To James Fenton
The subject's dull, but nonetheless
Here's an incestuous address
In Robert Burns' style
To one whom all the Muses bless
At Great Turnstile.
I've no excuses for this theme.
Prescription is less popular than dream
And little rhymes, God knows, can seem
Much too laconic,
Bollinger's visionary gleam
But ssch! you know and understand
The way these verses have been planned,
Gritty like little bits of sand
Not shining quartz,
No interference from a gland,
Just random thoughts.
Let's start by thinking of objectives.
Poets hate to have directives:
They're on their own, not on collectives,
Share and share about,
And what inspires their best invectives
Is what they care about.
You, James, collapsed upon our sofa
As though being driven by a chauffeur,
Won't fail to tell us what you go for:
And answers that you won't take no for
From Fine Tubes.
Reporters never throw in towels.
Their prose is written from the bowels.
Ottava rima about owls
Printed by Sycamore
Is worlds away from Enoch Powell's
Plans for the blackamoor.
But are you James Cameron or Flecker?
Are you a maker or a trekker?
What is the nature of your Mecca,
Your verum pulchrum?
I'm glad, of course, that you're with Secker
And not with Fulcrum.
Poet and traveller have quarreled
And now you canter where you caroled.
We're waiting still for your Childe Harold,
Though quests in Poland
Find you fixated and appareled
More like Childe Roland.
It is impressive, I agree,
Although I know it's not for me.
I take the windfalls from the tree,
I'm much too lazy,
The prisons that I want to see
You say that Oxford has no marrow,
Sucked dry by Trevor-Roper, Sparrow,
And others of reaction's farrow
In their fat cloister,
Though if my eye is just as narrow
It may be moister.
One never sees the feelings through,
And weeping only makes one blue.
It may be beautiful and true
But it's not action,
And nothing the bourgeoisie can do
How can we alter our behaviour?
Should we deny our gravy's gravier?
Leave Cleopatra for Octavia?
My life is inner,
And someone I don't think a saviour
Is B. F. Skinner.
His is a rather common flock:
To be refitted in their dock
Your common-sense must take a knock
As it took a course on
The reflexes of frogs, and Locke,
And P. F. Strawson.
Much of the Left we can ignore
(Sheer anarchy I don't adore).
The trendy educate the poor
In greed and fear,
While Labour's entered on the war
Of Jenkins' ear.
No. Righteous more than He who Hath,
More reasonable than New Math,
Momier than the Mome Rath
In their outgrabing,
Glossing the Variorum Plath
Apostles of determinism
Whose hero's Mao or Virgil Grissom
Won't interest your mind one rissom:
You're too empirical.
What about Neo-lmagism?
Such knowing brevity needs patience:
As unfastidious Croatians
Upon quite intimate occasions
So leave your interpersonal relations
To Colin Falck.
For poetry to have some merit he
Requires it to display sincerity,
Each pronoun to convince posterity
With deep emotion
And an invigorating verity
Well, that's unfair. I'm glad he lives.
Just think of the alternatives!
Those whose verse resembles sieves
Or a diagram,
And foul-mouthed transatlantic spivs
For they are all still with us, James,
Fiddling among the flames,
Brandishing the brittle fames
They soon arrive at.
It's better not to mention names :
They'll wince in private.
Orating offspring of Urania
(It isn't your fault they're not brainier)
Have an immodest dogged mania
Disguised in concrete or the zanier
Forms of typography.
The wide-eyed audience they're rooking
Would secretly prefer a booking
From a quartet like the backward-looking
They'd jump to hear what's really cooking
With the Black Panthers.
Whatever props the poet uses,
Whether he accepts, accuses
Or gives up, he must know his Muse is
A sensible girl.
Even some antics of Ted Hughes's
Make her hair curl.
And so you need a form to play
About in but which will convey
Something of what you want to say
Adjusting like the Vicar of Bray
To each occasion.
The ideal size you've not found yet.
What Nabokov calls the 'triolet'
Is much too trim a maisonette
To dawdle in,
Unlike your shabby Cloisters set
Which made your poetry much dandier,
Being, like ottava rima, handier.
You needed in its chilly grandeur
To turn the fire on
For times when you felt even randier
Than Lord Byron.
But still, its size was quite inspiring
Although some rhymes like ancient wiring
Showed the circuits could prove tiring
(Though not unduly,
And no one could be more admiring
Than Yours Truly).
Especially just now. I doubt
That I can stand another bout
Of shuffling and doling out
These six-line portions :
For one thing I am much too stout
For such contortions.
But carry on: your talents hum.
No one will ever find you dumb
While you avoid the slightly rum
Like the White Goddess
Or Black Mountain (and don't become
Though your career goes like a bomb
Don't treat your Muse like Portnoy's Mom
(I hear you saying with aplomb
`Excuse me, madam,
I'm afraid I hardly know you from
But will you stay at the New Staggers?
Its life has dwindled like the Quagga's
And slowly Rightwards it will drag us :
It's full of righteous bores and naggers
And J. B. Priestley.
I'll send a sub to the I.S.
(Please let me know the right address)
I shan't turn up, but I confess
I'm not a traitor.
I just don't want to think the less
Of Teresa Hayter.
Some day I'll join you in the street
Where suffering and truth must meet:
It isn't easy not to feel effete
This side of anguish,
When those who can't choose what to eat
Don't speak our language.
Meanwhile we have to try to bring
Some order to that circus ring
Where people think and feel and sing,
For at its centre
There's no escape from anything,
And we must enter.
Taken from "Terminal Moraine", a poetry series edited by James Fenton.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The