To John Fuller
Poets, from paupers to well-heeled,
The best the British side can field,
Whose paradise the muse revealed,
Out of your narcol-
eptic repose rise up to wield
Your desperate charcoal.
Practitioners of Ethnic Verse,
Garrulous Scots or Welshmen terse
And Fenian bibbers of the Erse
You ardent fans of St.-John Perse
And the Black Mountain.
Dull imagists, the strictly free,
Po-faced admirers of H.D.,
The reticent, like Laurie Lee,
The Auschwitz gang, the limply twee
And you, Arthurians,
Old soaks from former poets' pubs
And after-hours drinking clubs,
Bland admen, rugose Fleet Street subs,
Exiles from the Bronx,
People with names like Frederick Grubb's
Or Rosemary Tonks',
From cottages weighed down with blooms,
From frozen tarns, from windswept cwms,
From Rachman-run bedsitting rooms
In Potters Bar
Emerge like mummies from your tombs
And show some ka.
Release that shuttle, drop that bottle,
Leave on the settle Kettle, Pottle,
For someone's come I bet'll throttle
Your idiot soirees—
A man of mettle every sot'll
Alvarez—och the clap o'thundy.
Like some great shape from Spiritus Mundi,
A seven days' man, like Solomon Grundy,
Or 7 Days,
Oh spread the news from Eigg to Lundy
For Al's the craze.
Alfresco, Al Capone, Alaskan,
Alhambra, alla marcia, ask an
Average, well-read Nebraskan—
He'll know the style.
He'd recognize Al with a mask on
At half a mile.
Al Jolson, allotrope, Aleutian,
Alembic, alimony, don't you shun
The subject, if you're in confusion—
West of the Drina
He's just as modish as pollution
Though slightly cleaner.
Allergic, allophone, Allende,
Alert, alarum, he's so trendy
No Peter Pan meant more to Wendy
Than he to us,
No son-in-law of Philip Hendy
Could cause more fuss.
Is your Muse flat? He'll reinflate her.
Hungry? He steps up like a waiter.
Are you a fan of Walter Pater?
He'll only scoff.
His measurements would shame a satyr
When he peels off.
He knows what makes the poet tick.
He knows society is sick.
Gentility just gets his wick.
It makes him scowl
With rage. His hide is tough and thick
As a boiled owl.
He tells you, in the sombrest notes,
If poets want to get their oats
The first step is to slit their throats.
The way to divide
The sheep of poetry from the goats
What Yevtushenko lacked in vim
He gained when he devised a grim
Self-execution. On a whim
Took with him, when he went to swim
It even gets the poètes manqué
Auden took laudanum in Yonkers.
Yeats ate a fatal plate of conkers.
On Margate Sands
Eliot was found, stark staring bonkers,
Slashing his hands.
'Jug-jug-jug-jugular' he cried,
Then leapt into the sea and died.
His corpse returned on the next tide.
They built a pyre.
All through his wasted life, they sighed,
He had lacked fire.
You know how Wallace Stevens went—
He bit the bullet in Stoke-on-Trent.
Ere half her wretched span was spent,
Donned her best hat, then out she leant
From the tenth floor.
Blown upwards by a sudden gust
Which caught the camber of her bust
And raised her by her hat, she thrust
Her arms out, wailing
'My sentiments of sheer disgust
'The Muses' slope is smeared with a slime
It ill becomes a girl to climb.
(Though I could count, I couldn't rhyme.)
I've placed a wager
That if I fail this seventh time
I'll never be major.
'I long to know that I've done well,
To hear the Alvarez organ swell,
To hear posterity's callboy yell
"Miss Moore, you're next on !"
To hear that cracked, remorseless knell
Tolled by Anne Sexton.'
Examples of this sort abound.
The rest I'll leave Al to expound.
There's so much suicide around
I'm frankly staggered
That any work gets off the ground
Before we're knackered.
For a poet, not to have cut his wrist
Is worse than having not been kissed.
(And surely, si vous suivez ma piste,
It's somewhat eerie
That so few novelists insist
On hara kiri
Or, more ambitiously, seppuku.)
Which brings me to my purpose. Look you
John Fuller, I admire your book, you
Write well, though sanely.
You're also an exquisite cook, you
Do Chinese, mainly.
Your style's complex and problematical.
Rarely do you appear fanatical.
Your dominant humour is phlegmatical.
What could be more highly ag-
reeable than four months sabbatical
But frankly this is not enough.
Great poets come from sterner stuff.
Their voices should be deep and gruff,
Urgent and things,
Not like the tones of Master Lough
Singing 'Oh for the wings'.
This is of course the Brownjohn view
And I'm as much to blame as you.
For a poet to hove into view—
To be emergent—
He must whine, as if he wants the loo,
'Please sir, I'm urgent.'
Now urgency is just Al's thing,
His stock-in-trade, as 'twere his Ding
An sich. Never since Wagner's Ring,
Or at least Gluck,
Has urgency had such a fling
As in his book.
I'm feeling urgent as I write.
Three times I've woken in the night.
Twice, when my pen was in full flight,
I've had to dash
Bursting with inner rage and spite
And want of cash.
I've just decided what to do.
For months now I've been dreadfully blue
Since first I had the chance to view
Al's handsome head
Pictured on the Observer Review
Lying as dead.
Look John, I trust your sense of tact.
Why don't you join me in the act?
Perhaps we could devise a pact,
A grand Last Bow.
I'd thought of using Pontefract—
Failing that, Slough.
Should we take hemlock? Too abstruse.
A punch of deadly nightshade juice?
A dressing-gown cord for a noose?
Should we wear spats?
Alas! Warfarin is no more use
For poets or rats.
Let's make our suicide really gay.
It is the most luxurious way
Of being superior. You say
Your life is inner—
So is the man's who cannot pay
For the next dinner.
Let's order a banquet just for us.
Let's wail and moan and make a fuss,
Then throw ourselves beneath a bus—
Show them we're serious
And we don't give a tinker's cuss.
Let's be mysterious.
Death is the envy of the hicks,
The last crap shot, the final fix.
It is the burning of the Ricks.
Lovelier than sex, it
Beckons us home across the Styx
And we must exit.
Taken from "Cannibals and Missionaries" by John Fuller.
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