April 28, 2004

And Now, a Bitter Poetry Interlude

EDITOR'S NOTE: REGULAR BLOGGING for The Rant will not be seen tonight, so that we may bring you this special bitter poetry interlude.


REGULAR READERS know that we generally have a tin ear for modern poetry. As we work in prose and enjoy it more than poetry, the ensuing years have seen us neglect the older of those two arts. The end result is that modern poetry generally passes over our head; for when we read it, the text lies dead on the page, and when we hear it, we too often hear the droning of a low C note played over and over again.

This is not the first time we have remarked on this unfortunate state of affairs; we did so in an entry some four months ago. However, reading some recent poetry -- as well as looking into several of the old volumes which we have in the back bedroom we never use -- has caused us to realize that we are not entirely tone-deaf to poetry. Certain works can indeed still hit us in the gut and chill our soul and make us think -- and even -- laugh.

The trouble we have noticed is that all this poetry is bitter in one way or another.

Indeed, we revel in smart-alecky haikus and corrupt limericks. We love bawdy verse and poems which exude scalpel-sharp wit.

So, with that in mind, it gives us great pleasure to present one of the funniest poems we have read in a very long time. It is bitter -- but only slightly. And if you are in our line of work, it is something which you will print out and paste to your wall.

We have borrowed the text of this wonderful poem from Meg McArdle's Web site, which posted it in full after Terry Teachout referenced it in one of his entries. We waited a day after she posted it, figuring and hoping that might atone for the sin; but quite frankly, this poem is so good, it could not stay bottled up forever. We look forward to picking up one of Mr James' collections.

In any event -- the lights, if you'd please ...

* * * * *

The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered

by Clive James

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book --
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys
The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of moveable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the blare of the brightly jacketed Hitler's War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretense,
Is there with Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots--
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
"My boobs will give everyone hours of fun".

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error--
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at April 28, 2004 09:21 PM | TrackBack