Saturday 16 April 2022

'Between the Gardening and the Cookery...'

 A notable anniversary today – the centenary of the birth of Kingsley Amis, born on this day in 1922 to William Amis, a clerk at the Colman's mustard factory, and Rosa née Lucas, whose father was a keen book collector. Young Kingsley hoped to inherit his library, but in the end got only five volumes, and that on condition he wrote on the flyleaf of each 'From his grandfather's collection'. 
  When Kingsley in due course went up to Oxford, it was the beginning of a famous, lifelong friendship with Philip Larkin – a relationship into which, typically, Amis put a good deal less effort than Larkin. Of the books that Amis published in the course of a long, highly productive career – he was nothing if not hard-working and versatile – his first novel, Lucky Jim, could fairly be called an instant classic, and is still his best-known book. Having read most of his novels (avoiding only the genre stuff), then reread some of them, I can only say that Amis endures as a brilliant wielder of prose and, at his best, one of the few genuinely funny comic writers. My favourites among the novels are The Green Man, That Uncertain Feeling, the very dark Ending Up, and of course Lucky Jim. However, it's a long while since I read Girl, 20 and other mid-period works, so that might change. Not that it matters – every Amis fan will have his own list.   
  At Oxford and for some while after, Amis was the poet and Larkin the novelist, with Jill and the wonderful A Girl in Winter to his name. However, Larkin's novelistic inspiration faltered, while Amis found his, and became a novelist first and foremost, with poetry among the many other strings to his bow. Here is a rather fine example of what Kingsley Amis could do as a poet. Yes, it sounds a lot like Larkin – but what's wrong with that?

Something Nasty in the Bookshop

Between the Gardening and the Cookery
Comes the brief Poetry shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
Offers itself.

Critical, and with nothing else to do,
I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
Landscape Near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
So does Rilke and Buddha.

“I travel, you see”, “I think” and “I can read'
These titles seem to say;
But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,
Poem for J.,

The ladies’ choice, discountenance my patter
For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
Or squash it flat?
Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart;
Girls aren’t like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
Can get by without it.
Women don’t seem to think that’s good enough;
They write about it.

And the awful way their poems lay them open
Just doesn’t strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times
We stayed up half the night
Chock-full of love, crammed with bright thoughts, names, rhymes,
And couldn’t write.

No comments:

Post a Comment