Poems, Imitations & Translations


Case Studies (2):

Truth in the Cliché?


I spent all my 20s desperate to have others think of me as a regular guy who wrote a bit of poetry. Now I am happy to take advantage of the freedom my perceived eccentricity affords me. I can tell people where to go down the phone, in language not customary for council employees. I can wander out of the office at any given moment, for a pint or an hour’s window-shopping. Why? Because I am a poet. Mad.

– Conor O’Callaghan,
Poet-in-Residence of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

I picked up a paperback in Whitcoulls the other day entitled The Poet. On the front cover it said: “He kills without rhyme or reason” (or words to that effect: I know they’d managed to get the notions of scribbling and killing in there somehow). There was also an atmospheric grey illustration of a mysterious death-dealing car driving somewhere to deliver.

Bring it on! At least people respect serial killers a bit. Try telling one of them to piss off and get a proper job!

Whenever I need to seem slightly more normal, like in a workshop or a book club, all I have to do is let them know that I have kids of my own. The facial expressions change visibly. They obviously reckon that if someone trusts me to mind two small children from time to time, then I can’t be a total psychopath …

continues the laureate of Dún Laoghaire. Don’t be too sure, Conor. The curious thing is that these clichés (writerly wisdom tempered by extreme eccentricity and irresponsibility) seem to me to hold a grain of truth. The image is certainly a persistent one. Check out the TV listings:

11.10: Film Boom (1968) Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Noel Coward. Tells the story of Sissy Gofarth, a reclusive millionaire writer, whose days consist of dictating her autobiography and begging for injections.[1]

That cast list sounds like the kind of thing which would be rejected as ludicrously improbable in fiction, but one can’t help getting a bit of a thrill at the plot summary: “dictating her autobiography and begging for injections.” Now, that’s the life of the mind! Puts Kathy Acker’s “SUCK ME SUCK ME SUCK ME sex is sweet” to shame …

1. Unfortunately that write-up was the best thing about the film, which turned out to be somewhat tedious and contrived.

[Michael Connelly: The Poet (1996)]

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