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I Wish You Were a Wave of the Sea -- John Whitworth

Guest poem submitted by Steve Axbey :

I've been meaning to send this in for ages (and now it'll be lost
amongst a big pile of responses to your request: curses!):
(Poem #360) I Wish You Were a Wave of the Sea
Fretting my heart as you pedal your bicycle,
Perdita, once I called, Perdita, twice I called.
Pretty as paint and as cool as a icicle,
        Perdita Simmons!

Shall I tell how we met under fortunate auspices?
Presuming a bottle of Spanish Don Horsepiss is
Fortunate... This is not one of my coarse pieces,
        Perdita Simmons.

Syllables shimmy as sonnets assemble
Themselves in a shadowless summer a-tremble -
A ten-guinea ticket for Merton Commem Ball
        With Perdita Simmons

Daddy's a saurian Cambridge historian.
Mummy's more chummy. She's tweedy and Tory and
Hunts and what-have-you. So very Victorian
        Is Perdita Simmons.

Thus Mainwaring, tall dark and rich, with a glance as much
As to say, My dear boy, I don't fancy your chances much
I know Perdie of old, and she doesn't like dances much,
        Doesn't Perdita Simmons.

Perdita's hair ruffles fairer and tanglier,
Perdita's grin makes my ganglia janglia,
Perdita's uncle owns half of East Anglia,
        All for Perdita Simmons.

Mainwaring's plan is for getting a leg over;
Wait till she's plastered (the bastard!), then beg of her.
No go. (Ho-ho!) Now his face has got egg over.
        From Perdita Simmons.

Oh, how spiffing! (She talks like a school-story serial,
While my lexical style is down-market and beery.) All
Love is insane and remote and ethereal
        And Perdita Simmons.

As we're pounding the ground in a last hokey-cokey, dawn
Fingers two constables, hauling off chokey-borne
Mainwaring, pissed as a rat on the croquet lawn.
        Sweet Perdita Simmons.

Half-asleep, climbing from Headington Hill, at the crest of it
Sickle moon, scatter of stars and the rest of it,
In my hand one small hand (and this is the best of it)
        Of Perdita Simmons.

Perdita murmurs, You'll do for a poet.
And kisses me carefully twice, just to show it.
Nobody knows what love is. But I know it.
        It's Perdita Simmons.
-- John Whitworth
I am surpised to realise that this is one of my favourite poems (I
immediately knew that it would be this poem that I would one day send in
to the Wondering Minstrels).

I love it for the rythyms, the clever rhymes, the abrupt changes of pace
(but still managing to flow) and the ending. But most of all because
it's so much fun.  (It also helps, perhaps, that I first heard it read
live by the author while I myself was a student at university).

John Whitworth was born in 1945 (the book jacket says) and his first
collection was called Unhistorical Fragments. This poem is taken from
Poor Butterflies (1982) published by  Secker and Warburg.  I couldn't
find any biography on the net and as far as I know he isn't at all
famous - but I would be pleased to be corrected!

Re-reading the poem again it suddenly strikes me how British it is so,
for the benefit of the non-Brits, here's a glossary:

Merton Commem Ball - Merton is a college at Oxford University. Their
annual Commemoration Ball is a lavish, sparkling affair.
Tory - Conservative
Mainwaring - is pronounced "Mannering" (so the poem does scan!)
plastered - drunk
chokey - prison
pissed - drunk (in the UK "pissed off" means annoyed, but "pissed" means
drunk, causing endless Anglo-American fun).


[thomas adds]

Ever since Steve sent this poem in, I've been going around singing
'Perdita's grin makes my ganglia janglia' at random intervals...

16 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

John Whitworth said...

this is the sort of poem there ought to be more of. In fact there are more of them. All written by John Whitworth and published by Harry Chambers of Peterloo Poets

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