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Kingsley Amis and Nick Cave

December 8, 2011

Men on the prowl

Amis’s poem A Song of Experience, from his collection A Case of Samples and Nick Cave’s second novel The Death of Bunny Munro mine similar psychopathology – predatory males. Bad Seeds‘ frontman, Cave, expands on the pleasures of male lust at greater length than Amis. He expands on the pains and embarrassments at greater length too; novels are longer than poems.

Here is the poem.

A quiet start: the tavern, our small party,
A dark-eyed traveller drinking on his own;
We asked him over when the talk turned hearty,
And let him tell of women he had known.

He tried all colours, white and black and coffee;
Though quite a few were chary, more were bold;
Some took it like the Host, some like a toffee;
The two or three who wept were soon consoled.

For seven long years his fancies were tormented
By one he often wheedled, but in vain;
At last, oh Christ in heaven, she consented,
And the next day he journeyed on again.

The inaccessible he laid a hand on,
The heated he refreshed, the cold he warmed.
What Blake presaged, what Lawrence took a stand on,
What Yeats locked up in fable, he performed.

And so he knew, where we can only fumble,
Wildly in daydreams, vulgarly in art;
Miles past the point where all delusions crumble
He found the female and the human heart.

Then love was velvet on a hand of iron
That wrenched the panting lover from his aim
Lion rose up as lamb and lamb as lion,
Nausicaa and Circe were the same.

What counter images, what cold abstraction
Could start to quench that living element,
The flash of prophesy, the glare of action?
—He drained his liquor, paid his score and went.

I saw him, brisk in May, in Juliet’s weather,
Hitch up the trousers of his long-tailed suit,
Polish his windscreen with a chamois-leather,
And stow his case of samples in the boot.

And Cave’s novel? Another sex-crazed salesman descends into hell after his wife’s death – debauchery, set off by poignant scenes with his son along the way. Here’s a quote: “Spin Me Around, Kylie Minogue’s orgiastic paen to buggery”. Listen to Cave read from the novel here.

Jim Thornton

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