15 February 2012

'Find a rhyme and dip my pen in cocoa'

I was reading Rimbaud in the Poetry Library like the biggest nerd ever. I read Illuminations cover to cover in a sitting because of Patti Smith. She goes on and on about her Arthur in Just Kids, a memoir of her time with Robert Mapplethorpe, including the Chelsea Hotel years. She is the coolest woman, even if she occasionally slips into prose the deepest of purples. I don't care because her New York of the seventies still sounds like a dream. And Rimbaud isn't bad either - 'Desperadoes yearn for the storm, drunkenness and wounds'.

Dylan Thomas spent his final days in the Chelsea Hotel. Now he is cast in bronze in the Poetry Library. A man named Hugh Oloff de Wet created this artpiece two years before Dylan's death. Apparently the idea of having the bust smoking a cigarette came from the poet himself. On inspecting it, he stuck his own fag in the head’s mouth. Hugh duly copied and added it. I love Under Milk Wood more than anything. It’s the bees’ knees. I used to listen to Richard Burton read it to me on long journeys. Is there a thing more stirring and wholly romantic than ‘Throw away your little bedsocks and your Welsh wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast’? No, there is not. He sings in a Welsh lilt of a little world of familiar and funny characters, who are also ‘whalejuice and moonshine’, and who live all the time in a comfortable bubble where ‘you can hear the love-sick woodpigeons mooning in bed’. Sounds just like outside my window in Northumberland, always at an ungodly hour.

From the Chelsea Hotel to the Poetry Library to the Fitzroy Tavern. I’ve been going to this Sam Smith’s pub for Alpine lager and wheatbeer since I was nineteen. George Orwell and Augustus John used to booze there. And Dylan Thomas of course. He left his manuscript of Under Milk Wood in the basement booths when pissed. Thank God it was retrieved. I met a poet friend of mine in this wood-panelled pub for more than three hours of poetry and pints earlier this week. He had bought me a collection of D.H. Lawrence’s poetry, with poems selected by Tom Paulin who also wrote the introduction. My mother loves Lawrence, having fallen for him in sixth form. My father's not so keen but raves about Paulin, who I always found a fascination on the BBC's Friday Night Review. So sardonic. And I love long-line free verse poetry that I read drunk on the bus home. Which is why this poet had picked it out for me. Lawrence is all about the ‘living plasm’. That’s not a euphemism, more his philosophy for free verse poetry. Of course, being Lawrence, he goes on about the pulsating, carnal self, but it can’t be denied that he gets a person going for some free verse. ‘Let me feel the mud and the heavens in my lotus. Let me feel the heavy, silting, sucking mud, the spinning of sky winds… Give me nothing fixed, set, static.’ Exactly. And his long-lines can rouse a subtle blush or two.


Ma said...

To set the record exactly straight - I recently re-read a load of DH and to be honest I'm not sure how well he's travelled now I'm in my 50s - it all seemed a lot better in my late teens. However, the rude poems were more funny than embarrassing now I'm older. Tom Paulin, on the other hand, is Ace.

Anonymous said...

The head of Dylan Thomas was sculptured by Hugh Oloff de Wet at my parents house in Egham. The incident with the cigarette took place in our sitting room!
Peta Steel

anna said...

Peta - that's amazing! How on earth did that come about? Your parents sound excellent - bohemian movers and shakers. And I'm so glad that you have corroborated this splendid story! Thanks, Anna.

Peta Van den Bergh Steel said...

My father joined the BBC as a freelance in the late 1940s and worked alongside Dylan Thomas, Roy Campbell and Louis MacNeice.People tend to forget the way in which the BBc acted as a supporter to so much talent. He acted in a play written by Hugh, who subsequently came to live with us and met my father's friends. Our home was open to everyone and was visited by many of the leading writers, poets and artists.