It is the wound inflicted upon our self-love, not the stain upon the character of the thoughtless offender, that calls for condign punishment. Crimes, vices may go unchecked, or unnoticed: but it is the laughing at our weaknesses, or thwarting of our humours, that is never to be forgotten. It is not the errors of others, but our own miscalculations, on which we wreak our lasting vengeance. It is ourselves that we cannot forgive.
F.R. LOOSELEAF, a prophet at Downing, Cambridge
L. L. EL AL, poet, critic and mountaineer
MITCH L. ADRIAN, a revolutionary poet
N. T. THWEET, literary editor of the same magazines at different times
King Canute, Lord Snow, Lord Annan, Mendelssohn, Pisanello, Roald Amundsen, Admiral Peary, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Roland Barthes, Claude Lévy-Strauss, Martin Heidegger, Max Planck, Edward Teller, Salvador Dali, Karl Kraus, Krafft-Ebing, Kundt, D. H. Lawrence, Richard Burton, Branwell Brontë, James Arness, Dana Andrews, James Stewart, Joseph Conrad, Byron, Keats, Browning, Shelley, Bill Sikes, Ronnie Scott, Torquemada (twice), Schumann, Gutenberg, the Tyrant Gessler, Jennifer O'Neill, Blake, Sherlock Holmes, Christopher Logue, Milton, Vermeer, Hans Keller, Pablo Neruda, Racine, Donne, Dante, Marlowe, Kydd, Shakespeare, Greene, Mark Twain, Yvor Frye, Northrop Winters, Brahms, Petrarch, Michelangelo, Proust, Giotto, Richard Nixon, Uri Geller, Ernest Hemingway, W. H. Auden, Croesus, J. D. Salinger, Norman Mailer, Baudelaire, Yeats, Homer, Tristan Corbière, Thomas Hardy, Franz Werfel, Max Weber, Lou Reed, Gaudier-Brzeska, Osip Mandelstam, Albert Camus, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Jackson Pollock, Christopher Isherwood, Federigo Garcia Lorca, Jane Austen and many more.
[Illustrations by Russell Davies]
Because so many ask what he was like,
I sing the life and death of Master PRYKKE,
Whose first name, PEREGRINE, he shrank to PERRY —
His lone and doomed endeavour to be merry.
A worthy youth, whose reasonable gravity
Was so sincere it bordered on depravity —
The kind of finely balanced moral fervour
That fills the Leader Page of the Observer —
Although I should at this point quickly add
I find the paper’s Arts Page not half bad,
Perhaps because, week in, week out, I’m in it,
And so are (they’ll be on stage in a minute)
My co-narrators of this gory story,
Which will, to Perry Prykke’s undying glory,
Retrace the apices and plumb the abysses
Of his anabasis and - well, catabasis.
We won’t go through (it’s all been done before)
The business of how, winding up the War,
The Middle Class — as ever, keen to strive —
Renewed itself in 1945
(Much pleased at having seen off sinful Jerry)
By siring many sons, including Perry:
A product of the Population Bulge
Whose Fame was foredoomed fiercely to effulge,
But who at first lay listless in his swaddling,
Indifferent to the whole idea of coddling.
It was a solemn babe, with earnest eyes:
The kind that rarely smiles yet never cries.
A shy one, even shame-faced, at the breast,
It gave, for every nappy that it messed,
A long and heartfelt semaphored apology
Betokening an insecure psychology.
Ex-colonel Prykke, with what his loins had wrought
Well pleased (he was not one for abstract thought)
Went dourly back to daily setting forth
From Audley End in the commuter’s North
To keep the same old ledgers in the City.
No room for passion there, still less for pity:
Let’s give him our ungrudging admiration
And focus on his Offspring’s education.
But then, let’s not. That territory too
Is too well ploughed by now to plough anew.
Suffice to say young Perry’s brain was graded
And deemed an organ fit to be State-aided
(With due allowance for his Father’s earnings),
Solidifying thus his Mother’s yearnings:
She dreamed of great deeds in a high arena
And saw them promised in her child’s demeanour.
By Mum spurred on, and swotting might and main,
Young Perry climbed the greasy inclined plane
Towards the next best thing to private schooling
(And near enough to set his Mother drooling) —
An Indirect Grant Semi-Public Grammar
Fee-paying Approved Labour-Camp cum Crammer
Yclept Queen Anne’s Academy, King’s Lynn.
He sat the entrance paper, and got in.
We’ll set aside his first years at the School.
He proved, by diligence, he was no fool,
Or anyway he showed he was no sluggard.
In fact he slaved away till he was buggered
(Though for the place’s sake I’m pleased to say
He was not buggered as he slaved away)
And brought back books of different shapes and sizes
The Beaks had dished out liberally as prizes
To mark his special aptitude for Writing,
At which they thought him far the most exciting
(As well as well-turned-out and soundly grounded)
High-flyer since the day Queen Anne’s was founded.
Such praise was hollow — there had been few others —
But stuff like that goes down a treat with Mothers,
And at each calf-bound presentation tome
Our Perry’s Mum lowed like a cow come home
To give its milk into a friendly pail.
Age well could wither her, and custom stale
Her light-years-less-than-infinite variety,
But nothing short of death could shake her Piety.
To graze green pastures with a Higher Breed
By proxy through her Son was all her creed,
Since no belief or dream in all Creation
Could match her faith in Transubstantiation.
But there. My tale’s five minutes under foot
(Or on foot? Under way? Which do I put?)
And here I’m standing, still the sole voice telling it.
If this keeps up I’ll soon be hoarsely yelling it —
High time that I wheeled on another witness
Beyond reproach on grounds of mental fitness
Whose views are more dispassionate than not:
It’s Perry’s English master, GRAHAM GROTT —
A solid, stolid Cantabridge MA
Who prays to Downing College twice a day.
Though one of F. R. LOOSELEAF’s also-rans
Grott featured as a Young Turk at Queen Anne’s —
The first man to detect our lad’s potential
And grasp that careful coaching was essential.
Grott now recalls,
‘hope in the course
Of things, to find the Full Creative Force
Of Felt Thought in the as-yet unformed speech
Of those one is condemn ... er, proud to teach
At Institutes of Learning such as ours.
Yet now and then a boy of special powers
Reveals himself as eager to be taught:
A boy in whom the Felt Creative Thought,
The Force of Thought, of Life Felt to the Full ... ’
I ought to warn you that this kind of bull
Was taken down verbatim as dictation
By generation after generation
Of listeners to F. R. Looseleaf’s preachings,
Who rated them above the Talmud’s teachings
As distillations of the True and Serious.
By chanting them, the dull became delirious,
Attaining just as ice cold an hysteria
As anything that goes on in Siberia,
Then fell back in a self-obsessed Satori —
But more of that anon. On with the story.
By now Grott’s run the gamut of abstraction
And might say something pertinent to the action.
‘Though not yet free of juvenile frivolities,
His class-work had those Life-Enhancing Qualities —
Felt, Life-Affirming, Reverent of Reality,
Without, I needn’t add, Sentimentality —
Which show that one is For Life, not Against it ... ’
This man’s a total idiot, you’ve sensed it:
For who except a kamikaze pilot
(i.e. one trained from childhood to revile it)
Can look on life in any other way?
‘And so I called him to my room one day
To offer — Come in! — an attentive ear
Should he have doubts concerning his Career.’
‘Gosh, Sir, I’m sorry in my thing on Pope
I got Metathesis mixed up with Trope,’
‘Unforgiveable, I know ... ’
‘No, no, Prykke,’
‘don’t tremble so.
I called you here for quite another thing:
To take you, as it were, beneath my wing
And tell you what to look for, what to fear,
When Cambridge welcomes you this coming year.’
‘it’s certain, do you think?’
‘As sure as keen men rise and slack men sink
You shall go up to Sydney Selwyn College.
‘is more than Knowledge.
You have to be For Life and not Against ... ’
(The dialogue from here on I’ve condensed.)
‘ ... And pay attention always to one man;
A man the like of whom, since Time began,
Has not been seen; a man Misrepresented,
But whose Achievement can’t be circumvented
By such sophisticated forms of treason
As cleverness or wit or common reason.
The prophet F. R. Looseleaf’s who I mean:
My hero and, I hope, yours, Peregrine.’
‘I’ve read The Great Pursuit
And not a word of it could I refute.
I’m staggered by the potent observations
That crowd the pages of Regurgitations.
Life’s Full Creative Force is what he’s for ... ’
They drivelled on for half an hour or more
While Grott got through a fair-sized cask of sherry —
And even slipped a glass or two to Perry.
‘Good (gosh) bye, Shir, and thanksh for all you’ve done.’
gruffed Grott, as if to his own son:
His final words of interest to the plot,
So let’s say goodbye too to Graham Grott
And send him off to sort out wigs and noses
For further dialogues and daring poses
Suggesting divers well-known personalities
At different times in various localities —
A pluralist approach whose guiding factor’s
The fact that we could not afford more actors.
But anyway, to Cambridge. Revelation!
Completely beyond every expectation
Revolved in Perry Prykke’s most fevered dreams.
The place reduced his Mum to muted screams
And tears of joy when she, her Consort driving,
At last attained the Canaan of her striving
And parked her son with those picked to inherit
The Earth or else to win it by sheer merit —
A gang of pampered kids and brash young hustlers
Who talk one tongue, like cattle-kings and rustlers.
But Peregrine paid no heed to such things:
Instead, his narrow soul grew narrow wings.
His fund of verve might well have been exiguous
But still his revelry was unambiguous.
Though no one yet had taught him to drink deep
He stumbled as if stunned or half asleep.
