Wednesday, 20 August 2014

On Anne Valery

After seeing Robert Hamer’s comic masterpiece Kind Hearts and Coronets for the first time (in a small Paris cinema in - I think - 1978, where it was entitled Noblesse Oblige), I wrote this short poem and thirty years later had the great and entirely unexpected pleasure of meeting the actress Anne Valery, who played the Girl in the Punt opposite Alec Guinness. So I dug up the poem and typed it out and gave it to her and we became friends, although we met only a handful of times. When she died last year newspaper obituaries confirmed what an extraordinary talent she was. Read one of them here. Her glamorous 1940s studio portrait hangs to this day above the bar of the French House in Soho. What a girl.

The Girl in the Punt   for Anne Valery

Murderous Louis
Unhitches his belt;
Slips into the opportune water
Calmly improvising
His first perpetration.

The unknowing pair
Drift over the weir
The adulterous punt
Topples and is lost -
And we’re compromised.

What of the girl,
The cast-off mistress -
What fate is worse than death?
As the slaughtering counterjumper
Dispatches each D'Ascoyne in turn

What do we learn
About ourselves?
Why don’t we care more
About the lost innocent,
Our lost innocence?

‘Never to be content again with hemp’ –
A hangman’s loss, but worse for us.
Malignity’s a silky inhalation.
I’d do the same I guess, for Sibella,
She has a voice, at least.

But the girl in the punt –
She’s a pretext for a drowning,
A foregone conclusion,
Drenched in a torrent of Guinness
And Hamer’s harmful gaze.

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