Of Poets, Piss-heads and Pot-Head Pixies

It is very difficult to get any publishing work done in the office sometimes, when the Managing Editor starts blasting rock music out of his office at ear-splitting volume.  He loves Daevid Allen’s group Gong and we are forced to listen to the track “Pot-Head Pixies” (from the album Flying Teapot) over and over. 

Flying Teapot piloted by a Pot-Head Pixie

Flying Teapot piloted by a Pot-Head Pixie

The only way to make him relent is to suggest we adjourn to a local hostelry for an editorial meeting.  His only query is “Who’s buying?”

Not that he’s mean, he can be expansive, if not expensive, in buying drinks for the staff at times, particularly when entertaining our female interns, but he loves to tell the story of one of his publishing heroes, the eccentric R. A. Caton of the Fortune Press,R. A. Caton bibliography who often used to discuss dining at Mayfair’s Mirabelle restaurant (one of the most expensive restaurants in London at the time) with his friend Timothy d’Arch Smith, who was quite keen.  But it never happened, according to d’Arch Smith, due to “a mutual vagueness about who would pay the bill.” 

The worst aspect of these boozy afternoons, though, is when he claims to be at heart an artist.  We all think, ‘Yeah, a piss artist!’  Sensing this, he never fails to remind us he is a published poet and even won a poetry competition once.  But he has always been vague about the details.  So we gave one of our interns the task of finding some evidence of these claims.  After some months of research in the bowels of London University, she hit pay dirt!  A poem called Au Printemps by one John B. Murray was joint winner of the University of London Union Sennet newspaper 1974 annual Poetry Competition and was published in the Sennet Literary Supplement (20 November 1974).  We were incredulous when we read it.  Was this piss-head really the author of this poem?

We got our prettiest intern to buy him several large gin and tonics and get him to give us the background to this peculiar literary work.  She recorded these comments: 

“Ah yes, well, you see it was my first trip to Paris and I had had a few too many drinks, I think, and saw a lot of ladies of the night hanging around the street corners in Rue Saint-Denis.  Later, I found myself in front of Notre Dame and in my alcoholic confusion I saw a strange connection between these two oh-so-French sights, and the poem came out of that.  I must say, when I sobered up, I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but I was much under the influence of Andre Breton’s surrealist poetry in those days,Selected Poems thanks to that wonderful little collection with the pink cover published by Jonathan Cape, Selected Poems.

“I was surprised when it was selected for publication in the competition. I sent in four poems and I thought the others were better. I did not even have to buy the judges a drink, as I never met them.  But it did encourage me to complete a book of erotic poetry.”

“I had met well-regarded poet Gavin Ewart, known as the ‘laureate of lust’, at a National Book League cocktail party and asked him about the Fortune Press, which published his first book of poetry.  He recalled visiting Reginald Ashley Caton in his Pimlico office, which was quite squalid.  Caton had a ‘dead cup of tea’ on his desk.  He said he knew or guessed that Caton was gay.  Caton had requested that Ewart write a novel, ‘something homo’, for Fortune Press. Ewart was, however, impressed that when his book was published, there was ‘not a single literal’ (i.e. mis-spelling or typing error)…odd, as Caton had a reputation for carelessness.”

“Anyway, I asked Ewart for advice about my poems.  He warned me most first collections of poetry are ‘rubbish’ but offered to read mine and give an opinion.  He quite liked them as it turned out. (‘There are some very successful individual lines and images.  The effect of these poems is largely cumulative.’  Just like the films of Jess Franco, I thought.)  Ewart advised me to send them to poetry publishers Faber and to say he ‘thought them worthy of serious consideration.’  When they read them, they shovelled them right back post haste with the rude comment ‘We can’t agree with Gavin Ewart’s opinion’…Philistines!  I have been thinking of publishing that volume of poems one day.”

The prospect of a whole book of such poems fills the staff with horror and we continually try to divert his attention from such a doomed project by suggesting we retire to the Bunch of Grapes, a stratagem which never fails…..

Au Printemps       by John B. Murray

Irma of the streets

Whatever is your trade name

To your purse strings does Notre Dame

Of lateral inspection

Flat upon my back

In excess of spirit

Employ grinning gargoyle features

Of notional

Trans-oceanic technique

Religiously surveying

My pedestrian mileage

To impel my faculties

Of allegiance

Another recruiting agent

For the body

Of prostitution this church

Commanding your regular attendance

On merits solely


Procurer of the procured

O my guardian angel

Of wayward leanings

By discreet alleyway walls

Wearing upon your sleeve

A furtive emblem

Of heart-worn commerce

Your umbilical prayer



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