David Punter

Slipping in the Gate


When I was a student, I helped to run

the college film society; and so, each week,

before the public showing we would take

delivery of a huge set of heavy reels

and attempt to show them in our darkened rooms

on an ancient projector; the result of course was

that the films were always slipping in the gate.


Fatty Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy, Keaton

and later auteurs like Welles and even Polanski,

who wasn’t forbidden then, would slide up amid

the haze of our illegal cigarettes and spread

an aura over the landlady’s ghastly furniture,

take us out of what we then took to be our selves;

though even then we were slipping in the gate.


Some of us survived; a few did not

(the suicide rate was at an all-time high)

but Laurel and Hardy, Keaton, Arbuckle

would be there to remind us that all things pass

except perhaps laughter, pratfalls, childish japes,

but these, of course, were mostly silent heroes;

most of them already slipping in the gate.


And now life slips and slides outside my window -

sometimes I forget what day it is,

and think that I’ve seen all this stuff before,

the same old jokes, same wide shoes, bowler hats,

and I can even tell what line’s arriving next

and when the punch-line comes - but maybe not;

maybe I’m just slipping in the gate.


'Slipping in the gate' was the term we used to use to describe what happened when a film reel refused to go through the projector smoothly, producing strange effects. In this poem, I've attempted to extend the term in various metaphorical contexts.

Slipping in the Gate
film projector.jpg