He hardly spent a single moment sober
That frost-cold and crystalline October,
But cycled dazedly ‘twixt Hall and Lecture
Intoxicated by the architecture
And how the trees extended brittle glass
Unleaving limbs above the fog-soaked grass
(As lustrous as a cat-skin from Siam)
That joined the Colleges and lined the Cam,
Beneath whose icy surface lay concealed,
Like tools of war beneath a battlefield,
Corroded bike-frames, clapped out batsman’s boxes
And one or two cadavers of drowned coxes
Tossed in with hearty laughter at Bump Suppers
Or else some other orgy, e.g. Cuppers.
The rank, the razzmatazz, the rigmarole!
Right from the start Prykke swallowed that stuff whole.
He loved his little gown and wore it always.
It followed him through cloister-courts and hallways.
He wore his gown to town and to the toilet,
And if he chanced to soil it he would boil it.
On application long if in mind meagre,
Our Freshman was as pure of heart and eager
As any trainee monk in ancient Lhasa.
You never saw a tabula more rasa.
The first great influence to be impressed
Upon this bland, receptive palimpsest
Was one as drastic as it was dramatic:
It left our Perry limp and yet ecstatic.
Who else but F. R. Looseleaf, outlaw don,
Proud put-upon lay priest and paragon?
Young Perry Prykke found Looseleaf’s merest seminar
As shattering as gin and bitter lemon are
To someone in the grip of hepatitis,
Or volleyball to people with arthritis.
This man had grandeur. Gritty, grim, persuasive,
Irascible, inflexible, abrasive,
He faced four-square his foes on every side
And told them what Canute once told the tide.
‘We see that, far from evil or Satanic,
The Force of Life in Lawrence is Organic.
I needn’t add,’
‘that for Lawrence,
The Sex theme is no matter for abhorrence
As Snow or Annan might be apt to think,
But something more akin to meat and drink.
Against their cheap ideas of what’s Enlightening
Lawrentian Desire might well seem frightening.
For what else is his fruitfulness, of course,
But Felt Life in its Full Creative Force?’
To malleable Perry this was caviar.
Now this, he thought, is what concern and savvy are.
At Looseleaf’s lectures Prykke would sit and scribble
The whole kaboodle down without a quibble,
Then talk it over afterwards with one
Who’d done precisely that which he had done:
A comely girl called CYNTHIA DEVINE.
Ah, would the powers of Mendelssohn were mine!
For I would write down now a row of notes,
Which notes, when played, would, as a bubble floats,
Waft perfect pictures of her to your eye —
Or do I mean your ear? A saint would cry
To think that he must spend his life without her.
Fair Cynthia had something sweet about her.
God knows I’m less than willing to digress.
The thought already puts me in distress
That Perry, if I ramble at this rate
Will never even get to graduate.
But still I’m bound — and just to be judicious,
No more than that — to say she was delicious.
Her eyes were tubs of liquid innocence
Devoid of guile, deprived of all defence;
Her nose was built and bobbed by Pisanello
Or some equivalent Renaissance fellow;
Her skin, peach yoghurt, bloomed against the air,
Contested in food-value by her hair —
A crowning glory falling like the night
To kiss her waistline, which was very slight.
Extremities below were brief but neat.
Her skirt was plaid, and fastened at the pleat
By means of a symbolic safety-pin —
Thin armour for the charms that lay within.
Above, her tiny booblets swam before her
Like desperate hamsters drowning in angora ...
But there, my whole description has been physical.
I fear I’ve missed her aura, which was quizzical.
When Cynthia Devine looked at the World
Her mouth was open and her toes were curled
For sheer anticipation of its yielding
The secrets it had spent her lifetime shielding.
She was a question mark, a walking query,
A pint-sized Amundsen or Admiral Peary.
Sweet Cynth was all For Life, For Creativity:
And Perry — well, he shared the same proclivity.
And so, coeval like the Sol and Gel
Whose two simplicities make up a Cell,
These youngsters were as one in their propensities:
Untutored spirits fused by twin intensities.
Together in the Stacks, the twain would garner
Apt quotes for essays about Silas Marner,
Or hand-in-hand make notes on Sons and Lovers
Until that tattered Penguin lost its covers.
Behind a sported Oak in early May
They sat to read, and then, one day, they lay.
‘For Life and not Against it!’
the lad cried.
she moaned, recumbent by his side.
The tender warmth was too much for our Perry:
He lost his head, and Cynthia her cherry.
Let’s leave them to their bliss, in blossom-fall,
When Cambridge lawns adopt a muslin shawl;
When bluebells choking daisies in the meadows
Run crazier than Thomas Lovell Beddoes,
And Callowness takes up the alto sax;
When punts can barely move along the Backs
And pretty backs are bare inside the punts.
For even in Elysium, just once
Does First Love come, like mumps or German measles —
And meanwhile, with a mighty roar of diesels,
Somebody was arriving at the Station
To whom we should devote our concentration.
His name was broadcast by a neon sign
On top of his top hat. It said DOC STEIN.
A placard on his back asked, ‘Tired? Tense?’
And answered, ‘Take my Culture cure. Ten cents.’
His frock coat was stuffed full of fluent speeches
Stuffed full in turn with such unusual features
As tags in every tongue, alive and dead:
Low-Temperature Etruscan, Serb, Seismography,
Deoxyribose, X-ray Crystallography,
The signs a cockroach makes to greet its mother
And Barthes and Lévi-Strauss to greet each other.
‘of Culture in the West
We know to be (a spectroscopic test
Was carried out last week at MIT,
By seven leading brains including me)
A function of Verbality’s decay.
If Culture-Norms subsist in what we say,
Our Complex Sentences, like strings of genes —
Those Blueprints which themselves become Machines —
Contain the Codes for Structures of Cognition.
It Is No Accident that the attrition
Of our Linguistic Formulae takes place
Within the context of a Fall from Grace
By all that Europe’s Thinkers have erected.
The preconceptions Heidegger rejected
Were taken up by Max Planck, Edward Teller,
Hans Keller, Alfred Deller, Uri Geller ... ’
Doc Stein could keep it up like that for ages
And gently raise the stakes by easy stages
Until his ravished audience (ah, Youth!)
Were utterly convinced he told the Truth.
While winding up towards his grand finale
He ranted and waxed goggle-eyed like Dali.
While speaking what might well have been Illyrian
He blasted off in flames for the Empyrean.
‘The longings represented by Karl Kraus
We know to have recurred in Mickey Mouse!
Krafft-Ebing, Kundt and Kitasato shared
A pH number times B-flat all squared!
The pulsing Neutron Star is nothing less,
It may well be, than just a game of Chess
At which, perhaps, a dog can beat a Don
By humming Tosca through a cyclotron!
We do not know! We only know that Violence
Has finally reduced our speech to Silence!
Dumbfounded, we are waiting for a Sign!
All tongues are still! Except, of course, for mine!’
Bedazzled, Perry raced away to plant a
Review of what he’d just sat through in Granta —
Of which he had become, by sheer hard graft,
The engine, the propeller and the shaft.
His admiration now was all for Stein,
But Looseleaf quickly got him back in line.
‘We see in Stein, prolixly ineffectual,
The typical New Statesman intellectual.
His shallow cosmopolitan loquacity
(Both aiding and abetting that mendacity
The foolish take to be what’s cultivated)
Is just what D. H. Lawrence always hated:
That Lawrence who, himself supremely apt
For penetrating cultures yet untapped
By arid, quantifying sociologists,
Perceived instinctively that all apologists
For Learning in the abstract — cold induction —
Were ipso facto agents of destruction.
I don’t think I need to add, I think you know,
That Stein has taken cocktails with Lord Snow
And has been heard — he’s proud of it! — to plan an
Encroachment against Values with Lord Annan.’
Since Perry believed everything he heard
He fell for this, too, every single word,
And modified his writings in the light of it
By saying both these pundits had the right of it.
Nor did his handy knack of seeing double
At this stage get him into any trouble,
Because a point of pride with every Don
Is not to know a thing of what goes on
In Student Life, and hold it in derision —
A system known as Personal Supervision.
‘The locus of our Structure perhaps maps
Lawrentian Verbality’s collapse,’
Wrote Perry Prykke, agog with more ideas
(Exactly two) than he had had in years,
‘We do not know the cube of the square root
Because organic languages are mute.’
The plodding yet prolific literatus
Puffed up with intellectual afflatus;
The lover of the cutest girl in Girton
(Which put him on a par with Richard Burton,
Since Cambridge birds are very hard to get);
Brave Perry was without a doubt all set
To start out on a glorious career
Of telling people what they longed to hear.
For Prykke was pliant in the first degree —
Which quicker spirits could already see,
And soon the Tripos papers made it clearer.
The Dons, half cut as usual on Madeira,
In lonely rooms gave pencilled approbation
To Perry’s faithful recapitulation
Of what each one had taught as the True Creed.
The awkward fact that Prykke also agreed
With everybody else, they didn’t spot.
And so a First Degree was what he got.
Hail Graduation Day! O time of times!
When Great St Mary’s showers down her chimes
On those who throng the lawn of Regent House
To be at last rewarded. Not for nous,
But for their luck in having caught the bus
That runs express from the Eleven Plus,
Careering past those poor souls in the Poly —
Or else for simply having had the lolly.
Starred First? A Third? Who cares? You’re still BA!
Yes, everybody gets a prize today!
Great bleating herds of woolly graduands
In joky hats and white bow ties and bands!
And somewhere in the middle, the grave Perry
Attends his Cynthia like an equerry.
And now we see, in search of him, his Mum,
Who’s just arrived, and, far from stricken dumb,
She’s raving with delight at all this pap.
