Algernon & Ken


A toast to Bill Baker with a glass of Bollinger RD 1988 (a bit over-the-top but rich and complex, nonetheless) last night on the first anniversary of his sudden death. We dedicated our Good Value Guru guide to Bill – the largest SA wine guide (circulation: 500 000 copies) given away free with the Sunday Times in December.

Bill read history of art at Peterhouse while across at Pembroke, Clive James was classifying college poets (Ted Hughes was one). “There were flashbacks called Algernon who dressed and sounded as if they were auditioning for a tea party thrown by Harold Acton or Maurice Bowra. There were ultra-grey ex-grammar school types who wrote something called Concrete Poetry and were called Ken.”

gvg4 Algernon & Ken

“Algernon wrote crepuscular sonnets and Ken assembled, probably with tweezers, microscopic unpunctuated stanzas from which the ghosts of ideas gestured feebly, like lice in raindrops.” Poets are in the news a lot of late following the disastrous performance of Elizabeth Alexander, professor of African-American studies at Yale, at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Liz is clearly a Ken, as George Packer noted in the New Yorker “Alexander writes with a fine, angry irony, in vividly concrete images, but her poems have the qualities of most contemporary American poetry — a specificity that’s personal and unsuggestive, with moves toward the general that are self-consciously academic. They are not poems that would read well before an audience of millions.” For example:

“Is/ funky, is/ leaky, is/ a soggy, bloody crotch, is/ sharp jets of breast milk shot straight across the room/ is gaudy, mustard-colored poop, is/ postpartum tears that soak the baby’s lovely head.”

Discussing the inauguration poem, the Weekend Financial Times makes the point that “Americans believe that what separates poetry from normal speech is either pomposity or pseudo-intellectualism.” Which sounds pretty much like winespeak.

This connection to poetry is confirmed by James who was invited to a literary tea in Newnham. “All the Cambridge poets were there, the Algernons in their velvet jackets and the Kens in their anoraks.”

Sticking with James, a warm welcome back to the blogosphere for the Grape communal blog. A friend sent along this amusing postcard.

grape Algernon & Ken