Books: The private eye on public life

`My Friend Christopher': lines in celebration of the poet and polemicist who mixes `gravity and waggery'.

Prince Charming: a memoir

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:

"Christopher Logue

Is writing for Vogue.

This has got Doris Lessing

Guessing..."

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,

anegoistic."

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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