Category Archives: poetry

swimming in cold water

North Haven

I’m off to Maine so that is what is on my mind. I won’t be back until the 18th but I may say hello before then. I was going to leave you with a poem about North Haven by Elizabeth Bishop, who spent some of her summers there, but it’s in memoriam for Robert Lowell and it’s such a downer. I’ll leave you with a poem about unspecified Maine islands instead.

Alastair Reid, Maine Coast

Maine Coast by Alastair Reid, from the June 28, 1952 issue of The New Yorker.

loved-up poets : No. 2 in a series

It’s been ages since I’ve done one of these posts. This is only the second in the series; the first is here. Today we’re going to have a look at Ballade of Boys Bathing by Frederick Rolfe, who I love. This is not a favorite poem for me and I think Rolfe’s novels are far, far more interesting than his verse, but it is interesting in a curio sense — Rolfe’s painting of the scene he describes in the poem is the same painting he puts in a place of honor on George Arthur Rose’s mantle in Hadrian the Seventh — and it fits with the briny theme this blog has lately.

As far as I can tell it does not appear anywhere else on the internet. The poem as seen below comes from my 1974 copy of Rolfe’s Collected Poems. I suspected it would also appear in my copy of Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850 to 1900 and sure enough, there it is on p. 226, right after Mark André Raffalovich’s “Put on that Languor.” There is a 1972 four-page edition of the poem privately printed by “an admirer” but it looks difficult to come by.

Click on any of the pages to see them larger on Flickr.

Collected Poems title page

Ballade of Boys Bathing

Eh, hmm. I suppose the painting is as fit as any for a future Pope to keep on his mantle. The boys are wearing swimsuits after all so it is very chaste.

Ballade of Boys Bathing painting

Ballade of Boys Bathing notes

Did you know that Stephen Fry used to belong to a “a most extraordinary circle of intellectuals who met regularly in the bar of a small hotel and discussed avidly the works of Frederick Rolfe, the infamous Baron Corvo”? Apparently he did, here, have a look at this Bookride post about it. (I am linking to the cached page because I sometimes have trouble reading that blog in the more usual manner). The circle produced a zine called The Failiure Press, to which young Fry contributed crosswood puzzles. Where are all the new Corvo zines, am I writing one? Who is responsible for the crossword section and why have they been so secretive about it?

An unrelated bonus for anyone who gets nervous about very gay poetry about bare boys, here is an old photo of the Penn State homophile club having a pro-homo parade, for you to tuck away in a special place. Photo via Vintage Lesbian.

Penn State homophiles

loved-up poets, exhibit A

The first in a series which may vary with mood, season, inspiration, materials found.

ring a ding ding
bronze winged phallus from the 1st century AD via the Guardian

The rich ores of that barely conscious cry
Forge instantly, spear-sharp, to accuracy:

Not love, or not yet love, the sacred act
Speaks to that ‘worship’, passionate, exact.

The truly human action which of all
Seems most material, most animal,

This rite of adoration, thigh to thigh,
Creates the star-strewn goddess, the deep sky:

What all those churches shoddily declare
When the theologians smoulder, mystics flare,

The long-limbed, clear-eyed Stranger, worshipped in
Incense of breath or transubstantial skin

– excerpt from Statement by Robert Conquest. Read the rest here, and interesting profiles of him — card-carrying communist at Oxford, Thatcher speechwriter, historian, friend of Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, editor of science fiction anthologies, composer of limericks — here and here.