WEIRD SOUP VI: "JUST LIKE TOM PAULIN'S BLUES"
"It became clear that he knew the offenders only too well -- a gang of radical young outsider poets from Dublin. The attack was not racially motivated at all, he explained. The poets had simply stumbled upon my son's identity: the fact that I was his father... On hearing these words, I felt something eerie chilling me to the very core of my humanity. And sitting there in the station, opposite the inane desk sergeant, I suddenly thought of all the violent prejudices lurking beneath the cosy smugness of our apparently pleasant social surfaces, and pondered how I might most successfully explore this and other similar themes within a short poetical framework."
by HP Tinker
COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS
In a double bed, alone: the 53 year old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin pouring another Scotch like an aberrant cleric, falling deeper deeper deeper into lush reams of vegetation, bare-chested, slashing through the more difficult foliage with his mother's scimitar ("She handed it me on her deathbed and told me to use it wisely. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea what she meant. Then, after she died, I lost my opportunity to question her any further…") stumbling upon a convenient clearing and a child-sized house, crouching through the doorway to find a tiny, well-furnished dining room: the table laid meticulously for four people, but with no sign of anybody, passing through, exiting via the back door and striding to a vast expanse of water at the edge of the property where the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin (suddenly) asks himself: What type of body of water is this? How will I cross it? And how will I possibly reach the other side? Shaken out of his abstraction by the startling sight of a wild-eyed gypsy girl gathering wool, supple and strong, dancing over, an iron crucifix falling between her breasts, "Can you tell me who I must contact here?" he inquires nervously, trying not to look down, oddly intoxicated by magnificence of her face ("as if I'd drunk too much sherry at a BBC Post-Production party…") piled beside him on his bedside table at this moment: the Bible Society's Gospel in Multicultural Tongues, Simon East's Grammar of the South Midlands (revised edition), Zhdanov's Chinese Cookery For Beginners, Chinua Achebe Goes A Courtin' (his current favourite bedside read), How To Be Convincingly Bohemian (Picador), Mickey Spillane: Complete Automatic Writings, The Selected Bad Ideas of Goethe (Faber & Faber), various Arabic, Breton, Chaldaic, Dalmatian, Estonian, Finnish, Georgian, Huzulic, Irish, Jutlandic, Kymric, Latvian, Malay, Norwegian, Ottakringian, Pictish, Qumranic, Rhaeto-Romanic, Swahili, Turkish, Urdu, Vedic, Wendic, Xuatl, Yukatan, Zimbrian rhyming dictionaries, The History of Irish Pioneer Aviators and Other Misguided Balloonists, several collections of early Assyrian fairy-tales, Days and Nights of Caring: A Psycho-Sexual Journey of Self-Discovery(1972), the comic verse of Jeanette Winterson, Authors On the Brink: No. 11 -- Julian Barnes, various academic dossiers on the haiku, the pastoral, and the quatrain, The Best of David Guterson, a diachronic study of Lucky Jim and The Old Devils, Official Tourist Guides to Berlin, British Columbia, Cork, Tintajol, Paris, Zürich, Bergamo, Edinburgh, Malmö Stockholm, Quimper, Salzburg, last month's Elle, Umberto Eco's Collected Misgivings (1987/94), Books Can Be Extremely Informative (ed. Jerry Van Urmuz, Valerie Wiseman, Tom Paulin et al), after an off-the-cuff continental breakfast, dressing in dark and sombre attire (not being ostentatious he generally favours comfortable clothing which does not call attention to itself) and although often he wears a tie, occasionally he does not, preferring instead to leave the top button of his shirt undone which, he hopes, affects a more casual aspect to his usually severe appearance: "... real oak beams", "an austerity, a randomness", "pretty East European waitresses", "mellow jazz ambience", "polpettone of rabbit", "minimalism with humour and efficiency", "earthy leek and truffle combo", "shallow and superficial", "Gressingham duck", "the Pompidou Centre, for example", purchasing The Big Issue from a quasi-Quixote, ragged and noble and broken, an ephemeral gesture, a fleeting social confluence, "like two worlds colliding," notes the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin grimacing, pulling his winter coat tightly around himself, brandishing his Big Issue like a shield, or student badge, symbolic "of innate humanity," he notes out loud, advancing purposefully through the street, glancing up at the cover of the magazine he is clutching so valiantly, like a flag, freezing when he sees the face of VS Naipaul beaming back at him beatifically from the cover: "utterly delighted" at winning the Nobel Prize for Literature... drinking hot instant coffee, hunched over the typewriter, watching Columbo followed by Quincy followed by Perry Mason, fat cat curled snoring on his lap, blowing his nose, once, twice, listening to Radio 4's latest instalment of Savage Gardens, the gardening tips of 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin: "Secateurs are essential. Auden sharpened his at least once a season", "Try stainless-steel two-pronged weeders with wooden handles, like Fleur Adcock" on the bed with