Poetry: Fan-Mail — To John Fuller : A Letter from London | clivejames.com
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To John Fuller : A Letter from London

John Fuller, though we haven’t as yet
In the narrow how-do-you-do sense met,
You heard me lose in a verbal set-
     -to early this Winter
A wrangle I should sooner forget
     With Harold Pinter.

Unfit for struggling through the press
Afterwards with a view to es-
-tablishing rapport, I’m less
     Distraught today,
And so with sang-froid if not finesse
     Let me roundly say

How deucedly much I have enjoyed
Your bundle of verse letters**, buoyed
Up by the skill you have employed,
     Your Herrlichkeit:
Your tongue is platinum unalloyed —
     Like, you can write.

Your form’s from Burns, plus the brio Auden
Praised when he addressed George Gordon
Lord Byron: in you, all three co-ordin-
     -ate their roles.
With, I’m afraid, a whiff of the Warden
     Of All Souls

But the speed, the grace, che sprezzatura!
It goes like a rabbit drawn by Dürer.
I risk, in trying to ape so pure a
     Style, mockery:
There ain’t no kudos for bravura
     If one drops the crockery.

But a cat may look at a king. Though you
And I are in no way spiritu-
-ally allied like the younger Schu-
     -bert and Rossini,
We’re as closely meshed in at least one view
     As the Arnolfini.

You like Art it takes nous to make
And can’t quite, even for pity’s sake,
Smile when a dolt thinks he’s being Blake
     By just doing his thing.
However sincere, the Crass is Fake —
     That’s the song you sing.

Right on. Small wonder, then, that James
Fenton’s eyes throw gem-like flames:
He matches you in these verse-form games
     Strophe for strophe.
The boy’s so quick I suspect his name’s
     On the Schneider Trophy.

All that Mirandolan erudition!
An exophthalmic Man-With-A-Mission
(The wits of Trotsky, the looks of Titian),
     He’s bound to get famous.
He’s a lengthened, scholarly edition
     Of Martin Amis.

And Ian Hamilton gets your blessing.
Saying how I agree would entail digressing
For fifteen pages, as well as confessing
     My depth of debt —
Which to see declared he would find distressing,
     On that I’d bet.

So let’s just say that you’ve sent a letter
To guru numero uno. Better
Minds there may be but I’ve not met a
     Single example.
(The dunces, victims of his vendetta,
     Would say none’s ample.)

At The Pillars of Hercules, in the bar,
He holds his court, half monk, half Czar,
Reminding his men true letters are
     Not mere marked paper
But a much more life-and-death by far
     Species of caper.

Reminding you, too, John: for I
Reluctantly must identify
Such apogees of Look-Ma-I’m-Fly-
     -ing in these pages
That despite their enchantment for ear and eye
     My spirit rages.

Fascination of what’s difficult?
OK, but why this terrific cult
For stanzas pressure-packed like a mult-
     -iple M1 pile-up?
Is the aim to bring, as a vivid result,
     The reader’s bile up?

Your French and Latin, with the aid of cribs,
He might just manage, but his schooling jibs
At Welsh, for Christ’s sake! Come on, no fibs:
     Are you a Druid?
Or a second-home Don with the yen (and dibs)
     For vacs unsewered?

To insist on being misunderstood —
What an Oxford conception of the good!
This book’s as twisted as Hollywood.
     Only in reverse:
In some departments bent, I should
     Say, even worse.

Bereft of sweetness and of light
Mass Man, you gaily mourn, has blight
For Art: for Life, perpetual night.
     In your gloomy joy
You sound up-tight and out of sight
     Like your father Roy.

Odi profanum, chaps! Il conto,
Per favore. The West is dying, Tonto.
Fit though few at the Hellespont, ‘Au-
     -x armes!’ they cry —
αιει δε πυραι νεxυων xαιοντο

You’ve made today, John, a special day
In my Year of Changes — the middle way
Of life. Superbly you’ve had your say
     And should take pride
In putting so splendidly on display
     What I can’t abide.

What Art should be, there is no knowing
(It’s a no-no question Twits keep throwing);
But I like things that, while never going
     Against the facts
Are as unselfconscious as Flagstad sewing
     Between the acts.

For Ian and you, in the same small boat
Feeding the crocodiles in the moat
That rings Parnassus, I still would vote
     If called upon:
Keeping that coracle always afloat
     Is a sine qua non.

But my claims to the peak I dump
This day forever, and on my rump
Go bouncing down to stop with a bump
     In one Hell of a place
Where I’m hit in the head by the blood-pump thump
     Of a Fender bass.

Gut Rock! No plumes of loveliness
Like the Laudate Dominum of the Ves-
-perae solennes de confess-
     -ore, no:
But another, for me as interes-
     -ting, story though.

Gut Rock! No perfumed interplay
Of Berlioz and Gautier
Like what goes on in Les Nuits d’Été.
     No Wolf or Schumann.
No Poulenc, Strauss, Duparc, Fauré
     Just Randy Newman.

But he’ll do. John, down here the Truth
Survives. That whoring after Youth
Is a sure-fire way to blow my couth
     You needn’t warn
(Ich habe Heimweh as bad as Ruth
     In the alien corn)

And how cardio-cerebral growths like Art
Are dialogues between Mind and Heart,
On that we agree — but where we part-
     -’s over your conviction
They natter together like Beauvoir and Sart-
     -re, in Mandarin diction.

Well, I think that’s just about it.
I’ve dug the dirt, I’ve slung the . . . Bit
By bit I’ve squandered my penn’orth of wit
     In this Verse Epistle:
The secret is knowing when to quit.
     Time to blow the whistle

(I’d have been more cheeky than you might brook
Had I said, while spurning the path you took,
     That this stuff you do
Can’t be as clever as you make it look
     If I can do it too.)

— 1974

** Epistles to Several Persons, by John Fuller.