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I once spent a
drunken evening in London with twice short-listed for British Poet Laureate John
Heath-Stubbs, OBE. We traded dirty limericks and did not discuss poetry at all.
Heath-Stubbs publishes short books of poetry about once a year and has worked on
translations of Hafiz and Leopardi. The book in question here, The Sound of Light,
is typical of the poets deceptively casual style. He has a brilliant memory and his
works are laced with erudite drops of imagination; always perceptive, never pedantic. If
this book reveals anything about the poet, it is his frolicsome humour, his willingness to
handle otherwise serious subjects with the panache of a man who enjoys light verse, even
doggerel. Take "The Dandelion and the Daisy, a Fable":
An acrid, milky dandelion,
coroneted, claimed forsooth,
Descent from an old Norman scion--
the bold knight, Sir Lion-tooth,
loved an innocent little daisy,
wooed her with an ardent passion--
Feelings that nearly drove him crazy--
she just answered in this fashion:
Time, he passes with a puff,
golden turn to hoary locks--
you will learn it soon enough
kids play dandelion clocks;
petals close when light has fled--
just shut up old Piss a bed!
Well, there you have it. Heath-Stubbs
style in this book is, as the tourist would say, quaint. Hes playing, as the title
suggests, with sounds and lightness, never turning morose and finding it unbearable.
Instead, the anguish of passion and the childish, arch rebuff are diminutive, a garden
fable, laughable folly in the cruelest month. Or again, the wonder of nature, and the
drive to entangle ones self with it in the effort to control, is reduced to a punchy
A parasitic plant, it has
stem, nor leaves. Its rootlets
Infiltrate the trunks of trees, sapping their vital force.
season it produces a huge flower
looks and smells like rotten meat. Flies
Attempt to lay their eggs there. It is a jungle wonder,
honours the name of the great enlightened
Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore
the gentleman cracksman). God
made all things well.
One over on Sir Stamford, then. And again,
here is Heath-Stubbs not being indignant, not pushing for larger social meaning, critique,
or even significance in his poetry. This is a number on Raffles and an elegantly done one
too. So, back to the limericks, and a final example of Heath-Stubbss humour;
Our mystical guru from Katmandu
(Although a decidedly fat man too)
all kinds of weather
float like a feather
fly through the air like old Batman do.
Heath-Stubbs anodyne cocktail is
perhaps just to order against the white noise of e-commerce, sit-coms, the WTO, and
hormone-treated beef: laughter keeps you young and pleasant, light and sound.