the editor of a major publishing house, showing him a working draft of The Wounded Zionist, his latest poem, the editor of a major publishing house nodding, smiling, nodding some more, silently slipping a hand down the back of his faded blue jeans... rousing himself into consciousness and asking himself: What could possibly have inspired such a dream? My recent prostate examination? It was a unique sensation after all having a doctor's finger expertly explore my anus... Q. What items do you always carry with you? A. Deeply intractable personal problems, plus my wallet. Q. What is the biggest regret of your life? A. Reading The Information by Martin Amis. Q. What makes you depressed? A. Any form of social injustice. Most heavy metal album covers. Q. Where would you like to live? A. Somewhere in my childhood. Or Miami. Q. With which fictional character do you most closely identify? A. The one played by Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing... briefly overwhelmed by the number of magnificent women prowling the streets of North London, Like big cats in a zoo, he gasps reclining thoughtfully into the back of a black cab, "the real problem is," he tells the driver, "that while Great Britain still exists, something needs to take the place of our dreary, archaic, mind-numbing national anthem -- but what exactly?" and the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin pauses, frowning, resting his fingers against his temples, "Why couldn't there be a new, more attractive theme?" he exclaims, unexpectedly sitting up, traffic weaving outside, oddly synchronised with Smooth Operator on the radio, The effect not unlike the works of Fassbinder or classic cinematic montage in general, he observes... the song sticking and not letting go, hands clasped together, head bowed, praying near the back of the BBC canteen, I did not win the Nobel Prize again this year, he has just noticed again, joined at the table by John Carey holding a tray, "Often when I glimpse myself semi-naked in the mirror," the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin confesses, "I see a thing of great beauty. And is that really so strange?" but finding Carey unusually silent in dank tweed, the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin becomes quite lost in only recently recovered memories of the opening night party of Krapp's Last Tape, totally lost in the surprising opulence of these only recently recovered memories; memories of: rolling a choice word back and forth, energetically discussing books, women, politics, movies, ideas spilling everywhere, Billie Whitelaw laughing at his jokes, watching the young waitresses from a distance, their long dark thin hair frightening him, Sam Beckett drinking a dry Martini across the other side of the room, people crowding round him, trying to get closer to Beckett, trying to start up a conversation, "Sam!" he shouts over, "Sam!", Beckett not hearing, or ignoring him and then his grandmother's thatch-roofed cottage, the apple trees that surrounded it, the old tool shed, the vegetable patch, remembering being a boy again, the stream by the fields, kicking through its shallow waters, feeling immortal, fishing with a small net, remembering how it felt to be a boy, that boyhood feeling of being almost indestructible, that beautiful felicitous small boy feeling... "streaked with gorgonzola", "about the imagination, the dangers of the imagination, the guilt of the imagination", "a fricasse of girolles", "pleasingly retro", "stuffed leg of guinea fowl", "Yannis Gaitis", "wonderfully obscene", "warm Chablis", "seventy-six years since Breton's manifesto", "parsley risotto", "a lot of women's underwear", "daubed with a rich cream of pecorino", "Nicholas Cage woefully miscast", "beetroot woefully underpowering", "communicating the savagery of Dante's imagination", "halloumi cheese like grilled plasticine", "reaching page 60 when most novels fall apart", "choi sum", "pretty East European waitresses actually pretty useless at being waitresses..." looking out across the River Thames, the water timeless and ebbing, emerald grey and mysterious water, his mind heavy with new and important thoughts: "... Early in Joyce's great, tough-minded epic Ulysses, the greatest anti-racist text in the English language, Stephen Dedalus listens to a tedious monologue delivered by the headmaster of the school where he is teaching. Mr Deasy is a unionist and he tells Stephen: 'England is in the hands of the Jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation's decay. Wherever they gather they eat up the nation's vital strength...' And so I am reminded of Joyce when I remember an incident which took place some four or five summers ago now. My eldest son, who is mixed race, went to a local discothèque, the Limelight Club, in a small town near Co Donegal, with a young black friend, the cousin of novelist Alex Garland. Here they were set upon by a group of thugs in Metallica t-shirts, verbally harangued, and chased out of the discothèque while the bouncers did nothing. Later on, in the darkness of the night, they were hunted through a local caravan site by the same thugs who pulled off their t-shirts to reveal tattooed likenesses of the young Ezra Pound. The next morning, on my way to the GPO, I visited the garda station to report the incident and talked to an inane desk sergeant. He was sympathetic, yet also unhelpful. It became