Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Luck You Can Break Your Teeth On

Once in a while - every
ten or a hundred thousand -
you’ll find in your Ferrero Rocher,
a perfect pearl.

You could break your teeth on luck like that,
like Charlie on his golden ticket
or the sixpence that can turn
your Christmas pud into a minefield.
Good fortune can kill you as surely as bad.

Or else that pearl could slip
straight down your gullet, hard and smooth
as a ball bearing, wearing away your belly,
pinballing through intestinal
twists and turns then mired in sludge
like a pea lodged in mashed potato
but not as scenic – not as clean and green.

‘Search amongst the excrement!’
you call your loved ones from your throne,
like a pig with a monocle. At least
being Christmas, your shit is scented
mainly with chocolate, sherry, cinnamon,

though the turkey and stuffing overlay
is a little hard to stomach and the sprouts
keep going off like gas in the trenches,
blinding, choking. But at least, you tell them
it’s one way to keep your fingers warm.

Good will to all men's wearing thin
as an After Eight by evening, still no sightings.
You wish you’d had the mint instead
and reach for the green baize box, and. . .
is that a silver sliver glinting in
silky sheets of chocolate and fondant?
Such treasures! Such treasures!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Unfinished works

Does the world have a right to see us still in our metaphorical pyjamas?

The final volume of Nabokov has been unearthed - The Original of Laura, the curate’s egg he’d rather have fried, the last gasps of an acclaimed author dredged up by his son against his dying wishes. Literary types, as is their wont, spit and spat, their sparkling prose and biting criticism arguing for and against the publication.

Co-incidentally I'm trawling through the The Salmon of Doubt – a fish similarly caught. This lovingly-collected smorgasbord includes articles, speeches, bits of stories and part of a first draft of a novel by the late, great Douglas Adams – who was, if I may take the liberty of saying so, reputedly often very late, and, in my opinion, very great indeed.

I haven’t read Nabokov – I have Lolita somewhere and I promise to read it soon - but I want to read whatever Douglas Adams wrote. There are many gems in the book – pieces he completed and was happy with but most people won’t have come across. The first few chapters of the new Dirk Gently novel are different. As a writer it is peculiarly satisfying to see that, although it isn’t poorly written, it isn’t particularly well-written either. It gives hope that we too, if we agonised and polished longer, our work could get round eventually to sparkling and delighting too.

Unfinished works, like unfinished biscuits can be unsightly, scattering crumbs on the sofas of our expectations. Do we all have similar false starts and wanderings secreted in out personal archives, cringe-worthy, trite and unimpressive? Would we want them shown and does it matter what we want if we aren’t around anymore?

I’d like to think that someone would collect me after I have shuffled off this mortal biro, pick out the best bits and be kindly in the exposition of the ‘not quite there yet.’ I don’t know if they’ve done this with Nabokov, but it doesn’t sound like it.

Martin Amis says No!: www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/nov/14/vladimir-nabokov-books-martin-amis

Alexis Kirschbaum says Yes! www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/nov/17/inside-story-nabokov-last-work