And now she’s caught a glimpse of Perry’s cap!
‘It’s got a little tassle!’
With a howl
She sinks into that sea of robe and cowl,
And lying on the grass enjoys full measure
The culmination of erotic pleasure —
A sight on which the Dons turn anxious eyes
But fail, I needn’t add, to recognize.
Let’s leave her there and listen to her clever
Descendant pledge his fealty forever.
‘Gosh, Cynth, I wish I didn’t have to leave.’
‘Ah, Heathcliff, dearest darling, do not grieve.’
For Cynth was staying on to do Research
On where the Brontës used to sit in church.
Did all the sisters squeeze into one pew?
If Branwell came they must have needed two.
Her thesis really would be most exciting —
And three or even four years in the writing.
‘Please promise, Heathcliff, as you value me
That you will be For Life, as I’m for thee.’
he vowed, but Life is a long time
For young men scarcely even in their prime:
A fact to which my reference must be glancing —
The plot is in a fret to be advancing.
That Perry Prykke had not put in in vain
His precious time on Granta was now plain.
The waves of tempting offers never halted
To ply his pen in papers more exalted.
But of those London-postmarked exhortations
It was the briefest gave him fibrillations —
Just such a note’s been known to give far hardier
Recipients than Perry tachycardia.
‘Please see me when you come to town,’ it said.
The signature read IAN HAMMERHEAD.
The famous editor they called the 00
.7 Bond of literary Soho!
The TLS’s frozen-eyed Enforcer
Who thought that poetry went wrong with Chaucer!
For Perry not to heed that fearsome call
Would mean to gamble nothing, yet lose all.
(He wanted, with his Destiny ahead of him,
Nobody else enjoying it instead of him.)
The gage was down, the battle-flag unfurled!
The prize? The London Literary World!
And so Prykke left the Varsity behind,
Full certain, in what served him for a mind,
That somewhere Southward, far beyond the Fen,
His Fate awaited him, in the Great Wen.
Now Hammerhead infests, as all know well,
A pub in Greek Street called the GATES OF HELL,
And thither Perry bent his guileless step,
Astonished (while pretending to be hep)
At all the true-to-life fold-out displays
Of Doxies in the doors and alleyways
Extending him an open invitation
To some form, he assumed, of Penetration —
Though other variations of seduction
Appeared to put the emphasis on Suction.
He reached the Gates of Hell shocked to the core,
Breathed in, breathed out, and pushed the double door.
Good Heavens! Were this mob of odds and sods
His fondly cherished Literary gods?
Huge Irish navvies lounged about befuddled
Or else in softly spoken groups sat huddled
Preoccupied with clocks and bits of fuse —
It seemed a strange Headquarters for the Muse.
Blue clouds of cigarette smoke surged and plumed,
Then suddenly from out of them there loomed
The stony countenance of Hammerhead.
‘You’ve taken your time getting here,’
‘Expect you’d like to write for The Review.
You might just do it, in a year or two.
But as for now, I’ll have to dash your hopes.
You look like you might need to learn the ropes.
The first great principle you’ll have to watch
Is, I take bitter with my double scotch.’
‘I’m sorry to be rude:
It’s just that, as you see, I’m not too clued
Er, up, as yet, on Literary ways.
I must look like I’m in some sort of daze.’
‘There isn’t any need to call me “Sir”
Or anything like that. I much prefer
To be addressed as Chief, or Number One.
But anyway, to business. We’ve begun
With our First Law. The Second’s just as sound:
It’s Nearly Always Time For The Next Round.’
‘Gosh, Sir — er, Chief — I must apologize ... ’
‘Forget about it, kid. I sympathize.
Hell, everyone in this dodge starts off raw:
It’s just that some are less so, others more.
Now keep your lip well buttoned while I speak.
At least a hundred Novels every week
Engulf the TLS and must be judged —
A Herculean task that can’t be fudged.
I need a writer with your fresh young style ... ’
(As well, he didn’t say, as your dumb smile)
‘ ... to grapple with this Sisyphean job.’
‘Gosh, Number One,’
said Perry with a sob
Of gratitude, while sinking to his knees.
‘You’ll find that I’m an easy man to please,’
Said Hammerhead, his eyelids thin with scorn.
‘Just take this pile of Fiction and don’t fawn:
I’m more than happy if you merely grovel.
The one on top’s the new Mag Scrabble novel.
It’s all about two sisters who write books.
One’s gifted, and the other’s got no looks.
Lead off with that. With any luck, you’ll hate it.
In which case don’t be reticent — berate it.’
With Hammerhead beside him (a black Nemesis
Exhaustively familiar with the premises),
Our Perry (by now smashed out of his mind)
Was thereupon led off like Samson blind
To meet — or if not that, at least palpate —
The Great Names lying hazily in wait
Like fabled dreadnoughts in the Jutland fog.
As damply frog-encrusted as King Log
They hulked towards him from the gloom crepuscular.
This one, for instance — hirsute, squat and muscular —
Was Hammerhead’s most formidable pal:
The poet-mountaineer, L. L. EL AL.
El Al, although he scarcely scraped the sky,
Looked any man directly in the eye,
No matter if the man were James Arness.
The secret? It lay in his mode of dress.
Equipped with crampons, coils of nylon rope
And ever-ready ice-axe, he could cope
By night or day with climbing from your base
To plant his gallant flag in your North Face —
A prelude to deploying his capacity
For unrestrained rhetorical pugnacity,
Selecting verbs according to velocity
And nouns for scatological ferocity.
To Prykke, the prick of pitons in his chest,
Plus painful pick-axe prongs poked through his vest,
Spelt finis to his savoir faire. He froze —
With El Al’s famous beard stuck up his nose.
‘Now hear me good. The big trick of this game,’
El Al announced,
‘is Build Yourself A Name.
And when you do, don’t fritter it away:
Just screw the bums a century a day
For anything you write, no matter what.
Like, Late Night Line-Up? Forty quid a shot:
Plus helicopter fare, another fifty.
A hundred for the evening if you’re nifty.
So far this year — that’s Fiscal ’68 —
I’ve earned five thou a quarter, steady rate.
My agent’s agent sets the tax aside
For when I write my book on Suicide —
A treatise on the Artist’s Alienation
In Business-Oriented Civilization.’
The next to bulk Dantesquely from the mist
Was Hammerhead’s death-dealing Satirist,
The man who made the hits for Mr Big:
Prykke caught his breath, for this was Edward Pygge —
Laconic in trench coat and felt fedora
Like Dana Andrews dreaming about Laura.
The poet Walter Waiter shook Prykke’s hand.
Wise Waiter’s cross it was to understand
The motives of all men. He thereby earned
A brand that fiercely festered, foully burned:
The fell renown of being a Nice Guy.
(The chump had never even learned to lie.)
Against him leaned the gentle Gavin Suet,
As finely lined and wind-tanned as James Stewart.
Below them Alan Brownjug, looking up,
Was catching all their spilled beer in a cup.
And here was Colin Fluck, the Aesthetician,
Profoundly silent in the Stork Position:
A witness for the creed that Art is Life —
Which is absurd, like saying Man is Wife.
And there was Big John Gross, the Man of Learning,
Who kept his massive mental motor turning
By feeding it some colourless, Slavonic
Extractive lightly qualified with tonic.
To go away, or else to stay behind?
Big John could never quite make up his mind
On that or any point, and kept contriving
To half depart while only half arriving.
And there was Richard Bierstein, rich in jest —
Whose task it is empirically to test
The thousand different kinds and strengths of ale
Great Britain’s countless pubs have got on sale.
(The job’s like tasting wine, except much greater
Amounts are swallowed and you get home later.)
Prykke gazed in speechless fright as Bierstein drank,
Rolled over like the Bismarck, heaved and sank —
A spout of steaming bubbles and low moans
Revealing where he’d gone to Davy Jones.
Lost in the fumes, heads intermingled hairily.
Lost in the hair, unsmiling eyes watched warily.
These were the Belfast poets — all called Seamus —
Of whom the leading light was SEAMUS FEAMUS,
Who even now attacked his midday meal:
Two slabs of peat around a conger eel.
‘White spoors of cockle,’
Tight mounds brine-splashed with goat-frost. Futtled, numb,
I slop the dunt melt of the scurfing bog’s
Black molars to the shred-hung mandrake. Dogs
Like spirochetes torment my afterbirth ... ’
Warmed by the joke, his cronies quaked with mirth.
And there the dandy formalist John Fop
(Whose clothes leave Kojak looking like a cop)
Stood talking shop with Trotskyite James Flint
(Who like a Conrad Outcast looked clean skint —
For though Flint had, as Fop had, a white suit on,
Flint’s looked like it belonged to Robert Newton.)
And this smooth-looking lad was MARVIN GRABB,
Who seemed a drowsy victim of Queen Mab,
But was in fact the televisual host
Of shows that sliced the Arts like buttered toast
And served them up bedecked with marmalade —
Throughout which blithe proceedings he displayed
A bonhomie tenacious as alfalfa.
He marked the Works of Art all out of alpha,
Bestowing many pluses and few minuses
Through perfect teeth, though less than perfect sinuses.
And still they came, like damned souls to the Styx,
Aflicker like short candles with long wicks,
Aflutter like the air above hot streets —
Tomorrow’s Byron and the latest Keats,
The future Browning and the brand new Shelley,
And JELLY ROLL (‘Just Call Me Jelly’) BELLY!
Of Belly Prykke had never seen the likes:
He stared at him as Twist stared at Bill Sikes.
For Belly was an avatar, a magus,
A blazing apparition like Las Vegas.
His suit was made from twenty different leathers,
His coat from forty different kinds of feathers.
