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The Philosophical Phallus

Clive James, 3 May 1984

... Female desire aims to subdue, overcome and pacify the unbridled ambition of the phallus. Roger Scruton The unbridled phallus of the philosopher Was seen last week galloping across the South Downs, Flame spurting from its flared nostril. The phallus being a horse in which Both mane and tail are bunched together at the back end, This unharnessed piece of horseflesh was of necessity unable To accompany with a display of shaken neck-hair The tossing of its head, But the tossing of its head was tremendous nevertheless, Like that of Bucephalus, the steed of Alexander ...
... The book of my enemy has been remainderedAnd I am pleased.In vast quantities it has been remaindered.Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seizedAnd sits in piles in a police warehouse,My enemy’s much-praised effort sits in pilesIn the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aislesOne passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviewsLavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book –For behold, here is that bookAmong these ranks and banks of duds,These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairnsOf complete stiffs ...

Johnny Weissmuller dead in Acapulco

Clive James, 1 March 1984

... Apart possibly from waving hello to the cliff-divers Would the real Tarzan have ever touched Acapulco? Not with a one-hundred-foot vine. Jungle Jim maybe, but the Ape Man never. They played a tape at his funeral In the Valley of Light cemetery of how he had sounded Almost fifty years back giving the pristine ape-call, Which could only remind all present that in decline He would wander distractedly in the garden With his hands to his mouth and the unforgettable cry Coming out like a croak – This when he wasn’t sitting in his swim-trunks Beside the pool he couldn’t enter without nurses ...

Will those responsible come forward?

Clive James, 19 January 1984

... May the Lord have mercy on all those peoples Who suffer from a perversion of religion – Or, to put it in a less equivocating way, Who suffer from an excess of religion – Or, to come right out with it, Who suffer from religion. Let Him tell those catholic protestants or protestant catholics Who in Northern Ireland go to bed on Saturday night Looking forward to a morning of Holy Worship That just this once they should make other plans – Have a heavy cold, a stomach upset or a pulled hamstring Severe enough to render them immobile, With something similar for their children – So that they will not be there to form a congregation In a church just big enough for a small massacre ...

Sack Artist

Clive James, 18 July 1985

... the redhead and the blonde Don Juan caught the eye of the brunette. He had no special mission like James Bond. He didn’t play the lute or read Le Monde. Why was it he on whom their sights were set? For let’s make no mistake, the women pick Which men go down in history as avid Tail-chasers with the enviable trick Of barely needing to chat up the chick ...

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini

Clive James, 17 September 1987

... Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini For I know it tastes as pure as Malvern water, Though laced with bright bubbles like the acqua minerale That melted the kidney stones of Michelangelo As sunlight the snow in spring. Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini In a green Lycergus cup with a sprig of mint, But add no sugar – The bitterness is what I want ...

The Light Well

Clive James, 23 July 1987

... From Playa de Giron the two-lane blacktop Sticks to the shoreline of the Bay of Pigs – The swamp’s fringe on your left showing the sea Through twisted trees, the main swamp on your right – Until the rocks and tangled roots give way To the soft white sand of Playa Larga, The other beach of the invasion. Here Their armour got stopped early. At Giron They pushed their bridgehead inland a few miles And held out for two days ...

The Eternity Man

Clive James, 20 July 1995

... Never filmed, he was photographed only once, Looking up startled into the death-trap flash Like a threatened life-form. Still underlining his copybook one-word message With the flourish that doubled back under the initial ‘E’, He was caught red-eyed with the stark white chalk in his hand Writing Eternity. Before he died in 1967 At the age of eighty-eight He had managed to write it five hundred thousand times, And always in copperplate script ...

To Craig Raine: A Letter from Biarritz

Clive James, 1 October 1981

... Dear Craig,     I’ve brought your books down to the sea In order to catch up with what you’ve done Since first I gasped at your facility For writing Martian postcards home. The sun Illuminates The Onion, Memory Two pages at a time. The beach girls run With naked bosoms on my low horizon And yet yours are the lines I’ve got my eyes on. Not all the time perhaps, but none the less It’s fair to say I’m utterly drawn in ...

A Valediction for Philip Larkin

Clive James, 6 February 1986

... You never travelled much but now you have, Into the land whose brochures you liked least: That drear Bulgaria beyond the grave Where wonders have definitively ceased – Ranked as a dead loss even in the East. Friends will remember until their turn comes What they were doing when the news came through. I landed in Nairobi with eardrums Cracked by the flight from Kichwa Tembo ...

Funnelweb

Clive James, 5 April 1984

... The flame reflected in the welder’s mask Burns the board-rider’s upstage fingertips That cut a swathe across the curved sea-wall Inside the Banzai Pipeline’s tubular swell. Sopranos feel the same fire on their lips Kissing Jochanaan as befits the task. The crank-winged Chance-Vought F4-U Corsair When turning tightly spilled white vortices Behind its wing-tips in the cobalt blue ...

Diary

Clive James: Lord's Day, 7 February 1985

... The first televising of the House of Lords, on 23 January was, I found, a pleasant shock. It might well be that the other viewers consisted entirely of the unemployed, but I doubt if even the most bitter among them felt that time and money were being wasted. Helping to make the broadcast a surprise were one’s expectations, which could not help but be dire ...

Bernard Levin: Book Two

Clive James, 6 December 1979

Taking Sides 
by Bernard Levin.
Cape, 281 pp., £6.50, September 1979, 0 330 26203 3
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... names which are just like Beach-comber’s except that they are not funny. Also he lacks tact. James Agate filled his column with excerpts from Racine but some of his readers could read French. Levin employs Latin tags copiously and almost always leaves them untranslated. I feel pleased at being able to puzzle some of these out, but not as pleased, I ...

Say thank you

Clive James: Witty Words in Pretty Mouths, 23 May 2002

Fast-Talking Dames 
by Maria DiBattista.
Yale, 365 pp., £19.95, June 2001, 0 300 08815 9
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... typical female role model of the conformist period was June Allyson, pouting loyally at home while James Stewart, camped out in the Mojave Desert, manfully concerned himself with the creation of the Strategic Air Command – a theme that took advantage of the B-36’s capacity to fill the Cinemascope screen. The letterbox format was less suited to June ...

Diary

Clive James, 20 May 1982

... As Amersham achieves Privatisation And sells the way hot cakes do when dirt cheap We realise with a sickening sensation, As of a skier on a slope too steep, That if the soundest firms owned by the nation Are flogged, the duds are all we’ll get to keep – And when the auction ends they’ll sell the hammer. We’re heading downhill faster than Franz Klammer ...

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