Friday, 17 February 2017

Finishing School for Versifiers, part 4: Acerbic censure (from the Saloon Bar) of that low brow poetic persona.

Well. I don’t know. More than four decades on and a voice from the Saloon Bar censures in one breath a generation of British poets for ingratiating themselves with their readers by presuming to adopt the persona of an habitué of the Public Bar.

So, in the Public Bar you’ll find Dannie AbseAl Alvarez, Jack Clemo, Tony Harrison, Ted HughesLaurie Lee, Jeff Nuttall, Ken Smith . . . Oh, and who’s that on the coveted stool nearest to the fire? Why, Stevie Smith.


WH Auden and Stevie Smith together
in an Edinburgh pub during the 1965 International Festival.

Nomen est omen.

Who has ordained this class divide? 

Take a look at The Carnal Island by poet Roy Fuller, a novel published in 1970 that records subtly shaded literary exchanges between a young poet, James, and his idol, Daniel House, a celebrated WWI poet in his declining years whose animus towards his younger rivals soon becomes apparent during a probing interview . . . when Daniel explains his belief in nomen est omen . . .  
‘John House is a more plausible name for an English poet than Daniel House. I couldn’t have thought so in 1917 or whenever it was. Or perhaps I had the idea that a poetic reputation might damage my name as a barrister. Then when they asked me about it before painting my name at the entrance to chambers, I said, “Put J. D. House”. It never struck me that I could have published under that cognomen. But later on two initials became very fashionable. Perhaps thought to be businesslike, even proletarian. These days poets call themselves Chris and Sid. Daft. Can you imagine a poet of my age called Chris? But I shouldn’t say that. Perhaps in your poetic persona you’re “Jim Ross”.’                                  ‘Absolutely not.’                                                                                                ‘Very wise.’
From my files I’ve unearthed this photo . . . can you spot the odd man out?

Forename good, two initials bad?

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