Around his stetson ran a clockwork train.
He sang and danced as if he were in pain.
‘Oh Perry, baby, welcome to the band!
I’d like to shake your lily-white wet hand!
You’ve got the kind of walnut-shell rear end
I once was prone to look for in a friend!
‘That’s prone, you get me? Yeah, and supine too.
But when they made it legal, I was through.
The Gay Scene nowadays is just for hicks.
The current trend is — get your kicks with chicks!
‘I taught Dick Jiggle how to strut his stuff.
Man, when I learned the trade, the trade was rough!
To get the world of Showbiz by the Nuts
The thing you gotta have’s a lotta guts.
‘So stick with Uncle Jelly, Perry lad!
The Know-Alls laughed when I went out with Trad.
But this time round I’ve really struck it rich.
I stuck it out and came back in with Kitsch!’
On neon platform shoes whose Perspex heels
Had mice inside them running round in wheels,
Exuding charismatic amps and watts
Fat Belly set a course for Ronnie Scott’s,
While Perry tottered onward through the gunge
To meet the Scottish poet DOUGLAS DUNGE.
A moralizing bard of wide remark —
And HUGO HARSFRIED lunged out of the dark.
Of these we will hear further, by-and-by.
But now a dozey glaze was in Prykke’s eye:
He ordered drinks all round and signed the cheque,
Coughed, crumpled at the midriff, hit the deck
And went to sleep in mingled pain and bliss
To dream of fickle Fame, her flagrant kiss.
As Autumn darkness deepened in the City
The Novelists kept at it without pity.
Poor Perry toiled away as a Reviewer
And felt as if he drowned in horse manure.
His minuscule bedsit in Notting Hill
Grew insulated from the Winter chill
With brightly wrappered volumes beyond numbering,
While in amongst them Peregrine sat slumbering
Or else rapt in the life-consuming craft
Of shifting the new books before him aft
By reading them and typing up his thoughts —
An endless fusillade of short reports.
He hedged his praise, he modified his blame,
And wondered how he’d ever Make His Name:
However could one hope to be autonomous
While labouring so hard to stay anonymous?
(For in those days you might just bring to mind,
The TLS reviews were all unsigned:
Which meant that clapped-out hack and clueless tyro
Could each drag down a few bob with a biro
And academics knife each other politely —
So long as no one ventured to write brightly.)
Imagine, then, Prykke’s joy when a commanding
Soft crackle from the phone out on the landing
Subpoenaed him to Langham Place. The caller?
The Kingpin of the Listener, KLAUS MAULER!
Despite his name, Klaus Mauler was a Scot.
Of Scots in London Life, there are a lot;
And Welsh, and Ulstermen, and, yes, Australians,
Hungarians, Bavarians, Westphalians,
Tanned types called Popadom and Papadopoulos —
There’s everyone except the native populace.
But that’s another subject in itself,
So for the nonce we’ll leave it on the shelf
And stick with this one dominant Big Brother —
Who seemed to Peregrine much like his Mother,
Though looking even more robustly built.
A purist, Klaus wore naught beneath his kilt
Except a knobbly stick to beat his staff with
As well as separate the wheat from chaff with
Among his crew of academic hacks,
Who bore, upon their shoulders, shins and backs,
The marks of his Olympian disfavour
Delivered like a forehand from Rod Laver.
‘I’ve seen your writings in the TLS:
They’re undergraduate pretentiousness,’
Drawled Mauler from behind a massive desk —
And Perry’s bowel performed an arabesque.
‘I won’t stand for your puerile mewlings here.
I’m not as tolerant as I appear.
I’m offering you a golden opportunity
To pull your tiny weight in this community
By covering the Literary Scene.
It doesn’t matter too much that you’re green
So long as you can spell and use good grammar.
But if you can’t, I’ll see you get the hammer
They way your predecessors did, the turds.
Your fee will be one pound a thousand words.’
‘Er, gosh, Sir, are you sure you mean a pound?’
‘Good God no, Prykke, my mind must be unsound.
I meant to tell you seventeen and six.
The larger sum is for Professor Rix —
Who earns the bonus for his seniority
And lively air of erudite Authority.
It will be years before you reach the station
Of him who wrote Yeats and Humiliation.
Till you’ve a book to challenge that great Don with
The smaller sum is plenty to go on with.’
Proud Prykke was overjoyed, for, as you know,
At that time, which was several years ago,
You still bent over if you dropped a shilling.
And think of the prestige! Was Perry willing?
You bet your life he was! And just that night
The Soho bards were scheduled to recite
Their poems at a Show in Bedford Square.
The BOOK BINGE it was called. They’d all be there —
Dunge, Fop, Fluck, Harsfried, Hammerhead, the lot!
Just think what Cynth would say, or Graham Grott!
Ah, Creativity, the mystic riddle of it!
And Perry would be slap bang in the middle of it!
From Mauler’s office Perry walked on air
And down the corridor towards the stair,
But as he passed a doorway his sweet dreams
Were put to flight by sudden piercing screams.
He poked his head inside and gagged with shock.
A man was stretched across a whipping-block
While Mauler’s cruel shillelagh rose and fell
Like some sadistic metronome in Hell!
As knotted shoulders writhed beneath the knouting
Prykke recognized the face that did the shouting.
Those spectacles, that plumply curving cheek,
Belonged to Mauler’s sidekick, Derwent Meek!
The yells went on. Prykke’s flabbergasted jaw
Yawned like a Right Whale’s plankton-straining maw.
He’d heard that Mauler gave Meek a rough ride,
But this came close to being homicide:
The Inquisition under Torquemada
Could not have put the screws on any harder.
Prykke gumshoed off unsteady on his legs,
His First Class brain reduced to scrambled eggs,
But calmed himself by sensibly recalling
The voluntary aspect of Meek’s Mauling.
For such assaults, Prykke knew, Meek tolerated
In hopes that he would one day be instated
At Mauler’s desk as undisputed Editor.
The helpless prey was just another predator!
And as for Mauler, Chief of Secret Police —
Tous les grands hommes ont toujours du caprice.
The Book Binge galvanized the Bloomsbury night
With booming drums and waterfalls of light,
With sawdust, fairy floss and mirror-halls
And wooden clowns who swallow ping-pong balls.
A hubble-bubble Babel-Bacchanal,
A bal-masqué like Schumann’s ‘Carnaval’,
The Book Binge was a three-ring Wing-a-Ding,
A Gutenberg-Galactic Happening —
A glowing Pleasure Garden out of Bosch
On which Prykke’s only comment could be
For here were dodgem cars, with Authors driving;
And next to them a pool with dolphins diving;
And here were tests of strength, and bells were ringing;
And further on was ‘Jelly’ Belly singing.
What games! What pipes and timbrels! What a bash!
And — here’s the best bit — all of it was gash!
A dish-fit-for-a-king done to a turn,
The thing was Subsidized from stem to stern!
Charles Ozbuns of the State Arts Hand-out Panel
Had hatched the notion in his Proper Channel
In order that the Literary cliques
Who all year long intrigue and play no-speaks
Should reconcile their various activities
In one enormous outburst of Festivities.
While strident barkers bruited the attractions
Of all the different gangs, cabals and factions —
Mild Mandarins and manic Agitproppers,
Frail Struldbrugs and frenetic Teenyboppers,
Crazed New Departurists and crisp Grammarians,
Wet Apollonians and wild Aquarians —
The public flowed between the rows of tents
From Thence to Whence and Hence again to Thence.
’Neath fizzing naphtha flares, ’midst hoot of tooters,
The mob. vulg. milled around like bands of looters.
They jammed a booth to hear some bard recite.
The emptied it again to gain respite.
They crammed the Helter-Skelter to its summit
And rode the Roller Coaster like a plummet.
And here a row of SLAVE-GIRL NOVELISTS,
Bejewelled and chained together at the wrists,
Were belly-dancing high above the rabble —
And prominent among them was Mag Scrabble.
Her swerving navel plugged with a carnelian
She rippled like the skin of a chameleon
Compelled to crawl across a length of tartan —
The sight would have aroused lust in a Spartan.
The target for a dozen camera crews,
Tall on a gilded rostrum stood TED THEWS.
Impressively he read rhymed tales of woe
About some kind of psychopathic crow.
‘Crow eats my eyeballs and spits out the pips.
Crow pecks my nose off and rips off my lips.
I like it, but I must say my face falls
When Crow declares an interest in my ... ’ Calls
Of ‘Genius!’ went up from every side
And all agreed Thews should be deified,
For anyone who looked like saying no
The poet’s sister flattened with one blow.
And here with muscles like the Tyrant Gessler’s
That pair of LIBERATED WOMEN WRESTLERS
Greer Garstleigh and Kate Millsbomb wrenched like plumbers
The necks and knees and elbows of all comers —
Their victims lay around on the tatami
Karate-chopped like slices of salami.
The atmosphere was carefree, even feckless,
But in one tent the tone was far less reckless:
For there sat the admirers, fit though few,
Of Hammerhead’s grim crew from the Review.
The aspect of the first bard to address them
Could scarcely fail to heavily impress them:
Frail Hugo Harsfried, Minimalist Poet!
His flaxen hair, as long as care could grow it,
Gleamed lustrously as Jennifer O’Neill’s,
And all the rest of him, from head to heels,
Bespoke a hypersensitive fragility
Extended to a willowy ductility —
A grail-pale male Madonna by Rossetti
As slender as a lightweight Olivetti.
‘I touch your skin. You look at me askance.
We’re lying sideways on, as if in France.
Hot talent stains my cortex like graffiti.
We’re floating upside down. We’re in Tahiti.’
