Wednesday, March 08, 2006

It's been a sad month. First, Barbara Guest died, now Ivor Cutler. I saw him years ago at the Lancaster Literature Festival, playing his harmonium, singing his strange songs and reciting his strange poems. His Life In a Scotch Sitting Room, vol. II is a classic; but I wonder now how he will be remembered. He was never part of an grouping, whether avant or mainstream, his poetry doesn't make the big anthologies, but anyone who can write a poem like this:

If your breasts are too big
you will fall over
unless you wear a rucksack

deserves to be remembered.


Talking of being remembered, I thought I'd post my favourite poem by Nicholas Moore, 40's poet and neglectarino supreme:


'Ingenious as it may seem, the Emperor Caligula
Was in the habit of sharing his bath with a tiger.
Its huge muscles gleamed; and the black stripes on the orange
Fur brought him lascivious delights. Its vigour

Reminded him of his manliness and of
The manliness of all emperors.' I smiled.
Anecdotes flew from Mr. Tabbeney's mouth, but
Could they be true? His surmises were all wild;

The strangest creatures populated his fancies.
'And when his bath was over, the Emperor would laugh,
And his wife, who loved to hear him laughing, would come in,
Beautiful as a re-touched photograph,

Her bronze hair strung in waves upon her shoulders.
And she would kiss him, naked as he was.'
'And what about the tiger in the bath?'
I asked. 'He sat and watched them. In his paws

He trapped the soap, then chased it like a fish
Around the slippery walls. He would seem to grin
At Caligula and his mistress, happy
In the warm water, impervious to the din

Of her kisses and faithful sounds, gay as a child
In the water. He was tame. And his stripes were the blackest of black.'
I conjured up the scene, the emperor, his mistress
And the tame beast, and I gave this man a look,

Observing the spots on his coat and his unpressed trousers,
The dirty, small ends of his moustache, his cigarette-stained fingers.
Anecdote, I thought, anecdote. And is
Every anecdote a meeting ground for strangers?

Nicholas Moore, 1950

It's a beautifully unexpected piece; I love the anachronism of that "beautiful as a retouched photograph," and the details of the strange man telling the tale. It came from his second major collection, Recollections of the Gala, in 1950.

If this poem were included in some of the major anthologies of 20th Century poetry, I'd think a lot better of them.

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