Be kind to internet trolls who are not vicious in personal ways: one might just leave you a poem, some day

Brunngasse - photograph: postgutenberg[at]

– postgutenberg [at]

Even Private Eye – considered an über-troll itself, by literal-minded readers and victims – has awarded trolling a few thoughtful column inches (Issue No. 1378) in the barrage of reports and comment on the subject in recent weeks. It mentioned someone complaining about a troll that ‘carried out a systematic campaign of abuse … calling us fat because we were enjoying eating the grass … and then finally he threatened to gobble us all up and crush us to bits, body and bone.’

Ah, trolls. We find ourselves smiling when we remember being part of a small circle formed spontaneously in the mid-‘00s, on a newspaper web site, to lobby the discussion monitors about reinstating a commenter in our group that they chronically misunderstood and banned – a teasing, free-thinking, occasionally hallucinating Anglo-Irish versifier and blogger they labelled a troll. One day, out of the blue, he posted a gift for us, his supporters: a flawless, beautiful, elliptical poem by another poet — Michael Donaghy, who sadly died at 50, in 2004. In plaiting together technology, music, literature and love, it may very well be unique.

The other day, it came as a welcome surprise to find several copies of ‘Machines’ on the net. Four winters ago, on a walk on which icicles were forming in stone archways, there was a sight that would have made anyone regret not being able to remember enough of that poem’s lines – a bicycle stand that simply had to be photographed without the right camera for snow or twilight, capable of making the photographer come close to taking a tumble, laughing silently about being introduced to ‘Machines,’ and by whom.

Thank you, Des. Thank you, Michael Donaghy, wherever you are: it is not in the least surprising to see the Poetry Foundation fill in this detail about you: ‘In addition to writing and teaching, he played the flute and the bodhrán, specializing in traditional Irish music.’


Dearest, note how these two are alike:

This harpsicord pavane by Purcell

And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.


The machinery of grace is always simple.

This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected

To another of concentric gears,

Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,

Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.

And in the playing, Purcell’s chords are played away.


So this talk, or touch if I were there,

Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,

Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.


If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,

So much agility, desire, and feverish care,

As bicyclists and harpsicordists prove


Who only by moving can balance,

Only by balancing move.


Michael Donaghy, Dances Learned Last Night: Poems 1975-1995