This poem, first of fifteen of its kind,
Outstandingly evinced, to Perry’s mind,
Both Lyric Force and Technical Austerity.
What else did that add up to but Sincerity?
A photon-stream incisive as a razor,
The Harsfried Lyricism was a laser,
A source of light the night could not expunge.
And then he passed the torch to Douglas Dunge.
‘Wa hae the noo, ye ken? Och aye, ye’ll nae
McComprehend a mickle word I say.
I could na’ give a bugger for a’ that.
I dinna’ hae the time for social chat.
Och, if ye canna’ listen, ye can look.
Ye should hae gone and bought the bluidy book.’
Admired by all and understood by none
Dour Dunge kept going like a Gatling Gun
With infinite supplies of ammunition,
Or else a power station fired by fission.
He would have read until the Sun went Nova.
He could have maundered on till Hell froze over.
But suddenly his drone went dead as mutton
As if some giant hand had pushed a button.
The Headline Act was restless in the wings.
The time had long since come for bigger things.
Dismissing Dunge with ill-concealed rage
Hunched Hammerhead in person took the stage.
‘I kick you in the ankle,’
he read grimly,
Looked up, looked down again, and added,
‘Dimly ... ‘
His gritted voice was more intense than loud.
‘ ... I see you limp away into the crowd.’
At this point there took place a lengthy pause
For which, it soon turned out, there was good cause:
A hard-won truth should not be lightly said.
‘It’s time to stop pretending we aren’t dead.’
And that was the whole poem. It was plenty.
One little lyric did the work of twenty.
He looked into the audience, defying
The women in it not to burst out crying
With mingled fear and gratitude. Their eyes
Were full of tears, their breasts of heaving sighs,
A few rows from the back, some stricken mite
Expired with passion and dropped out of sight.
Her wrists were chafed, her corpse was carried off,
But no one present dared so much as cough,
For Hammerhead was slackening his jaw
A millimeter. That meant there was more.
‘The last rose petal left broke off and fluttered
To settle softly on your knee,’
He paused and cast his hard glance round a room
Devoid of sound as Tutankhamen’s tomb.
‘Somewhere in Luxembourg, a lorry crashed.’
The next line flew for years before it smashed
As hard as a harpoon into a seal.
‘Those knickers you were wearing looked like steel.’
The audience erupted in a standing
Ovation sounding like the Concorde landing.
To say that Perry Prykke, applauding wildly,
Had been impressed would be to put it mildly —
Since had not these three poets demonstrated
The truth of what Doc Stein had always stated?
For here was Language Tending Towards Zero!
The Poet as the Enigmatic Hero!
Perry sighed, composing in his noodle
A fine old pot-pourri of flip flapdoodle
Concerning the forthcoming Moratorium
When poetry would be as rare as Thorium.
To change the mood, Jeff Nuttcase and Bob Jobbing —
Came storming in, blind drunk from apple-bobbing —
Their fruit-caked hair and cider-soaked apparel
Suggesting they had half drowned in the barrel.
Their selfless task to represent the legions
Of Mute Inglorious Miltons in the Regions,
They lashed out like a brace of Bovver Boys
And made no end of Democratic noise —
Thus manifesting Radical derision
For Hammerhead’s aesthetic of Precision.
Delivered as an incoherent shout
Their slogan was
‘Establishment Pigs Out’
(A bit steep, since Charles Ozbuns’s accounts
Bore witness to the staggering amounts
That both these rebels had received in Grants.)
‘Let’s have their pants.’
The signal had been given for a Rumble,
And instantly the tent was all a-tumble.
The two teams clashed as heavy-shod as Squaddies.
The injured air was full of flailing bodies.
Emitting cries as cryptic as the Kabbalah’s
They flew around in furious parabolas
Like hungry beggars after spilled piastres —
A Pandemonium of Poetasters.
Rock Horrorball rushed in with whirling fists
To join Nuttcase and Jobbing in the lists,
Tripped over the recumbent form of Fluck
And vanished like a football in the ruck.
With cries no longer modern at Culloden,
Dunge rendered Nuttcase notably less sodden
By kicking him immensely in the scrotum —
Whereat he stuck his tongue out like a totem,
Disgorging such a quantity of grog
The smell of it got in your eyes like smog.
In no time Jobbing also was a wreck,
For Hammerhead had written him a cheque —
As rubber as a truncheon and as ruthless,
It bounced so hard it left its victim toothless.
The hugger-mugger raged on unabated —
From bad to worse the mayhem escalated.
The tent pegs gave as if they had been rotten.
The guy ropes snapped as if they had been cotton.
Its central pole knocked sideways by a boot,
The canvas settled like a parachute —
But even when entrapped in swathes of wrapping
The writhing combatants continued scrapping.
A fish too tiny for the trawling mesh,
Prykke worked a passage through the threshing flesh.
He tunnelled through the heap from gap to gap
And traced the tent’s hem till he found the flap.
He strode away, alert in every sense,
As if his thoughts encompassed Continents.
He reeled up Oxford Street and past Hyde Park,
His shining eyes twin diamonds in the dark.
He ate, when he got home to Pembridge Crescent,
A cold pork pie and felt he dined on pheasant.
He wrote, in prose appropriately cryptic,
Of Poetry approaching its Ecliptic.
When Perry’s Piece appeared, Success was clamorous.
Prykke’s Keen Approach abruptly became glamorous
Nobody else of his age was so sedulous,
Nobody else of any age so credulous.
Poseurs would praise themselves and he’d believe them!
Tired reputations sagged, he’d help retrieve them!
While all concerned adored what Perry said
About themselves, they never of course read
The plaudits which he might rain on a rival —
A fact that was the key to his survival.
Survive? But he did more than that. He flourished.
No longer looking wan and undernourished,
He fattened on that magic food, Renown —
The Dish You Know Will Never Let You Down.
Prykke’s eager parents bought ten copies each
Of all he wrote, and anyone in reach
Was forced to take a gander, even strangers.
Sweet Cynthia wrote warning of the dangers
Inherent in the promptings of Ambition.
Too late, because the next Phase of the Mission
Was under way. A call from TERRY TOWELLING!
A call that set Prykke’s mental sirens howling —
The kind of call at which your bloodstream freezes.
To write for the Observer! Holy Jesus!
‘Um um um um um um um um um um,’
Said Towelling. After which he seemed struck dumb
While waiting for a new thought to occur.
‘Er er er er er er er er er er ... ‘
Poor Perry stared in wonder at the blower.
Did Entropy mean telephones ran slower?
He soon would know — and so be less censorious —
That Terry Towelling’s phone calls are notorious.
To kill the time the point takes to be reached
(The same time Nixon takes to be impeached)
You carry on with what it is you’re at —
With cooking, eating, sleeping, things like that —
And end the conversation fed and rested.
They way one famous critic, when requested
To do a job he failed to find amusing,
Amused his mistress three times while refusing.
‘Um um, we need the younger person’s view —
The view, that is, of er, someone like you —
On subjects like the ah, the ICA
Would um, you er, um care to? We ah, pay.’
‘I know. I’m deeply flattered.
We must treat Rebel Art as if it mattered:
I know that from Doc Stein and from El Al.
I’ll go this very evening to the Mall.’
The ICA in those days, than yourselves,
Would sooner have played host to gnomes and elves.
It crawled with lethal, Radicalized viruses
All standardized like figures on papyruses,
Conferring the name ‘poetry’ on verses
Which didn’t even make the grade as curses.
Shrill children vainly sought the tricky balance
Between what we’ll agree to call their Talents
And Fame’s demand that Art should be unique
By daubing pictures weird as they were weak,
While woaded pantaloons in dung-caked cerements
Were footling with theatrical Experiments
In which they were allowed to Improvise —
Which, in effect, means talk a pack of lies,
Since actors, when they plumb their recollection
Find little in there worth the resurrection
Except a load of trouper’s time-worn gimmickry,
Oudated dialogue and mouldy mimicry.
But all of this, it must be said in fairness,
Was organized to Further our Awareness
And not, as you might hazard, to exploit us.
The hero at the helm was MICHAEL KOITUS.
A natural, with his soothing Oxbridge tones,
For mentioning large sums down telephones,
Keen Koitus, most industrious of bosses,
Precisely supervised the place’s losses.
He never rested easy, always pondering
Forever more ambitious ways of squandering
The massive public funds which he was showered with.
The garden he was planted in and flowered with
Was Swinging London — now, alas, no more.
But Now means Later. This was still Before,
When books came out about the Power of Play
And Koitus held uninterrupted sway.
The ICA was jammed when Perry got there.
So who was there, you’re asking? Who was not there!
What churl would dare withhold a contribution
Towards the soaring costs of Revolution?
Cool Koitus suavely spoke some prolegomena.
To set the context for the night’s phenomena.
‘Our records show that in a single year
We’ve made a hundred thousand. Disappear.
The Philistines say, “Money down the drain”.
But take a look at what we stand to gain.
Pauline and Poogy Scheissenhaus have sent,
From Baader-Meinhof Studios in Ghent,
A flushing suite of white ceramic Art
With film-loops of an anaconda’s fart.
We’ve had a Warhol premiere, “Hot Crap”,
And Haiku Yamashita the Mad Jap
Has played a conga drum for fifteen hours
With one foot while the other arranged flowers.
There’s all of that, and then there’s coming soon
The Peking People’s Puppeteers’ Platoon
To fill our stage once more with their red flags
And captivate our kiddies with their gags
About the contradictions of Imperialism
Laid bare by dialectical materialism.
And then that ballet group who dance in Scuba
Equipment called the Rubber Freaks for Cuba
Are back, and then somebody takes a mudbath,
Or — wait a second — maybe it’s a bloodbath ...
