You are here:   Text > Unpublished poems by Robert Conquest
 

Fifty years later, she is recalled once more in “Deep Down”:

Distanced, displaced, diminished
What’s left of love and beauty just survives
Like fragments of that figurine of Venus.

In all, Bob published nine volumes of poetry, though his works of history tended to overshadow this achievement. The last two — Blokelore and Blokesongs and A Garden of Erses — showcase his talent for light verse, particularly the limerick form. Larkin inscribed a copy of High Windows “For Bob — il miglior fabbro (or whatever it was) — at least over 5 lines, Philip.” Some years later, recounting Bob’s condensation of Jacques’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “Seven Ages” —

Seven ages: first puking and mewling;
Then very pissed off with one’s schooling;
Then fucks and then fights;
Then judging chaps’ rights;
Then sitting in slippers; then drooling.

— Larkin declared, “He is a genius.”

Others were less appreciative. Clive James tells of the late Karl Miller “expressing acidly sardonic moral disapproval of how Bob wasted his poetic talent on these little jokes”, and Clive himself has often expressed regret that there were not more of the “fastidiously chiselled poems which proved his point that cool reason was not necessarily lyricism’s enemy”. I share that view, but remember the opening remarks of Bob’s 1997 address to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, when he said that of all the various awards for histories and serious verse he’d received over the years, he was “particularly touched and delighted to receive the Michael Braude Award for Light Verse — which honours those who are often thought of as skirmishers and sharpshooters rather than solid citizens of the world of arts and letters”.

David Yezzi called Bob’s “wry and devastating ‘Progress’ [“There was a great Marxist named Lenin . . .”] perhaps the most brilliant limerick of the 20th century”, making the point that “humour can also be fraught with emotion: like poetry, it accesses our most difficult feelings, even as it orders them and elucidates them”. Bob would have agreed: in the last chapter of his memoirs he writes of his own poetry as “an effort to impose artistic order on barely explored borderline regions of feeling”. His working habit was to write two or three books at once, penning the odd article or essay or poem at the same time. He thought it made a change in one’s day, and perhaps kept any of the lines from going stale. Noting that light verse almost always requires not only concentrated clarity but regular form selected soon after the original concept comes to mind, he found wrestling with the material in that context a pleasure. Sometimes he abandoned a project for years, until a phrase adequate to the theme came up to give life and surprise to the old form. Here — from the hand of the poet — are some of those surprises.
View Full Article
Tags:
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.