March 2nd, 2010


For Caro

This is probably the first of a series of elegies for impossible women who affected me a lot.

Not my muse, clearly. Caroline was drunk
Vodka and malice were her nightly food
And yet her work could be so bloody good -
a style taut and electric as the bones
that made her lovely even in decay
sodden old age lit once or twice a day
by what had been, what canvases still show
beauty laid over crone for time to carve
passion for joy that too much joy would starve
a killing fun, that breaks as you enjoy
each moment costing wisdom how to live
in happiness, and in return will give
genius for pain, and talent to dissect.
She was so cruel with a sort of truth
served anger envy, never joy or youth.
Broke hearts, shattered her own elegantly
bright fragments shone as tears around her neck
jewels of style to decorate the wreck
that years and vodka made her.Husbands saw
her cat, or sharp-toothed siren or as line
of perfect harmony. Hard to divine
what she'd have been with will to choose her fate
rather than live for men, and booze, with art
only a thing she did and never part
of who she was. She taught me, at her feet
sozzled on her divan, the art to sneer
pleasure of self-contempt, seductive fear
of never getting life or art quite right
One of my goads, the voices in my head
not good enough, lazy, and underbred
so fuck you, lady, also thanks a pile.
For booze and bitch, for lessoning me hard
in fucking up and getting some things right
how beauty, talent, grace can still be marred
by dark self-will and still give sullen light.
Not muse, she was my Fury for a while.

I knew Caroline Blackwood partly because she dated one of my friends who was a lot younger than her and partly through her work, some of which I had already read when I met her, and partly through the portraits of her by her first husband Lucien Freud when she was young, and the poems Robert Lowell wrote about her in middle age. She was awesome and horrid and scary and part of a world of major art and mega-poshness that I never expected to inhabit even for moments. She was also a bit of a nightmare, someone who would ring you up and tear you apart just because she felt like it, and then insist on your coming over for hours of sozzled apologies.

She wrote several very good books of memoirs shading into fiction or the other way round, and eventually went off to the US and finished the job of drinking herself to death. I loved her, I hated her and I miss her.

The other sparrow poem

This is just a piece of fluff, but then, so is the original:

Sparrow my lover's delight
playing then holding on tight
to her finger, and pecking at corn
beak pecking her flesh like a thorn
I'd prefer that I could make her smile
and lighten her gloom for a while
like you do. But at least she has you
and for now that will just have to do