Well, anyway, there’s plenty on our plate.
But let’s kick off the show. It’s getting late.’
He exited. The first act on the bill
Came trotting on. O atavistic thrill!
Who else but BRIAN GOUGH and HENRI PATTEN,
A double act beneath a sheet of satin
Complete with cardboard head and frayed rope tail?
The Panto Horse from Liverpool! Can’t fail.
From each end of the horse lines emanated
Alternately until its case was stated.
‘We are a pair of poets from the Mersey.’
‘We never had no nanny or no nursie.’
‘Our mothers wouldn’t let books in the house.’
‘We found out how to write from talking Scouse.’
‘That’s what makes all our poems easy listening.’
‘The scrubbers hear us read with knickers glistening.’
‘These are the only rhymes we’ve ever tried.’
‘It’s taken us so long we’ve nearly died.’
‘We’d rather type things straight on to the stencil.’
‘Than sit around for days and suck a pencil.’
‘The intellectual thing’s been done before.’
‘We also think there should be no more war.’
‘Nobody didn’t ought to be too clever.’
‘And everyone should stay eighteen forever.’
The Horse took several bows and off it pranced.
The crowd went mad while Perry sat entranced.
Now this was Life, by Intellect unvitiated:
The forceful Candour of the uninitiated.
For here was nothing underhand or stealthy —
Just simple, vibrant Strength, robust and healthy.
Prykke started to make notes, but then a roll
Of kettle drums which thrilled him to the soul
Announced the advent of a gorgeous creature
Sartorially superb in every feature.
Those doe-skin bowling shoes! That pink carnation!
That shy acknowledgement of adulation!
A national treasure like the Wall of Hadrian,
Who else, but Rebel Poet MITCH L. ADRIAN!
‘Bill Blake, they try to shoot you in My Lai,
But some of us refuse to let you die.
Bill Blake, they try to poison you in Laos,
But you reduce their crazy plans to chaos.
Bill Blake, they try to mine you in Haiphong,
But you outwit them like the Viet Cong.
Bill Blake, the whole Strategic Air Command
Could never bomb the pen out of your hand.
Bill Blake, you stand for thinking with the balls
The thoughts that melt their prison bars and walls.
Bill Blake, you know what’s real, you know what’s true,
And I know when I write that I am you.’
And so the last Narodnik took his leave
Full well might his applauding public grieve:
To be without him meant to be bereft
Of everything that Humanized the Left.
The next act was the undisputed Queen
Of London’s Revolutionary Scene,
A protegée of CREEPING GEORGE MCDEATH.
Her name was ANNA PEST. Prykke caught his breath.
He’d heard she was a knockout, but by Crikey!
La Pest was an assault course for the psyche:
A sight to stop a centaur in mid-gallop —
A newborn Venus served up in a scallop.
For Anna was no kewpie-doll like Cynthia
But something much more statue-on-a-plinthier.
A girl built like a Grecian Caryatid,
Except not even slightly chipped or battered.
The absolutely other thing, in fact:
Meticulously, exquisitely, Stacked.
That Pest was Mannequin as well as Poet —
You needn’t have been Sherlock Holmes to know it.
For one so sensitive as well as sinuous
Why shouldn’t the two callings be continuous?
She once appeared, stretched out full length, in Vogue,
To underline an elegy by Logue —
Ensuring that his lines remained unread,
Since everybody looked at her instead.
‘The monster, Sex, was present at my christening ... ‘
She huskily began. Prykke wasn’t listening.
She read for some considerable time
Concoctions free of rhythm, metre, rhyme
Or any metaphors save inexact ones.
One found that when one finally had hacked one’s
Way through to what she meant, the sense had perished.
No matter, for already Perry cherished
(Fixated on the way her eyelids fluttered)
Each flaring imbecility she uttered.
Her long harangue at last came to a close.
Fond Prykke, along with those present rose
To greet her clinching statement with applause.
‘ ... America, you rape me with your wars.’
As Prykke tracked Anna’s exit with a glance
Made glaucous by his meditative trance,
He would have sunk into a deeper paralysis
Except an uproar which defied analysis —
Drums, tubas, trumpets, rattles, tambourines —
Announced one of the all-time top routines
Since Torquemada put away his fetters:
Yes, Creeping George McDeath, Sick Man of Letters!
The art of Creeping George is so horrific it
Has seldom even got an ‘X’ Certificate.
Crushed bones and blood and brain-pulp are the stuff of it.
The necrophiles can’t seem to get enough of it.
The Muse, in Creeping George’s view, wears black
Stiletto jackboots and a rubber mac,
While Creeping George himself wears snakeskin ties —
And doesn’t always wait till the snake dies.
‘The blood has soaked the bone which hides the stone
The rat excreted in the telephone.
Fellating stone and bone I taste the blood
Which laps around my pelvis like a flood.
I feel a painful pressure in my groin
On either side of which I have a loin.
My loins are groined, my stone’s a bloody bone:
I’ll have to learn to leave myself alone.’
Cheers. Total tumult. Nothing could cap that.
As Creeping George slid off to feed his bat
And slid back on for umpteen curtain calls,
Pale Perry sat enchanted in the stalls.
‘But aren’t you Perry Prykke?’
breathed Anna Pest,
A butterfly come suddenly to rest
Exotically on Prykke’s astonished shoulder.
‘It’s funny — I’d expected someone older.
I worship the ripe wisdom of your work.
A critic of one’s Art who’s not a berk
Is someone to be valued. There’s a party.
I’ll take you to it in my Maserati.’
‘Er, gosh, Miss Pest, I worship your work too.
I’m interested in everything you do.
This party, though. I haven’t been invited ... ‘
A V-12 engine piercingly ignited
And all the rest of Perry’s words were drowned
By shattering catastrophes of sound.
They hurtled through the midnight side by side,
Young Perry Prykke beside himself with pride
And Anna Pest superb as the aurora.
Avanti! Gangway! Tora Tora Tora!
THE MARCHIONESS of PROPERLITTLE-RAYVER
Had never taken on a venture braver
Than victualling the Literary World.
The party wasn’t thrown so much as hurled.
Her modest residence in Holland Park
Was packed with different species, like the Ark:
They jammed it to the crystal chandeliers,
They scraped against the frames of the Vermeers.
The Marchioness’s forebears made their hay
By keeping hungry citizens at bay,
Discouraging requests for gifts of food
With measures firm and often downright rude.
Spilt milk. The current title-holder, though
(Though otherwise no glad hand with the dough)
Was willing to unlatch the family hampers
And hand around the scampi and the champers
To people with Artistic reputations —
The plain-clothes peerage of Communications.
‘I’m glad young Anna,’
barked the Marchioness,
‘Unearthed you. I did not know your address.
Some people here are going mad to meet you.
Some people here have said they’d like to eat you,
So how could you be less of an intruder?
You just leave Anna talking to Neruda
And go and chat to that man on the sofa.
He ought to come to you, but he’s a loafer.’
The gentleman so blithely indicated
Turned out to be a bard Prykke venerated
As harbouring a mind almost Miltonic,
A talent Keatsian, a soul Byronic.
That shirt, that glass of scotch, that shining skull;
Our lad was being welcomed by BOB LULL!
‘I’ve had your pieces brought to my attention,’
‘I found it strange that you should mention
My own name in connection with Racine,
Donne, Dante, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Kydd and Greene:
I think perhaps just Shakespeare would have done.
But that aside, I’ve recently begun
A blank verse, five-act Version of “Tom Sawyer”
Bipolarized in terms of Paranoia,
In which I view the plain white light of Twain
Refracted through the prisms of my pain.
I never knew what words like Rough or Raw meant
Until I bared my poor mind to this torment.
My brain’s on fire, my enemies grow vicious:
The time could scarcely be more unpropitious
For launching a new venture in Our Trade.
Yes, Mr Prykke, I’m asking for your aid.’
‘Gosh, Mr Lull, in any way I can
I’ll do my best to help you with your plan.
I’m so surprised I don’t know what to say.
I’ll go and read “Tom Sawyer” right away.’
‘No, Mr Prykke, that’s just a tiny part
Of what I want to alter in my Art.
The place I want your help is in an area
Of which perhaps you might be somewhat warier:
The business I began some years ago
(And whose results so far I’m sure you know)
Of smashing up my work in angry fits
Until it’s strewn around in little bits,
Or ‘Sonnets’ as they’re kindly called by Faber —
Who undertake the monumental labour
Of marketing the stuff as something new
To fans who’ve seen it all before, like you.’
‘Gosh, Mr Lull, I have to disagree.
Your sonnet-cycles all sound fresh to me.
Tart, erudite, elliptical, persuasive,
Your Faustian persona’s all-pervasive.
Exploring cobwebbed corridors of Time
You never let your forms lapse into rhyme
But leave them all unfinished, like reality —
An Iso-Spatial Synchronous Modality.’
(From Yvor Frye, or was it Northrop Winters,
Young Perry picked these phrases up like splinters.)
‘I thank you, Mr Prykke, for your support.
It’s possible that I was overwrought.
It’s true indeed that better minds than mine
Have scrutinized my Sonnets line by line
And found in them the toughness of the Tetrarch,
The bloom of Brahms, the purity of Petrarch.
Thrust close against the glare of my creations
Perhaps I’m blinded by their scintillations.
Old Michelangelo, I can’t help feeling,
Had that same problem with the Sistine Ceiling.
It’s hard to see one’s own extent in toto.
There Proust would have agreed with me, and Giotto ...
But modesty forbids that I expand
Much further on that theme you understand?
So let’s just say that my mature fertility
Could use assistance from your young agility.
I’ve put my output through that mincer once.
