Thursday, 9 October 2014

POET OF THE MONTH #21: Kingsley Amis



Between the Gardening and the Cookery
Comes the brief Poetry shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
Offers itself.

Critical, and with nothing else to do,
I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
Landscape Near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
So does Rilke and Buddha.

'I travel, you see', 'I think' and 'I can read'
These titles seem to say;
But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,
Poem for J.,

The ladies’ choice, discountenance my patter
For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
Or squash it flat?
Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart;
Girls aren’t like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
Can get by without it.
Women don’t seem to think that’s good enough;
They write about it.

And the awful way their poems lay them open
Just doesn’t strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times
We stayed up half the night
Chock-full of love, crammed with bright thoughts, names, rhymes,
And couldn’t write.

from Collected Poems 1944-1979 (1980)

The Poet:  Kingsley Amis was born in South London in 1922 to lower middle-class parents who could never quite come to terms with the fact that they weren't as genteel as they pretended to be.  He was drafted into the British Army in 1942, interrupting the scholarship he'd won to read English at Oxford University to serve in the Signal Corps in northern France.  He published several poems while at Oxford and also began his friendship with fellow poet Philip Larkin – a friendship that was to endure for the rest of their lives and go on to become one of the most celebrated in all of modern English literature.

Amis married Hilary (known to everyone as ‘Hilly’) Bardwell in 1948 and moved to Swansea with her after receiving his degree, where he worked as a university lecturer for the next few years while writing his first unpublished novel.  His first published novel was the groundbreaking Lucky Jim, which appeared in 1954 and was immediately hailed as a classic by the critics, becoming a bestseller among the young, who had apparently been waiting for a book which poked fun at universities and other previously off-limits symbols of Establishment (with a capital 'E') authority.  The book subsequently became, along with John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger, one of the cornerstones of what was known as the ‘Angry Young Man’ movement a label Amis disliked and hotly disputed whenever critics attempted to apply it to his work. 

Despite producing three children together – Philip, the future prize-winning novelist Martin, and Sally – Amis and the long-suffering Hilly (he was by this time an alcoholic and a serial philanderer who still got upset after learning that she had been having an affair of her own) divorced in 1965 so he could marry fellow novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, who would leave him in 1980 and go on to divorce him three years later, citing ‘unreasonable differences’ as the reason for their split.  Amis proved to be a prolific, funny and increasingly curmudgeonly writer throughout his career, publishing almost one novel per year until his death in 1995, including The Old Devils which won the 1986 Booker Prize for fiction and was later successfully adapted for television. 

In addition to his novels and Collected Short Stories, Amis also published a memoir, several volumes of poetry, non-fiction on subjects ranging from science fiction to his ultimately disastrous love of alcohol, a James Bond novel (titled Colonel Sun and published under the pseudonym 'Robert Markham’) as well as editing two poetry anthologies including the highly regarded The New Oxford Book of Light English Verse.  He was the most famous man of letters of his generation and was knighted for his services to British literature in 1990.  A major biography by Zachary Leader, who also edited his Collected Letters, was published by Johnathon Cape in 2006.

Click HERE to read more poems by KINGSLEY AMIS at the website.

You might also enjoy:
KINGSLEY AMIS That Uncertain Feeling (1955)
POET OF THE MONTH #20: Anna Świrszczyńska
POET OF THE MONTH #4: Ford Madox Ford

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