Gorgeous Poetry

A reference in the introduction to the excellent new anthology The Winter of the World led me to search out Gorgeous Poetry, a book of parodies published in 1920 by “J.B.M.”

There are imitations of most Georgian genres, including a poem called War, which combines the onomatopoeic vigour of Robert Nichols with the rightous scorn of Siegfried Sassoon:

Flash, crump, crater, and bang,
Blood, guts, bodies and brains,
That’s the way to do it,
For he’s a jolly good fellow.

At home they smoke coronas,
And applaud leering girls…
And ogle twice a night…
God! If I had a four-point-five!

Flash, crump, flick, and whirr,
General’s singing – “Give ’em Hell!”
Bill’s dead and Joe’s dead
Dick’s gone west and Alf’s gone mad,
General’s wife eating quail at the Ritz
With a neutral count.

In the early twenties, satirists often mocked the indignation of trench poets. In Rose Macaulay’s Told by an Idiot, for example, Roger writes poems that were probably rather like the above:

“I simply can’t read the poetry you write in these days, Roger… It’s become too terribly beastly and nasty and corpsey.”

“Unfortunately, mother,” Roger explained kindly, “war is rather beastly and nasty, you know. And a bit corpsey, too.”

“My dear boy, I know that; I’m not an idiot. Don’t, for goodness’ sake talk to me in that superior way, it reminds me of your father. All I say is, why write about corpses? There’ve always been plenty of them, people who’ve died in their beds of diseases. You never used to write about them.”

“I suppose one’s object is to destroy the false glamour of war. There’s no glamour about disease.”

“Glamour, indeed! There you go again with that terrible nonsense. I don’t meet any of these people you talk about who think there’s glamour in war. … Glamour indeed. I’ll tell you what it is, a set of you young men have invented that glamour theory, just so as to have an excuse for what you call destroying it, with your nasty talk. Like you’ve invented those Old men you go on about, who like the War. I’m sick of your Old Men and your corpses.”

“I’m sick of them myself,” said Roger gloomily, and changed the subject, for you could not argue with Amy.

The Winter of the World identifies JBM as J.B.Morton, author of The Barber of Putney, my favourite among the war novels actually written during the War, and later “Beachcomber” of the Daily Express. The Bodleian catalogue, on the other hand, wants to attribute the book to one John Brubaker Minick (1849-?).

I don’t know anything about Minick, but I have to go with Morton. One has only to read the affecting opening of the poem Selling Treacle:

All day long I stand here,
A poor old woman,
Selling treacle –
(Damn the flies).

Admirers of Beachomber will immediately recognise this as vintage Morton. Nobody else could have written it.

I’ve contacted the grey eminences who guard and administer the Bodleian catalogue. It will be interesting to see what their reaction will be. I don’t think that the issue will cause vast controversy in Oxford, though. The book has been nestling on its library shelf for eighty-eight years, and some of the pages were still uncut.

Here’s a last one, which I take to be a parody of Ezra Pound:


Night drops tristfully
Over the nasturtia
In Manlius Silico’s garden.
The moon, wandering about
En deshabille,
Fawns on th’adulterous stars.
Come, Manumbra,
Come, I will explain to you
The abstruse technicalities
Of the Greek and Roman systems
Of Colonization.
Quien Sabe? Those Spaniards
Were gay chaps –
A little impalpable, but, there!
I think they do this stuff much better
In France.
I think it’s time we fetched our bicycles
From the shed.
I’ll translate Propertius to you as we go.




One Comment

  1. Posted February 18, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    The Bodleian librarians have decided that Morton is indeed the likelier author, and have now changed the catalogue details of the book.

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