Books: The private eye on public life
`My Friend Christopher': lines in celebration of the poet and polemicist who mixes `gravity and waggery'.
Saturday 28 August 1999
by Christopher Logue
Faber & Faber, pounds 20, 352pp
For readers and writers alike do well to consider my friend Christopher in his seventy-third year to heaven. For that he still rolls in prank and pop and political newsprint
to work it all in to the woof of his verse.
For in his sly sleeket writings and his loud lewd readings
and his tiger-shrewd prowlings between the two
he counteracts the powers of darkness
by his rasping voice and glaring eyes.
For like his namesake Christopher Smart's Cat Jeoffry,
my friend Christopher "is tenacious of his point"
and like that cat, Logue too "is a mixture
of gravity and waggery".
For every house is incompleat without his volumes
of poetry, his versions of Homer, and this new book
of prose recalling his first 40 years, titled
Prince Charming because the front cover photo
is of eight-year-old Christopher in that role.
For it's a role Logue has gone on playing since
a lot better than many a real life Prince
of the day. I'd say.
For as his friend of yore, Kenneth Tynan saw:
Is writing for Vogue.
This has got Doris Lessing
For though he's an actor with flair, Logue's aware
of the deceptions of charm - of charming people
"whose faults bring their excuses with them.
Who let you think you think alike,
when you do not.
Who, while talking to you of a subject,
have another subject in mind."
For, as reveals,
Logue writes, hates and loves with due honesty.
For that my friend Christopher honours the memory
of his friend and co-editor Alex Trocchi
with whom he ran in mid-Fifties Paris,
but laments the junk addiction that rubbished
Trocchi's once immaculate mind and body.
For that Logue was an avid champion and disciple
of that avatar of truth-telling in our time,
Sam Beckett: "What struck me was his character.
He was, if one can have such a word,
For that my friend Christopher was an early catalyst
of the fusion of two of our time's
more validly growing concerns,
oral verse with jazz,
and adapted Neruda's lyric cadence
for the landmark recording,
Red Bird Dancing
On Ivory - "from a Caribbean riddle,
answer: a tongue."
For by taunting Philip Larkin for "genteel bellyaching"
Logue provoked less mealy-mouthed lines from the glumbum.
For, as the lead puff on the Charming jacket mentions,
Logue is "never in anyone's gang"
though this quote stems from Sean O'Brien
who's always in everyone's (even Larkin's).
For that at midcentury, when most English poets
were even more bent than today's
on decoration and escape,
Logue demonstrated and wrote against bombs and war.
For that his memoir retails the unlikely fact
of Groucho Marx's "As a rule
I never forget a face, but in your case
I'll make an exception", being capped
by Bertrand Russell in 1961
resembling, Logue thought, "an angry ostrich"
- in response to a magistrate who sentenced
the 88-year-old sage to a week's imprisonment
for exposing our government's nuclear policies -
with: "I came here to save your life,
but having heard what you have to say,
I do not think that the end
justifies the means".
For that my friend Christopher added
wit, music, conscience and danger
to gigs that would have been so much duller
without him, including the notorious
First International Poetry Incarnation
at London's Albert Hall in '65
with which Albion's underground opened up,
and this all too slim tome closes down,
leaving this reader wanting more.
For though Fabber and Fabber's babbling blurb errs
when it avers Logue "invented the poster poem"
(he's but one of the many who've carried this on
from Mayakovsky and others long gone)
nonetheless, what Christopher produced in the genre -
from the high seriousness of "To My Fellow Artists"
sounding early warning of arms race destruction,
to the lighter but equally pointed vein
of "I Shall Vote Labour," just before
the 1966 re-election of US war-machine lackey
Harold Wilson - remains as uniquely resonant
As it was prophetic, damn it,
of these onwardly dying days of our own
daft and dastardly Disney world
in which yesterday's cartoon is today's true story: for -
"I shall vote Labour because
there are too few cars on the road
I shall vote Labour because I want to shop
in an all-weather precinct stretching from Yeovil to Glasgow...
I shall vote Labour because
deep in my heart
I am a Conservative... "
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