Wednesday, 2 September 2009

tastes like bitter lemons and judgement day

Taste is such a strange thing. Why is it that we’re so defensive about our individual tastes in music, literature, and members of the opposite sex when, even in one lifetime, these tastes will change many times. Okay, so taste in whatever is a great tool. We make snap judgements about people we might not know so well by nosily browsing their bookshelves or iTunes library because it’s easy, fast, and occasionally useful. It’s rather odd, but most people feel a bit hesitant about sharing these things with others. Fine art seems to be the one area where we get away with making grandiose judgements: “that Turner exhibition was ABSOLUTELY awful,” you sigh to your friend who promises not to see it. Nobody really seems to get that offended – we don’t align ourselves to artists the way we do poets or singer-songwriters who ‘understand what we’re going through’. Blah blah blah.

Compare the first time you listen to music at your boyfriend’s house. He puts on some art-house indy-rock band music that you can’t stand. No way are you going to tell him how much you hate it, for fear you might crush the fledgling buds of romance. No matter that you might find, in a few months time, no doubt after many listens, that you’ve become a skinny-jean wearing, indy-rock devotee. No more Tori Amos for you.

This is what I mean: why are we so defensive of our own tastes when they so often change depending on what we’re exposed to. Humans are the most forward-thinking, constantly evolving, creatures of habit in the world. How remarkable that we, in so many ways, stay the same, and yet alter our appearance, our tastes, our partners, our jobs, all the time.

What brought these ramblings on? A break up and a poet. I thought my partner was a decent chap. It turns out I was mistaken. I thought I didn’t like the poet Auden. Also mistaken.

Regular readers will know that I am a devoted fan of the Josephine Hart poetry nights put on at the British Library. It must have been about six months ago now that I went to the Auden evening, which as I wrote here, was very enjoyable. Hart also produces CDs of the British Library readings. I recently purchased the first collection called Catching Life by the Throat which features Ralph Finnes reading a selection of Auden poems. Unfortunately the sound quality of the recordings leaves much to be desired but Finnes is an excellent reader and Auden suits him particularly well.

Auden is cheeky, witty, snappy and incredibly poignant – don’t know how I missed that the first few times around. There’s a whiff of melancholia that I’m particularly drawn to, an almost elegiac quality in some poems, particularly: Lullaby; September 1, 1939; and O Tell Me the Truth About Love.

My favourite poem though has to be Song of the Devil. It’s laugh out loud hilarious and brilliantly clever. I can’t find it anywhere online so I’ve transcribed a very messy version below from the recording. I haven’t a copy of the poem in print, so I have no idea where the line breaks or even punctuation should go, but it’s a really funny, fantastic poem, read superbly by Finnes on the recording.

So it turns out, some things really are worth a second chance. Worth an adjustment of taste. Then again, some definitely aren’t.

Song of the Devil

Ever since observation taught me temptation
As a matter of timing, I’ve tried to clothe my fiction
In up to date diction. The contemporary jargon of
pride. I can recall when, to win the more obstinate
round, the best bet was to say to them:
sin the more that grace may abound.

Since social psychology replaces theology
The process goes twice as quick. If a conscience
Is tender and loathe to surrender, I had only
To whisper: you’re sick.
Puritanical morality is madly non-U.
Enhance your personality with a romance, with two.
If you pass up a dame, you’ve yourself to blame,
For shame is neurotic, so snatch.

All rules are too formal. In fact, they’re abnormal,
For any desire is natch. So take your proper share,
Man of dope and drink, aren’t you the chairman of
Ego Inc? Free will is a mystical myth as statistical
Methods have objectively shown: a fad of the churches.
Since the latest researches into motivation, it’s known
That honour is hypocrisy, honesty a joke. You live in
A democracy: lie like other folk.

Since men are like goods, what are shouldn’ts
or shoulds when you are the leading brand.
Let them all drop dead, you’re way ahead.
Beat them up if they dare to demand what may
Your intention be or what might ensue. There’s a
Difference of dimension between me and you.
If in the scrimmage of business your image should
Ever tarnish or stale, public relations can take it and
Make it shine like a knight of the grail.

You can mark up the price that you sell at
If you are packaged as glamour and show.
Values are relative, dough is dough. So,
Let each while he may think you’re more okay,
More yourself than anyone else. Till you find that
You’re hooked, your goose is cooked and you’re
Only a cipher of hells. Believe while you can that
I’m proud of you. Enjoy your dream. I’m so bored
With the whole fucking crowd of you I could scream.

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