Monday 9 May 2016

Best imaginary poets

Best imaginary poems

By 'imaginary poems' I mean the poetic equivalent of the kind of painting one sees sometimes in old Hollywood films - the 'Portrait of Carlotta' in Hitchcock's Vertigo, or the painting of the first Mrs de Winter in his adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. They share a slightly Anigonni-ish look.

Like the paintings, these are poems that are not real poems, and are attributed to poets who do not exist beyond the book or film or telly programme within which they appear and are quoted. Some favourites:

Bloom's modest effort in Ulysses:

An acronym sent to Molly on Valentine's Day, before they were married:

Poets oft have sung in rhyme
Of music sweet their praise divine.
Let them hymn it nine times nine.
Dearer far than song or wine.
You are mine. The world is mine.

Uncle Monty in Withnail and I

Richard Griffiths as the predatoy pederast in Bruce Dickinson's cult movie is given to odd flights of poetry:

"The night is beginning to brrruise, and we shall be forced to camp" and "We live in a kingdom or rains, where the monarchy comes in gangs" and (best of all) "I often wonder where Norman is now. Probably wintering with his mother in Guildford. A cat, rain, Vim under the sink, and both bars on. But old now, there is no true beauty without decay."

I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue (various episodes)

Improvised limericks were a feature of this long-running Radio 4 'antidote to panel games' of which the one I recall vividly runs as follows. The chairman Humphrey Lyttelton gives the first line and the three players come up with  . . . well, see for yourself:

Humphry Littleton: "While singing the national anthem". Graeme?
Graeme:  "While singing the national anthem,
                   The Bishop said 'Blimey you're handthome'"
Tim:          "Then Norman Lamont" (pause) 
Barry (deliberately): "Fell into the font"
Willy: (instantly): "He was pushed by that old bitch from Grantham"

Younger readers may need footnotes. Margaret Thatcher was born and raised in Grantham. You can look Norman 'Whiplash' Lamont up. Willy was the fondly-remembered Willy Rushton. 

Fry and Laurie sketch

Beautifully written and excruciatingly familiar to any of us influenced in our formative teens by David Bowie.
Watch and listen here.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov.

John Shade's 99-line poem forms the basis for what is arguably Nabokov's greatest book, published in 1962. Read Giles Harveu's brilliant New Yorker piece here.

'Pointy Birds' and 'In Dilman's Grove'

Both by Robert Lillison, the  first person to be killed by a car, in 1894. Only two works are known to exist:

Pointy Birds

O pointy birds,
O pointy pointy.
Anoint my head,

In Dillman's Grove

In Dillman's Grove my love did die, 
and now in ground shall ever lie. 
None could ever replace her visage, 
until your face brought thoughts of kissage.

Lillison is favourite poet of Dr Michael Hrufhurur, played by Steve Martin in Rob Reiner's sublime comedy The Man with Two Brains. I never tiire of recommending this very funny and wildly original low-budget masterpiece, rich in quotable zingers. Watch the clip, when a bashful Martin recites both poems to Kathleen Turner in her hospital bed.

Hancock's Half Hour   The Poetry Society episode

For my money the best Hancock of all, written by the great Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. The broadcast appears intermittently on the BBC Radio 4 Extra website, so look out for it. Here are the opening lines of 'Limbo' by Sid:

Mauve world, green me,
Black him, purple her,
Yellow us, pink you . . .

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