Friday 1 April 2016

"Shakespeare never went to Venice, Homer never went to Troy, Dante never went to Hell"; Christopher Logue (1926-2011) Kensal Green Cemetery

“Astounding. I bought this volume this morning for thirty pence from a charity shop in West Norwood - never having heard of Christopher Logue - and consumed it in the space of one afternoon and evening. Great to feel again - after too long - the quickening that great writing can put into your step, your imagination and your heart. Bought me to tears as I finished the first section at two o'clock in Brockwell Park. Nine o'clock now and I have (for the first time) finished the whole thing and - with gratitude - discovered that there is MORE of this guys 'translation' of Homer to read. A great day; thank you Christopher Logue...”
Amazon review of “Cold Calls”

Christopher Logue spent 40 years working on his adaptation of the Iliad. My copy of “Kings”, his version of Book’s I and II, cost me a derisory 29 pence though I did have to spend a couple of quid on postage and packing. It was a 20 year old second hand copy but it was in almost pristine condition apart from what I assumed at first glance was a previous owners name scrawled proprietarily across the title page. A second glance revealed the signature to be ‘Christopher Logue’ and when I turned the page to the edition notice it told me that “This revised text first published in a signed limited edition in 1992 by…Turret Books, 42 Lambs Conduit Street.” If a 30 pence copy of “Cold Calls” and a 29 pence signed limited edition of “Kings” don’t constitute irrefutable evidence that Christopher Logue is our most undervalued writer, I don’t know what does.

Logue photographed at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969 (he really did get everywhere)

He was born in Portsmouth and was educated in Catholic schools in Portsmouth and Bath. By his own accounts he had a wayward childhood and a delinquent youth; he told an interviewer from the Paris Review that he stole “money from my mother’s purse, or my father’s pockets, things from shops—semipornographic magazines, expensive toys, and sweets—and then I would be caught and punished. Once I was taken to a juvenile court. When the time came for me to appear, my father came with me with his retirement certificate—he was a civil servant, working in the post office for forty-five years—wrapped in brown paper under his arm. He unwrapped it and showed it to the magistrates. I felt incredibly proud of him, and terribly ashamed of myself.”

His explanation of how he came to be a poet was simple; it was down to Miss Crowe, his elocution mistress. “As a child I had a deep voice. People would comment. My mother wanted me to be a priest or an actor, but seeing that there wasn’t much chance of the priesthood, she plumped for acting and sent me for elocution lessons. Miss Crowe was an attractive woman. I used to sit on the floor and look up her skirt—and that’s how I became a poet.”

As Cardinal Richelieu, about to be shot by Louis Quatorze in "The Devils" 

After leaving school he eschewed university in favour of the army. When they wouldn’t let him join the commandos he enlisted in the Black Watch where his posh accent got him dubbed ‘Charlotte’ by the other squaddies. He served in Palestine and managed to earn himself a 16 month prison sentence and a dishonorable discharge by stealing six army paybooks; “It was an act of spiteful masochism,” he said later “I had … illegally, obtained six army paybooks, which were also identity documents. I announced to everyone in my tent that I planned to sell them to the Jews. I knew no Jews. I hardly knew what the word Jew meant. But I identified with those my side was against.” After leaving the army he returned home and lived on National Assistance or worked as a park keeper and dentist’s receptionist until he could earn a living as a poet. In 1951 he went to Paris, fell in love with a Brazilian girl and published his first book of poems a couple of years later.

In the bath with a friend

He had a rather colourful life; he was on the first Aldermaston march with Bertrand Russell, served his second prison sentence, just a month this time, in open prison for taking part in a sit in in Parliament Square in 1961, and collaborated with Arnold Wesker to bring art to the workers on the factory floors. He worked with Lindsey Anderson at the Royal Court Theatre, recorded an album of Pablo Neruda translations with a jazz backing with George Martin when the producer wasn’t required by the Beatles, and wrote the famous Pseud’s Corner and True Stories columns for Private Eye (“The Journal of the American Library Association has announced the publication of Playboy Magazine in a Braille edition.” 5 June 1970). He appeared as an actor in several films, his parts included Cardinal Richelieu in Ken Russell’s “The Devils” and a spaghetti eating maniac in Terry Gilliam’s “Jabberwocky.” In his younger days in Paris he wrote two books under the name Count Palmiro Vicarion for the Olympia Press, a pornographic secret agent novel called “Lust” and  a “Book of Bawdy Ballads (“Acknowledgements: Many poets have helped me collect this book. I would like to thank in particular Madame Desiree Noblock of London and Mr. Gregory Kont of Bayswater.” A typical offering; There was a young man from Nantucket,  Whose p***k was so long he could suck it,  He said with a grin,  As he wiped off his chin, “If my ear were a c**t, I could f**k it.”).

Logue married the historian Rosemary Hill in 1985. His Portland stone gravestone was designed by his friend the architectural critic Gavin Stamp and made by Stephen Lane of the Stone Arts & Crafts Company. The verse is a stanza from one of Logue’s own poems ‘O come all ye faithful’:

Those who are sure of love
Do not complain
For sure of love is sure
Love comes again

When Rosemary married Gavin in 2014 I’m sure he didn’t complain. 

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