Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cover poems

I have just caught part of a video of Bryan Ferry's recording of Dylan covers, & it prompted the thought that, if covering other people's poems was possible, what poems would I cover.

Numero uno on the list would be Rexroth's The Advantages of Learning. I posted about it 3½ years ago at the pelican, & have delved into the archives to purloin & repost what I said then.
There are certain physical characteristics you saw in your parents as they aged that you knew you would inherit. The hair colour you shared with your mother, how it would fade. The pattern of the thinning of your father's hair, & the extent of it—good to know that when he died in his nineties he still had plenty of it. The skin blemishes, the way lines formed on their faces. Your father's shoulder slump that you also share.

But it is a poem I feel I have most grown into, unshaped by genetic inheritance. One I came across more than forty-five years ago, that moved me then, that spoke to the inner me in a way I had never experienced. I do not know if it was some sort of premonition or whether it became some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy but it is the poem that I have most inhabited, that has most inhabited me, over all the inter-vening years. & even though I have read much that I have liked / loved since then, even though I have written much in which I expose or privately see parts of me I would have preferred remained hidden, it still remains for me the poem.

The Advantages of Learning

I am a man with no ambitions
And few friends, wholly incapable
Of making a living, growing no
Younger, fugitive from some just doom.
Lonely, ill-clothed, what does it matter?
At midnight I make myself a jug
Of hot white wine and cardamon seeds.
In a torn grey robe and old beret,
I sit in the cold writing poems,
Drawing nudes on the crooked margins,
Copulating with sixteen year old
Nymphomaniacs of my imagination.

Kenneth Rexroth

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