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Two PoemsBrian Oxley
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Edwin Muir at Leuchars Junction

I think of Edwin Muir
in the darkness before dawn at Leuchars Junction
commuting to the Food Office in Dundee.

Where had he lost his way,
the track of vision lost in chaos
as Glasgow swallowed once the track of childhood?

A precarious order collapsed
like those houses in St Andrews bombed last night;
Kafka, from an interpreter of divine meanings
become a writer of fictions, allegories of invention.

No, not lost – light of a kind
raises a world out of nothing –
not lost beyond invention, the last resource
discovering a half-blighted paradise
(warplanes too will be part of the fable
and the strange blessings that rain in the night).
He resumes his journey in the Vale of Eden.

Thank you for your letter

and the small gift, that metonymy
which was as wonderful in its way
as the seeming-dead twig from the Kalahari
which sprouted green in a tooth-mug here.
It was better than nothing, though in this
as in erotica too much is preferred to too little;
and its no more true than of hashish
what devotees said in the Age of Faith (the Sixties)
that you can get higher on smaller and smaller doses
till zero brings complete euphoria.

God, I believe, abhors inanition –
he floated, not levitated, Noah’s ark,
and I know what water my dry frame requires.
In this third decade of our history
the appetite and need do not diminish.

But there were dreams and dreamers abroad in those days,
the Sixties I mean, paradise was a bus-ride away
that now has passed
beyond an horizon of wars and closed borders,
the yellow-brick road
abandoned to tank-battles and AIDS carriers;
and it can hardly be imagined any more
with any clarity
except from purgatorial distances
in places such as this
where once in ten years
a desert-traveller may catch a scent of it
wafted from a passing angel, as I
from a sliver of satin in an airmail letter.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 6 No. 11 · 21 June 1984

SIR: You published recently a poem of Brian Oxley’s (LRB, 5 April) in which gay men are dehumanised by metonymy into ‘AIDS carriers’. In asserting that ‘the yellow-brick road’ has been ‘abandoned to tank-battles and AIDS carriers’ Mr Oxley alludes to the popularity among gay men of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, and implies that they live, these irresponsible lepers, in a Wizard of Oz world of unreality. I presume that you were unaware of the scurrility involved in his words when you vetted them for publication, and hope that it is unnecessary to remind you that from rhetoric of this sort Auschwitz is ‘only a bus-ride away’.

Angus Macdonald
Thunder Bay, Ontario

Brian Oxley writes: It goes against the grain to defend or explain one of my own pieces of verse. I write as well and as clearly as I can. After that, judgment and interpretation belong to the reader. However, on the basis of a misunderstanding, Mr Macdonald suggests that I am anti-gay and fascist, and this requires an answer. The poem has no special reference to gays. I used AIDS as a new and frightening venereal disease poisoning the dream of untrammelled sexuality. I would apologise to gays who took this to refer specifically to them. It is news to me that The Wizard of Oz is specially popular among gay men. The context makes clear that I am writing about the naive mythology of the Sixties. The yellow brick road stands for the various shortcuts to paradise on offer in those days, particularly that of travel to the mystic East. The overland route is now closed by trouble in the Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan. In many cases, what lies over the rainbow has been horribly degraded. More Westerners now head for the brothels of Bangkok than the ashrams of India, and return with herpes rather than enlightenment. The rhetoric in question is not mine but that of the Beatles, Timothy Leary, the Charismatic Movement, and others. The poem says their dreams were delusions, which I find very sad.

The reference to Auschwitz is uncalled for. Here, if you like, is an abuse of language – in the use of the name as a war cry by groups whose position is very different from that of the victims of the Nazis. As a response to the poem it is far too serious. In the politics of language, unremitting seriousness is oppressive. There has to be room in poetry for bad taste, playfulness, scurrility, if poetry is to be liberated and liberating.

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

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