WH Auden: The Z-list and the Zeitgeist

To mark the start of WH Auden's centenary year, Bill Greenwell takes us on an Audenesque poetic tour of 2006 - the rockers, the rich kids, the crop-topped clubbers, and the political poodles


Letter to W H Auden

You'll know that your centenary is up

And these mere travesties, but still it's right

That more of us should raise a decent cup

To you. Last year was Betjeman's, a knight

Whose poetry was skilled but slightly tight:

A rummy bo'sun to your brooding cap'n

(Though once you claimed your art made nothing happen).

There may be some - your publicists, one thinks -

Who think you're better known because John Hannah

Recited "Funeral Blues". The whole world blinks

To hear them now, and any graveside planner

Will blubber "Stop The Clocks", and in a manner

That hardly typifies your work, since, Wystan,

You never aimed to be the national cistern.

So here's to you, you satirist, you mimic,

You crazy diamond (you won't get this reference),

As happy with a gimcrack and a gimmick

As mordant wit - you didn't have a preference -

You wrote with heart and head, and lack of deference

Which means you'll last when other scholars languish:

Outsiders - like you - must capture human anguish.

After 'Musée Des Beaux Arts'

About celebrity, they are always right,

The Young Pundits: how well they televise

Its shallow ambition; how it works best

When someone vain is pouting or trying the tango or just feeling a spider bite;

How when some viewers are eagerly, desperately hoping

For a classic serial, there always must be

Others who do not actually want to watch one, groping

For a zapper down the sofa's sides:

They calmly insist

That even a great adaptation can be safely stored

On some other channel, while a Z-list

Of celebs gets on with their nebulous lives and a fraudulent horde

Pimps up their indolent careers for a fee.

Take Channel 4's Big Brother, for instance, how everyone turns quite

Happily over from drama; the viewers might

Have cheered the actors, the sheer suspense,

But for them it is not a particular issue; it may gleam

As it must do on the other side, with elegantly designed

Costumes; and the expensive sensitive script that some might find

Simply amazing, a joy thrilling, even intense,

Is something to dump while Chantelle lives the dream.

Mister Bee

Let me tell you a little story

About Mister Tony Bee;

He went to the House of Terrors

In Washington, DC.

He'd a slight tic in his left eye,

His quips they were slick enough,

He had scripts in various folders,

And he spoke no end of guff.

He'd a plan in his leather briefcase,

For his new friend to applaud,

About a way to save the world

From the Mesopotamian horde.

He stood there, holding his wallet,

With his tongue so gung and ho,

But his friend slapped him slowly on his back,

And only answered, "Yo."

Mister Bee came home on an airplane,

It was filled with mirrors and smoke,

Mister Bee flew home and he called his friend

"An utterly decent bloke."

Mister Bee he drank a mug of tea,

Yet the tea did not quench his thirst.

"O God, I pray for peace on Earth,

But my friend must bomb them first."

They took Mister Bee to retire

In a home so rich and grand.

There was blood on the desert's sandy floor,

There was blood on his face and hand.

Yes, they took Mister Bee to retire

In a home for a rest and cure,

And he combed through dossiers late at night,

And he said, "My heart is pure."

They brought Mister Bee the papers,

And he read through the Nicene Creed,

Said: "History shall be my judge,"

But Posterity disagreed.

Ballad

O what is that sound which so dins the ear

Down in the handbag squalling, squalling?

Only my mobile's ringtone, dear,

There's someone calling.

O what is this light I see flickering here

Like the eye of a partridge, partridge?

Only the inkjet monitor, dear,

For another cartridge.

O what is that ping so loud and clear;

Is it the sign of the spin docs, spin docs?

Only the sound of new e-mail, dear,

Filling my in-box.

O where is that roar, that sounds like a jeer,

Rising to a crescendo, crescendo?

Only the kids killing orcs, my dear,

On the Nintendo.

O who are those men? Why do they cheer?

Why does it seem like derision, derision?

The president's showing his bombers, dear,

On the television.

O why does it howl through the hemisphere?

Why do they urge us to stay back, stay back?

Only some men on a mission, dear,

Looking for payback.

Night Female

This is the fright wig perched on the clubber,

Brought up on burgers and turning to blubber,

Lurching through the town, hunting for cabs,

Flaunting her navel stud, munching kebabs,

Crop-topped and alcopop-fuelled, tattooed

Somewhere her parents would think rather rude,

Flighty but flightless, a light-dazzled moth,

Wearing the monochrome garb of the Goth,

Eyes like a panda, skin like vanilla,

Carving initials on concrete pillar,

Prowling precincts, sick without warning,

Texting her friends at two in the morning,

Ready to meet, when the day comes to pass,

Sitting neat in her City Academy class.

Blues

Ladies and Gentlemen, sitting here,

Moving the goalposts, asking the Chair,

The fact of the matter is, into the bargain,

Who's sitting next to you? It may be Jargon.

Jargon is proactive, 24/7,

And his action plan gets you into Heaven -

If you're client-facing, thinking blue skies,

And provided, my friend, you prioritise.

Jargon is far-gone, and he may be shivery,

But his bottom line is core delivery:

When you're implementing him, don't touch base,

Or move his goalposts. He'll be on your case.

Jargon thinks of you as his clients,

And he's all win-win, not rocket science;

He hears what you say. He gives you hope,

But remember to push that envelope.

So whether you're drilling down, or closing the loop,

And while mission statements are alphabet soup,

Jargon's trialling you, and he has a third way,

So be sure you're value-added at the end of the day.

O Tell Me the Truth About Pete

Some say that Pete's a foolish boy

And some that he's a star,

Some say his finger's on the pulse

And that he plays guitar;

But when I asked his agent, dear,

Who really ought to know,

They claimed Kate Moss was very cross,

And Pete was only blow.

Does he look like a rich kid who gambles

Or a shark in an underground sewer,

Does the band seem more baby than shambles,

Or has it some secret allure?

Is he sickly, a chicken half-plucked, if

You pass when he struts down the street,

Is he talented, trite, or seductive?

O tell me the truth about Pete.

From 'The Witnesses'

You are the drivers, and we are the flash,

We are the clampers collecting the cash

you owe;

At the gates, and on the roof,

When you pause, or are on the hoof,

we see where you go.

On every Saturday or Friday

We will ask you for your ID:

we tape

Every move you make, and every look.

In every cranny and every nook

there is no escape.

Fill in a form, fill out your CV,

And still you'll be on our CCTV

without cause;

Do not act in a suspicious manner -

Even Dodi Fayed and Diana

came through our doors.

Never mind policemen, or your polemic,

For we are ceaseless, and we are an endemic

virus:

Your blood is banked, your carbon print,

In the passport booth, neither smile nor squint,

till we have your iris.

Asylum seeker or refugee,

When you arrive, be assured that we

compute you;

We know your age, your skin, your size,

If you have distinctive Mongolian eyes,

then we will shoot you.

Quiz Contestant Blues

Over the ether my image flows,

I'm the weakest link on the trivia shows.

My brain is rattling but I must reply,

I'm a quiz contestant, I don't know why.

The host rakes over my life with cheek,

My wife's in the audience; her smile is weak.

Tarrant has a hangdog, poker face,

I can't answer his questions, I'm in disgrace.

Noel knows his numbers, I don't know any;

I might win a quarter-mill, might win a penny.

I gave them a ring, and they put me through;

I want the cash, but I haven't a clue.

The audience titter, and the audience squeal,

Ask me the question, Noel. Deal? No deal.

When I'm a veteran, I won't be restful:

All calls are charged, but not all are successful.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own