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Theories and Concepts in IR poetry competition 2012/13


Due to the number of entries this year, Adam and I decided to offer first, second, and third prizes that respectively went to Alex Chalkley, Jamie Jordan, and Elio Calcagno. All the poems were fantastic but perhaps Alex Chalkley’s just nudged it with his graphic imagery of Robert Keohane as a positivist doorkeeper in International Relations!

In rank order, here are the poems:


Studying International Relations Theory

By Alex Chalkley

I don’t really understand Theory

It makes my brain ever so weary

Waltz, Weber?

Do me a favour!

I can’t piece it all together,

Despite my endless endeavour,


Great Debates seem to proliferate,

Great minds seem to validate,

Yet I am lost in a maze,

In a theoretical daze,

Too much to disseminate,

From the controversies that emanate,


I started an ignoramus,

Found Postmodernism heinous,

Postructuralism’s without theoretical yield,

Social Function’s a painful minefield,

Neorealism I understood,

Like nothing else I could,


Except perhaps liberal institutionalism,

And the endless neo-neo schism,

Two bald men fighting over combs,

In endless tomes,

Claiming their endless disparity,

Despite their remarkable familiarity,


Keohane’s become a doorkeeper,

The positivist grim reaper,

Yet he’ll accept feminist standpoint,

Despite its postpositivist disjoint.

He adores his empiricism,

But detests theoretical pluralism,


I daren’t write on Marx,

With critical remarks,

To keep Andreas sweet,

And to give Adam a treat.

I’ll say I get Historical Materialism,

And condemn the Capitalist Imperialism,


Cui Bono at all?

I guess one and all,

For despite my stupidity,

And my ignorant culpability,

I know theory enlightens,

As much as it frightens,


It makes us aware,

Of international affairs,

Of the doorkeepers of knowledge,

At uni’s and college,

In the Whitehouse and Pentagon,

And the academic lexicon,


Giving a critical eye,

To those who ask why,

Allowing wider illumination,

Of the political situation,

And though I despair,

And don’t have a prayer,


If only I could see the epistemology,

And understand the methodology,

If I could grasp the incessant ontologies,

And read the numerous anthologies,

I would be a wiser, better man,

Than when this theoretical course began.


The Fog of IR Theory: Robert S. McNamara and Rule No.11

By Jamie Jordan


Let’s be positive for a second as his voice changed with an inflection;

Man needs only to know his nature through his own reflection


The way he directly observes his behaviour;

Allows him to remove all speculation, to become his saviour


A self-interested being in a state of nature;

He is forced to be an anarchical creature


Bound by laws, governed by the national;

He contemplates only that which is rational


Never sure whether to present an offensive retort;

He simply does not want life to be brutish and short


Friendship is limited, but he must wait longer;

As the forces of cooperation become ever stronger


Happy to have reached the end of history;

The dilemma that kept him prisoner is no longer a mystery


He is a man with individual freedom and possession;

Even if at times it becomes an obsession


Lucky for others he has discovered the truth;

But it would be foolish of him to stay aloof


A unique man, the last one you could say;

Life is now dedicated to getting others to follow his way


Such a burden it is however, to fight the good fight;

Though make no mistake, his intentions are as pure as white


But in this new day, looking at his reflection once more;

Being positive has limited what he can look for


The mail he collects from his box near the stream;

Has today been welcomed by a liberating scream


To be seen but not heard is how it should be;

However, participation is allowed if only selectively


The many south of the stream have shown their true colours;

No longer will they be dismissed simply as ‘the others’


Presented with a history that comes from a far;

Has opened his mind, a little, a jar


He realises, as workers of the world unite;

It is only chains they have to lose in this fight


Producing together so the world can live;

But corrupted by culture, consumption, that has become corrosive


The excavation of reason has perturbed his mind;

He never realised that there was more than his own kind


Looking at his reflection once more, he chants, and he chants;

You can’t change human nature, you can’t, you just can’t


His Bible has failed him, his gospel so weak;

But his authority allows him to continue to speak


Rule number eleven, his instrument of power;

His mind to others is like a withering flower.



By Elio Calcagno

Unruly is the world we witness,

the place in which all states exist,

seen through the lenses of your fellow neorealist.

You stare carefully into the distance

and all you see is not mere emptiness,

but a sea of chaos, and mist.

There, the storm of anarchy states must resist

by sewing sails of power, security and greatness.

Like Homer’s heroes, seeking their own gain,

for the Hegemon they will travel the land.

Now the fellow whispers “one thing history has shown”,

“and it is that the state must enhance its domain

or else rivals will see but a grain of sand”

which, powerless, by the winds of anarchy away will be blown.

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