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Contours -- Noel Coward

       
(Poem #444) Contours
Round - oblong - like jam -
Terse as virulent hermaphrodites;
Calling across the sodden twisted ends of Time.
Edifices of importunity
Sway like Parmesan before the half-tones
Of Episcopalian Michaelmas;
Bodies are so impossible to see in retrospect -
And yet I know the well of truth
Is gutted like a pratchful Unicorn.
Sog, sog, sog - why is my mind ambitious?
That's what it is.
-- Noel Coward
I can hardly stop laughing long enough to type these words in...

"In 1923, Noel Coward lampooned Edith Sitwell and her two
brothers, Osbert and Sacheverell, in some sketches which he
called 'The Swiss Family Whittlebot'. This was in the wake of the
first performance of Edith's avant-garde poems for recitation through
loud-speaker with musical accompaniment, 'Facade'. She was
furious, and nursed her grievance against Coward for many years. It
was only aggravated by Coward's description of the eccentric
behaviour of Mrs Hernia Whittlebot, 'who was busy preparing for
publication her new books, "Gilded Sluts" and "Garbage". She
breakfasts on onions and Vichy water'."

        -- 'Unauthorized Versions', a totally brilliant collection of poems
and their parodies, edited by Kenneth Baker, published by Faber
and Faber.

'Contours' is not a parody of any particular Sitwell poem, but rather
of her style as a whole. This example should serve to show what I
mean:

'Said King Pompey'

Said King Pompey, the emperor's ape,
Shuddering black in his temporal cape
Of dust: 'The dust is everything -
The heart to love, and the voice to sing,
Indianapolis
And the Acropolis,
Also the hairy sky that we
Take for a coverlet comfortably.' ...
Said the Bishop
Eating his ketchup -
'There still remains Eternity
(Swelling the diocese) -
That elephantiasis,
The flunkeyed and trumpeting Sea!'

        -- Edith Sitwell

The difference, of course, is that Sitwell's poem takes itself
seriously; Coward's does not. And oh, the difference to me!

thomas.

PS. Lest anyone think otherwise, Sitwell's poems _do_ have
conscious interpretations (or so I'm told - I would love to have
'Pompey' explained to me, and I doubt I'm alone). And she was
possibly the person most responsible for promoting the poetry
(alliteration watch!) of Dylan Thomas, so it's not all one-way traffic. I
still like 'Contours' more than 'Pompey', though.

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