Before the fine edge of my talent blunts
I’d like to see if I can do it twice.
The challenge grips my forehead like a vice:
I want your help — I hope you won’t refuse —
To turn my Sonnets into Clerihews.’
‘Gosh, Sir, what makes you think I’m qualified —
A scholar so untested, so untried —
For this, the biggest job I’ve ever faced?’
‘need scissors and some paste.’
Still gaping, Prykke was led away by Anna
To find his Fame was all around the manor.
He got on first-name terms with Kingsley Kong,
While Norman Moonbase taught him a rude song
About how Tony Godspell was a gremlin
Assigned to ruin Penguins by the Kremlin.
In no time these notorious Right-Wingers
Were known to Perry Prykke as ‘Norm’ and ‘Kingers’.
Green Berets briefed to win with utmost urgency
His heart and mind and counter his insurgency,
They dived right in and did not dilly-dally:
Would Prykke attend a Bertorelli Rally?
Just try and stop him! Tuesday then? Prykke nodded,
Struck mute. As if he needed to be prodded!
For at that famous kayf in Charlotte Street
The elite Fascists weekly meet to eat
And plan their latest last-ditch, Doomwatch caper —
White Guards unleashing tigers of Black Paper.
And there you find the clever Bernard Beaver —
The fervid, fevered, fulvid True Believer —
Who blows on Nixon’s coal to the last flicker
And backs the Pentagon through thick and thicker,
While zany Wildwind Wagtail shouts approval
And calls for Arthur Balfour’s prompt removal.
(On being told that Balfour is long dead,
Mad Wagtail rolls up little balls of bread
And shies them at the waitresses like pebbles,
Convinced that he is executing rebels.)
JOHN BRAINWAVE then contributes his opinions
On what should be the fate of Mao’s minions.
‘The students should be killed. They should be dead.
You hear me? I said “dead”. Hear what I said?
They should be stood against a wall and shot.
Not just a few. Not most. I mean the lot.’
Then Moonbase sings a song, Kong does a mime,
And everyone pays heed to Tony Time,
Who peels his lips back from his teeth like scrolls
And with a blue-blood’s tortured drawl unrolls
An extract from the history long as Rome’s
Contained in ‘Tony Time’s Twelve Teeming Tomes’.
This coven of Cold Warriors and Hawks
Can boast the membership of Philip Lawks,
Who sometimes travels South to sit about in it
While sipping strong brown ale and saying nowt in it:
For Lawks in London’s just another tourist,
Of all dour Northern tourists he’s the dourest,
Though some say that at home he’s far less dull —
And there they call him DON JUAN IN HULL.
Imagining such eminent companions
Exchanging quips like ricochets in canyons,
Prykke gaped in awe. The gape became a gasp.
The Literary World was in his grasp!
And so, with one hand spilling pink champagne
And by the other hauled on like a train,
Our Perry cannoned vaguely through the cumulus
Of household names from tumulus to tumulus.
His eyes with Famous Faces were regaled
Until his heart ran hot and almost failed:
For here the old High-Born and new Self-Made
Homogenized into a Hit Parade.
Where Harold Half-Pint hob-nobbed with Chief Clerk,
Huge Welshman, Stanley Storkins and Flick Fark,
Lords Fruitcake, Fatman, Butchfield, Polaroid ...
The crème de la crème, so clotted that it cloyed!
The bright lights of the ‘Thirties never dwindle
And here was one before him, Stephen Spindle,
Avowing he thought Perry wrote prose finer
Than Christopher and Wystan wrote in China.
And Frankie Mode, Ubiquitous Professor
Just passing through from Dallas to Odessa,
Stood weightless before Perry like a ghost —
His body somewhere near the Danish coast.
Assuring purring Perry that his pieces
In acumen were wealthier than Croesus,
Mode faded inward from the edges eerily,
And where he was, a jet-stream whistled wearily.
Suave editors pressed forward to make offers
That started elbow-deep inside their coffers —
The days were done, it seemed, when Prykke reviewed
A novel just to flog the thing for food.
Now Clara Tomahawk and N. T. Thweet
Stood toe to toe before him to compete
For opportunities to print his writing —
A cut-throat contest fully as exciting
As all the speedway pile-ups in Ben Hur.
Without procrastination or demur,
Pissed Prykke was gaily saying Yes to each of them
When Anna quickly whirled him out of reach of them
To meet the publisher, WEE GEORGIE WIDE,
Who ushered him paternally aside
And got him to agree to write a Book —
The most decisive step Prykke ever took.
His bug eyes straying constantly to Anna,
Wide’s mouth evoked an avalanche of manna
Engulfing Prykke so deep no one would find him
Once Tightenbelt and Buckledown had signed him.
‘Mine boy, you are the likeliest new challenger
I’m seeing come along since J. D. Salinger.
You got a style on you like Norman Mailer’.
Wide whispered, and pale Prykke grew even paler,
Bedizened by the flattery Wide uttered —
The furthest up he’d ever yet been buttered.
‘You stick mit Georgie, kid. I’ll see you right.
I tell you vot. Veal clinch the deal tonight.
Most boys I vont for nine years. Sometimes ten.
For you, I’ll say eleven. Got a pen?’
The documents came out, Prykke’s name went on,
The deal was sealed with Moët & Chandon —
Enough to make the average supertanker
Bend double at the bows and and drag its anchor.
Our friend’s last recollection of the gathering
Was Anna’s tongue luxuriously lathering
His ear lobe and her perfumed voice implying
The time was ripe for young folk to be hieing
Them home to slide beneath a cosy quilt.
And so, without the smallest trace of guilt —
For when is feeling that good ever bad? —
Our lad was off to Anna’s Park Lane pad.
I’ll have to draw a veil on its appointments,
Its incense and its essences and ointments,
The tapestries and inlays and enamels,
The skins and furs from reptiles and from mammals.
Let’s just content ourselves with merely noting
Our sobbing hero felt that he was floating
Towards the outer limits of exoticism
Excoriated by her wild eroticism —
Sensations so outlandish Perry thought
She’d have to go to jail if she was caught.
Adrift in rich pavilions and pagodas
He breathed unnerving, fluctuating odours:
Astringent tangs compounded of Chanel
And oysters lying helpless in the shell.
He touched an orb of amber rubbed with silk,
He tasted avocados pulped in milk.
She taught him things that felt as nice as flying
And even nicer things that hurt like dying.
Of Cynthia, the Love he’d left behind,
In Perry’s mind the memory declined —
A bonbon overwhelmed by a bonanza.
Yes, Anna Pest was en extravaganza.
The high point of Prykke’s time on Earth had come.
We’ll savour it a moment. Perry’s Mum,
On learning that her Son’s path to Success
By now involved an actual Marchioness,
Erupted in a fugue of exultation
She had to be brought down from by sedation.
Not only willingly but even meekly
All monthly magazines and every weekly
Accepted anything Prykke thought as Topical:
Young Peregrine was so hot he was tropical.
By night you’d hear him laying down the law
On all the Radios from 1 to 4
With special emphasis, of course, on 3,
Where Creeping George McDeath would frequently
Inveigle him to do a solemn summary
Of all the latest Literary mummery.
And Philip Phrog, key man of Kritiks’ Kworum,
Roped Prykke into that game of cockalorum
Where pundits crammed with intellectual calories
From books and plays and cinemas and galleries
Scrum down like front-row forwards with their tongues out
Around a microphone and shout their lungs out.
And thus Prykke joined Steam Radio’s tight team
Of people primed to Talk on Any Theme,
A mafia of men with minds like swords
As well as some extremely brainy broads —
And truth to tell our lad found nothing easier
Than hanging on the lips of Lady Freesia
Or trading witticisms with Mag Scrabble
Or letting Margerina Latchkey babble.
The more that Perry made himself available
The more he found his Keen Approach was saleable,
And if he sometimes flannelled ... well, you know:
A beau mentir qui vient de loin, not so?
On Television too, our Perry bloomed.
He bloomed? He boomed, he roared, he soared, he zoomed!
He showed a gift for popularized gab
Which rivalled even that of Marvin Grabb,
Whose show it was that he appeared on most —
Preceded by a build-up from his host.
‘And with us in our studio once more
Is Perry Prykke the critic, and I’m sure
That you won’t — I know I won’t — find it dull
To hear what he’s been doing with Bob Lull,
The man who wants to make his poems smaller.
A poem is, I’m certain you recall, a,
Well, smallish piece of writing which has got
Er, rhythm — or, in Lull’s case, which has not.’
‘Gosh, thank you, Marv. I’m glad to say that Bob
Has given me a free hand on this job,
Including open access to his diaries.
I should be soon completing my inquiries
And hope to get clear pictures of the state
Of mental agony we know the Great
Have always manifested throughout history.
We might just have the answer to the mystery.’
‘That’s marvellous, Perry. More from him next time,
But now we’re due to see a famous mime.
It’s Haiku Yamashita from Japan.
A mime is someone, usually a man,
Who doesn’t need his voice to tell you things.
And then, for jazz fans, “Jelly” Belly sings!’
His prominence endorsed by Private Eye —
Who mentioned him in every second lie
And printed bits cut out from what he said
Sent in by dolts whose lips moved when they read —
Prykke seemed to be poised at the apogee
Of every single ladder, heap or tree:
He even found his name used by Bron Wan
(An infant who can’t grasp that Youth is gone)
And can't be proud of anything he's done,
And hates to be a Great Man's less great son)
To spark the kind of envy-ridden rumour
Where want of truth’s offset by want of humour.
It lacked, however, one last accolade
To show how utterly he’d made the grade.
