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Clive James

Letter to myself

Dear Clive, I've meant to scribble you a letter
For some time now. I know you like to get a
Brown-noser now and then, and well who better

To do the honours than yours truly, Clive?
Over the past few years I think that I've
Proven myself the handiest hack alive

(Or even dead) at pumping up the egos
Of my illustrious Grub Street amigos.
It's sometimes said of me, 'Too bad that he goes

Over the top so often. Are his pals
Really the Goethes, Mozarts, Juvenals,
Einsteins, Nijinskys, Chaplins, Bluff King Hals,

Elijahs, Pee Wee Russells, Leonardos,
Jane Austens, Churchills, Platos, Giottos, Bardots

This list could grow as as a Mikado's.

Great fingernail, if I don't stop it pronto—
Et cetera, of his peer-group? I don't want to
Malign the poor sap, but he sounds like Tonto

At times, whose quaint devotion to the Ranger
I never understood. He runs the danger
Of taking every passing Percy Grainger

For Beethoven; or seeing Botticelli's
Mind-boggling artistry (or, say, Crivelli's)
In some chum's doodle on a Bertorelli's

Table-napkin. Good God, where will it end?
I like a fellow who sticks by his friend,
But Clive's like Don Quixote, round the bend!'

I've heard this stuff a zillion times before.
Every great poet meets the kind of bore,
Straight from the Dunciad, who feels as sore

As Grendel and Beowulf because
He's not in on the act. As if I was
A sort of literary Wiz of Oz,

Holding my court, but waiting to be rumbled
By Judy Garland's pooch! I bet they grumbled
When Pope flashed Dryden's name, or Piero mumbled

Something about Veneziano. Blimey!
These runty characters were sent to try me,
But I'm not Gulliver and they can't tie me

Down, sport. I'll lay off writing to my chinas
For now—those Schopenhauers, Kafkas, Heines
And magic up some several-hundred-liners...

About myself The prospect's fairly heady!
Make sure the old adrenal pump is steady:
Not too much juice. Ready when you are... Ready

Actually, Clive, I must admit I'm nervous.
I've never had to face the champion servers—
Toe-amputators, any-which-way swervers—

But now I feel the terror of some boy
Alone before the Wimbledon polloi,
Waiting for Hoad or Laver to destroy

Him smash by smash. Will some allusion ace
Me, as I flail about, gauche, in disgrace?
Will metaphors bounce up and dent my face?

Or will...? But wait a tick; don't let's forget
That's me as well the far side of the net.
Christ, what a bummeroo! I'd better let

This metaphor drop like a hot potato
And settle down to something a bit straighter,
More in the style of Horace, le grand Maître.

Clive, you're the greatest poet in the business!
To contemplate your talents brings on dizziness.
Just as a Bollinger is full of fizziness—

The mark, I'm told, of any good champagne—
Ideas appear to bubble in your brain.
I'm baffled that your head can take the strain.

Tchaikovsky thought his bonce might topple off
I don't think his mate Rimsky-Korsakov
Suffered the same delusion, but some prof

Might put us right on that one. Anyhow,
I like the splendid eminence of your brow
(Hokusai's Fuji, Mallory's Jungfrau

Seem the right names to drop in this connection).
I like your well-used cricket-ball complexion.
I like—and let's waive Jamesian circumspection

(I'm talking about me, not Uncle Harry)
I like the whole caboodle. Yes, I'd marry
Me If I could. On honeymoon in Paris,

In any other chic, kulturni city,
We'd do the local Hermitage or Pitti
And jot down names of painters for our witty

Verse letters to each other. Life and art?
Both Proust and Aristotle said some smart,
Quotable things about this, but apart

From them (the Hobbs and Bradman of their field)
A fair amount remains to be revealed
Which is where we waltz in. Art has appealed

To us for yonks. We've always nursed a pash
For Russian Lit., Expressionist gouaches,
The Blues, Ming vases, Rosewall's cross-court smash,

Early Walt Disney, madrigals, Kung Fu,
Homer, French cooking, Mahler's no. 2,
Dame Sybil Thorndyke, Pascal's Pensées, Pooh...

The names! The names! They give me such a thrill,
I could run on till Doomsday in this shrill
Pindaric fashion, and, dear Clive, no doubt I will.

Christopher Reid




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