Thus we lose heart.
Brown, nude and stumbling; in the heat of death
we strip rank, pips, order. Thus we lose order.
The final few cudgel the brash navigator, croaking
songs of their homeland. Thus we lose land.
Even I cup the seawater, knowing its curse
and wrestle myself. Thus I lose myself.
The mermaid returns, as I curl, undisturbed,
on the deck. In time she is lost to the waves.


after Planescape: Torment

By Jon Stone
Here’s thi dark of it: see that tib
wi thi poison pate an thi whitely limbs?
She’s nae jinkskirt. I mooth nae fib;
she can crack a crib
wi thi smawest dub an thi glent in her glimms.

Hae ye clocked thi tail? I daena mean her airse.
Ay, she’s a dochter o a Nickie-ben,
but I wadnae speak o it – unless, o course
ye yeuk for yer hearse –
she’s thi tuiniest florence in thi bowsing ken.

Thi law canna catch her, nor ony fox.
Oh, she’s given thaim thi laugh awricht.
As much o a blood at jouking thi box
as she is wi locks
tho thi clak in her sconce’s what leaves thaim licked.


Zeus the Obliterated

By Jon Stone

His ribcage, which was a salvaged prow – scuttled by flame.
His cankers and sores that were stud-jewels – plundered by flame.
His resplendent shag of buff beard – shorn by flame.
His sweat, day-old olive oil – vapourised by flame.
His ears that were carved platters of coral – drowned in flame.
The liquid in his bronze bladder – gargled by flame.
His pinetimber spine – farmed by flame.
His thighs, those unclamberable dunes – glass-blown by flame.
The sink estate he sat upon – 'regenerated' by flame.
His cold and lofty nipples – sucked on by flame.
His lips with their spittle of gold – chewed by flame.
Featherhead Nike, his nubile dwarf – fragged by flame.
His brain in its nest, a dinosaur's green egg – scrambled by flame.
His sceptre with its unshakeable bird – belittled by flame.


Endings to Adventure Gamebooks 22

By Jon Stone

You’re murdered at prayer. Your last words
become wet. The whole Forgotten City upturns.
That band of heroes – the ones
who thought they’d be in time – they were wrong.
Now they take you to the murmuring
water’s edge. You were imperturbable
but there is such a thing as too noble,
Aerith. The light has spiked, the music has swollen.
The boy who lowers you in, who is so sullen –
now, oh now he’ll never be your lover.
Game Over.



By Jon Stone

Dust hikes up her skirts for anyone,
and then she’ll swoon and then she’ll swoon again
in torchlight, in the porch light or in rain.

Dust wakes up in rooms reeking of wine
and soon slips on her silken morning gown.
Her suitors watch her drunkenly careen.

Dust remembers where but never when.
She’s someone you can coax but not dragoon,
the show that started late and overran.

Dust is feeling thin. She’s feeling worn.
She can’t quite picture how the night began
or how it ended, how it came to ruin.


About the authorsKirsten Irving is one half of the crew behind collaborative poetry publisher Sidekick Books and hand-made magazine . Her first pamphlet, What To Do, was published in 2011 by Happenstance and her first full collection, Never Never Never Come Back was published by Salt in 2012. Her poetry has been translated into Russian and Spanish, eaten in a cake and thrown out of a helicopter. She lives in Whitechapel, where she works as a copywriter and proofreader. @SidekickBooks.

Jon Stone was born in Derby and currently lives in Whitechapel, London. He is the author the gothically-inclined pamphlet Scarecrows (Happenstance, 2010) and a full collection, School of Forgery (Salt, 2012), which was a Poetry Book Society recommendation. He is also the co-creator of Sidekick Books, who publish collaborative poetry projects and anthologies. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2012. His personal website is


*Harley Quinn: Preludes and Knock-Knock Jokes (Dodson, Dodson & Kesel, 2008, DC Comics)

Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories (Dini & Timm, 2011, DC Comics)

Harley & Ivy (Batman) (Dini, Winick, Timm & Chiodo, 2007, DC Comics)  

A still from Bioshock Infinite.
Show Hide image

Time for put-upon Sicily to put out its wines

The high-altitude vineyards of Italy’s largest island produce nectar for the gods, Greek or Roman.

It was Diodorus of Sicily, a Greek historian in the 1st century BC, who wrote of the Gauls’ passionate attachment to wine that they “partake of this drink without moderation . . . and when drunk fall into a stupor or a state of madness”. There was, as yet, virtually no wine made in what would become France, and Italian merchants were making a fortune: in exchange for a jar of wine they received a slave, thus “exchanging the cupbearer for the cup”.

An irritated Gaul – and they were not people to irritate – might have responded that the Sicilians were no slouches on the drinking front, either. They had been making wine for several centuries by the time Diodorus was born, and although some of their grapes had been transplanted successfully to the mainland, a fair bit of what they produced was being consumed by the producers. And who, when drunk, does not approach either catatonia or insanity?

Perhaps the accusations rankle because the Gauls, with their lack of home-grown grapes, their thirst and consequent misbehaviour, were clearly the Brits of the Roman era. Plus ça change, as their descendants might say, although, given that France now has far healthier attitudes to wine than we do, perhaps there’s hope for us yet: just keep expanding the English vineyards, wait a couple of thousand years and – voilà!

Arguably the Sicilians have as many reasons to flee consciousness as we do. Their island may be breath-catchingly beautiful, from the Mediterranean beaches to the slopes of Mount Etna, past Greek temples, Roman ruins and Baroque churches, and their weather so wonderfully warm and dry that they can grow almost anything (a facility that led in the 20th century to a flood of boring wine that almost drowned the island’s vinous reputation for good). But Italy’s slender length is characterised by economic top-heaviness: the north is rich and industrialised, the south poor and rural, and Sicily is as far south as you can get.

The antique feel that tourists find so charming – Tinkers! Fishmongers! Absolutely nothing open between noon and 4pm! – is an indication of a region whose glories lie in the distant past, 2,500 years ago, when Syracuse was a powerful city state at least as large as Athens, praised by Cicero as “the greatest of the Greek cities, and the most beautiful of all”.

Such vicissitudes will make you flexible. Sicily has the adaptability of an island that has seen volcanic eruptions and armed invasions, has been powerful and poor, and been diddled out of its patrimony by cousins from the north as well as criminal-minded brothers from the village next door. Its range of indigenous grapes reflects this. There is spicy, rich Nero d’Avola; light, cherryish Frappato; and Nerello Mascalese, perhaps the most adaptable of all. The best whites are almondy Grillo and the tart, lemonish Carricante, grown on volcanic Etna’s high slopes.

As befits a place so frequently invaded, there are international grapes, too: one of the island’s finest wines, Tasca d’Almerita’s Contea di Sclafani Rosso del Conte, blends Nero d’Avola with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. Some top producers, such as Feudo Montoni, stick to indigenous grapes; the formidable Planeta tries practically everything.

The best winemakers have a wilful individuality that those befuddled Gauls would surely have recognised. In the case of COS, a fine triumvirate based in the south of the island, this mental agility has inspired Pithos, wine aged in the ancient clay jars called amphorae. Maybe this is the past catching up with Sicily – or, given the new trendiness of amphorae, just Sicily catching up. Does it matter? The wines are excellent, and entirely distinctive. Surely it is time for Sicily, or at least its finest products, to do a little invading of their own.

Next week: John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The age of terror