But finally that happened, in The Times:
A lovingly assembled set of rhymes
Entitled, To a Young Man Almost There:
An Old Man’s Tribute — by LORD TEDDYBEAR.
‘I cast a wise old eye upon young Prykke
And feel that once again I ride my bike
Towards some nameless, adolescent thrill
Recumbent at the foot of Rosslyn Hill.
‘Ah me, the joy of Starting Out again!
Of taking tea with well-informed young men
(Supposing they still do that nowadays)
Who loll about dispensing blame and praise!
‘To look on Literature as some fresh church
Discovered behind screens of larch and birch!
To say of it, “How finely bricked and plastered!”
And hear it murmur back, “You fey old bastard!”
‘It must be wonderful to be Beginning,
To lay the basis for a whole new inning.
Monumentum requiris? Look around.
I think my clockwork panda’s overwound.
‘So square the marble slab to build your edifice
Young Prykke! But different Endings lie ahead of us,
For I have got it made while you must quarry it,
And that is why I am the Poet Laureate.’
The Prykke renown seemed limitless, unbounded,
Its heights unreachable, its depths unsounded.
He gave himself a lifetime to enjoy it,
All unawares the thing that would destroy it
Was even then, and by his own endeavour,
Collecting strength to wreck his name forever.
It was the Book, the Book it was to blame:
The Book that should have reinforced his fame
But punctured it instead and brought it crashing —
Pink flames of hydrogen profusely splashing —
With incandescent girders to Disaster.
The plaudits which had made his heart beat faster
Had given him a sense of his own worth.
A brand-new Perry Prykke had come to birth:
A Prykke who dared to qualify his praise
Of writers with the odd paternal phrase
Suggesting So-and-So, though near perfection,
Had minor faults requiring some correction.
Though Hammerhead, Prykke wrote, dwarfed Baudelaire,
He ought to make appearances less rare;
Though Mitch L. Adrian had joined the Greats
He still had several things to learn from Yeats;
Though Harsfried was at one with the Eternal
He lacked sufficient nut around the kernel;
Doug Dunge could learn a thing or two from Browning
And Churchill College take a tip from Downing —
Doc Stein should be, like Looseleaf, for Felt Life
(A dictum which cut both ways, like a knife:
For Looseleaf ought to grant Stein more respect
Concerning the Collapse of Intellect).
The book was called Loose Laurels. It was bold,
And one brave statement made your blood run cold.
Intrepid Prykke said Lull, by just a skerrick,
Fell short of being totally Homeric!
Aware that not in Fame but in Authority
Is housed the only true Superiority,
Dim Perry must have thought a show of rigour
Would help him cut a more distinguished figure.
If that was his idea, he quickly rued it.
The people who were in the book reviewed it!
And what they found was something worse than witticisms,
Squibs, epigrams or wisecracks. They found CRITICISMS!
Restrictions placed upon their giant stature!
Irreverent gibes wrapped up in nomenclature!
A crawling bum they’d picked out of the gutter!
They’d known him when his mouth would not melt butter!
And here he was, the two-faced little sod,
Excreting on their stuff like he was God!
The Notices hit Prykke like heart attacks.
He staggered from the blows of El Al’s axe,
While Hammerhead’s sharp biro pierced his lung;
By Harsfried in the Statesman he was hung,
Cut down, cut up, rolled flat and then cremated;
By Creeping George McDeath he was castrated.
As N. T. Thweet took time and space to mount a
Retaliatory air-strike in Encounter,
Mitch Adrian said Prykke was in the pay
Of both the FBI and CIA,
While Kong claimed Prykke received a monthly fee
From both the TUC and KGB.
Bob Lull attacked him with the family sabre.
Doug Dunge took careful aim and tossed a caber.
Doc Stein joined in, insisting all that stuff
About the Verbal Holocaust was guff.
He couldn’t think where Perry must have read it.
It wasn’t in Stein’s books. He’d never said it.
No, Stein had just been quoting Leopardi,
Or Tristan Corbière or Thomas Hardy,
Or maybe — ah yes, that was it — Franz Werfel.
Deplorable. Prykke should have been more careful.
(For Stein, you see, could hear the ticking clock,
And knew that Perry’s time was nigh. The Doc,
Though pretty swift already at contriving
To climb on board a bandwagon arriving,
Is so quick climbing off it’s breath-bereaving
Should that same vehicle show signs of leaving.)
What better time for Perry’s Mum to send
A tear-stained telegram from Audley End?
‘Please don’t come here for Xmas. Go to Rome.
Why not try Tokyo? But don’t come home.
We’re moving out to stay at your Aunt Nina’s.
The neighbours here are laughing like hyenas.’
His brilliant future blasted in the bud,
Prykke’s name in Bertorelli’s was now Mud.
Served hand and foot by coolie, cooled by punkah,
The Tuesday Fascists lunching in their bunker
Dropped hints it might be on the whole more pleasant
If Perry could contrive not to be present.
The buzz from Soho said that Hammerhead
Was grooming someone younger in Prykke’s stead
Who might get right what Perry had got wrong —
A clever son of Kingsley’s called Kid Kong.
The ICA called Perry a Defeatist,
A Category-Mongering Elitist —
Acceptance was what Art was all about,
And that was why they had to kick him out.
Phil Phrog and Creeping George and Marvin Grabb
No longer seemed so keen to send a cab
And haul him off to BH or TC.
Prykke was as infra dig as Simon Dee,
A Has-been of the Air-waves and the Screens —
And similarly of the Magazines,
Since neither Towelling, Tomahawk nor Mauler
Nor Thweet was any more a morning caller
To ask him for a quick piece on Max Weber
Or some duff poet canonized by Faber —
And Frankie Mode wrote briefly from Brazil
Advising Prykke with ill-concealed ill will
The ‘Modish Masters’ Series would not need
That book which he was planning on Lou Reed —
While Wide, to put the cap on the attainder,
Consigned ‘Loose Laurels’ wholesale to remainder —
A bargain bookworms warily inspected,
Rejecting it as if it were infected.
Deducing Prykke had lapsed into disfavour
The Marchioness of Properlittle-Rayver
Endorsed the literati’s verdict massively
By simply lying back and acting passively.
She spent no time composing scorn to pour on him,
Since all she had to do was shut the door on him
And instantly his status was no higher
Than somewhere between polecat and pariah.
She slammed it. Far away, Prykke heard it boom
And knew that she had sealed his social doom.
For Perry-About-Town the end had come.
Beau Prykke was Acherontis pabulum.
Would everyone deny him in his need?
Would even Anna laugh to see him bleed?
From Notting Hill the long mile to Park Lane
He stumbled in the early morning rain,
Afraid in his chill heart she’d ceased to care.
She had indeed. She wasn’t even there.
She’d been involved with Harsfried for a week:
They were out together dancing, chic to chic.
It was the last, dark hour before the dawn.
Poor Perry reached his room completely shorn
Of all his erstwhile appetite for living.
The Literary World is unforgiving,
That much he knew. There could be no way back.
He felt the pressure at his waist go slack
And saw his belt half-hitched around a beam.
He watched himself like someone in a dream
Construct a scaffold largely from Larousse
Encyclopedias and tie the noose.
He kicked off from a stack of Livres de Poche.
The last word that he ever heard was,
The evil tidings coiled and thinly curled
And drifted through the Literary World.
Obituaries stressed the victim’s Youth,
The risks attendant on the Search for Truth.
The Guardian had something signed by Stein
Connecting Prykke’s demise to Our Decline.
‘The Overriding Need for an Alliance
Persists between the Cultures Art and Science.
Will music make the Relevant Connection?
Until it does, we all must face infection.
A few will die, like Prykke, like Gaudier,
Like Mandelstam, Camus and Hemingway,
Like Mayakovsky, Jackson Pollock, Lorca ... ’
He printed it again in the New Yorker.
Sere Looseleaf wrote a letter no one saw
To some review that died before the war.
‘In placing self-destructive insecurity
Beside the dying Lawrence’s maturity,
We cannot help but find Prykke’s flight of panic
Against Life. Uncreative. Inorganic.’
El Al brought out his book on Suicide —
A publishing success for Georgie Wide
Which helped him to offset the Perry flop.
For Perry’s Mother, life came to a stop:
The rest of it is no concern of mine.
No more is Dr Cynthia Devine,
Who’s now at Lady Margaret Hall and lost in
Composing A New Reading of Jane Austen.
The Wake for Perry in the Gates of Hell
Went off, so legend tells us, pretty well.
A score or so of literati came
Of whom a handful still recalled his name
And three of those had heard the tragic news.
All present went like camels through the booze
And presently the booze all went through them.
It joined the cigarette butts, scum and phlegm
That choked the white-tiled gutters in the bog.
It trickled through, then tunnelled like a trog
The sodden furlongs to the sewage farm,
And there was scoured and filtered free of harm
Before they spread it thin to be sucked high
By London’s fitful Sun into the sky
In proper time to reimburse the rain
And so in due course tumble down again
To meet the Thames and with the turning tide
Revolve into an eddy, boil and slide
From bridge to bridge and Pool to Estuary
And so on, ever Eastward, to the Sea.
A tenuous memento of our Perry
Finessed to bubbles by the Channel Ferry.
A distant memory of beer and whisky
Disintegrating in the Bay of Biscay.
And so our story ends. Its simple moral
Is one with which I’m certain few will quarrel.
The Literary World is you and I:
We change from day to day or else we die.
The Innocent should stay the way they are:
For them, to live means following their Star.
The one thing they must do is trust in Fate.
The one thing they must not, manipulate.
For that, they just aren’t built to stand the pace —
So if we break their hearts, it’s no disgrace.
It’s just a shame. And that’s what he was like.
‘The good die young’