clear that he knew the offenders only too well -- a gang of radical young outsider poets from Dublin. The attack was not racially motivated at all, he explained. The poets had simply stumbled upon my son's identity: the fact that I was his father... On hearing these words, I felt something eerie chilling me to the very core of my humanity. And sitting there in the station, opposite the inane desk sergeant, I suddenly thought of all the violent prejudices lurking beneath the cosy smugness of our apparently pleasant social surfaces, and pondered how I might most successfully explore this and other similar themes within a short poetical framework..." stepping brightly into a photographer's studio from the 1960s, the photographer in a red-and-black striped sweater, taking photos of a girl with straight dark hair, posing naked against a graffiti-covered wall, the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin suddenly uneasy with the situation, repulsed, turning back, the photographer calling his name, running onto the street like a madman, finding himself unexpectedly naked also, coming face to face with an old man, smelling his fetid breath, staring into his toothless mouth, terrified, all around him (suddenly, unusually) people turning into chairs, chairs into clocks, clocks into trees, trees into tables, tables into dogs, dogs into cars, cars into people, the old man morphing into a giant grey wolf… some utterly unarticulated, secret pleasures of the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin including: 1) "Absurd" sports such as snooker 2) Grand Marnier 3) Crispy pigs' feet (with mushrooms) 4) Perky girls in pig-tails 5) Speculative fiction about American theocracy 6) Cole Porter 7) The sexuality of African people 8) Starsky and Hutch 9) Hampshire 10) Anything by Margaret Drabble... a mild head cold clouding his thoughts, what seems like terminal constipation retching at his stomach: "Clothes are only really important to me in terms of their functionality," he tells himself under his breath, "but these underpants are more symbolic, resonating with deeper meanings...", cold grey stone in colour, edged with golden-brown trim: like an heraldic shield, he notes inwardly, or the armour of a bloody great soldier going into battle... simultaneously opening a letter from the University of East Anglia's Faculty of Misguided Academic Research who have recently made an ecological study of glee in small children (it's common, they've found) and are currently working on an air-tight underpant fitted with charcoal filters to remove noxious gases, informing the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin they wish to name a new wing of the Library after him and eventually hope to house his brain there, some time after his death... grabbing a ball point, ferociously scribbling a letter of acceptance, one draft, not stopping: the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin, born in Leeds in 1949, currently lecturing in English Literature at Hertford College, Oxford, winner of the Somerset Maugham prize in 1977 for his first collection of poetry, A State of Justice, and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1982 for his second, wears the calm expression of an amiable bank manager, hairline scattered gently across his head like hilltop grass, reclining slowly into a circular granite bath, bubbles luxuriant around his naked torso ("There's been a move in our society from utility toward indulging yourself," he has noted), eager to eliminate the natural odours his body has accumulated during the day, recognising immediately the ritualistic element of the whole bathing process, the very air around him pungent with mysterious smells from all corners of the world -- treemoss, grapefruit oil, patchouli -- which somehow seem to induce within him a state of near mediation, or prayer perhaps, remaining highly critical of the way smell has become so commercialised today, observing, "It is a dimension of our lives that we overlook now. We are strongly influenced by smell, but don't know how to describe or categorise it. We are uneducated and ill-disciplined about smell...", suddenly comprehending how the sensual aromatic experience of bathing offers our secularised culture a cheap shot of symbolic atonement, some purification, plus a little rebirth, the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin is reminded momentarily of Lady Macbeth, of Christ's love washing our souls of sin, wiping his wrinkled penis, the colour of mahogany, harmless as a walnut beneath the foaming surface, with one swift movement, using a herbal soap he finds emotionally therapeutic, immersed like an Egyptian High Priest, knees raised slightly, legs subtly parted, mentally revising his next project, The Faber Book of Bad Metonymy, Elaine Showalter next to him in the back of a yellow cab, very pregnant, driving through drab urban streetscapes, twisting roads, decaying buildings, people selling used clothing in the street, old women hanging out of windows, shouting things, children running up to the car, pounding on the windows, the 53-year-old Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin subdued and frightened, not understanding what he's doing here, the cab depositing them by a huge industrial building, slowly making their way up its wrought iron staircase, the two of them, together, ascending to a higher level, hand in hand…