Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Betjeman

Ok, now that may look like a bit of an unexpected title for a blog such as this, but after my experience at the Ilkley Literature Festival the other day I can see there may be some similarities between the persona created by the poet in his writings and that of a certain male Rubberfish character.

 I was invited to be part of a group 6 people performing a celebration of the works of John Betjeman by local author Alan Hall, who had put together a selection of poetry and prose with a lively commentary giving a picture of Betjeman's life, career and fascination with the English way of life. It was his personal life and adoration of amazon-esque sporty women that took my interest, especially when I read the wonderfully romantic and nonetheless humorous poem "The Liquorice Fields at Pontefract", which I felt had Swat like connotations:

 "Her sulky lips were shaped for sin, 
 Her sturdy legs were flannel-slack'd 
 The strongest legs in Pontefract." 

 Alan's commentary described the character in this and other poems as being "a rather feeble male narrator gazing with admiration at a strong and capable young woman, or being outplayed and outshone by an athletic amazon – happy to be dominated by her", and went on to point out that this theme of "jolly hockeysticks girl who dominates the rather ineffectual male narrator" is repeated across other poems that we may wonder that that this is indeed the true voice of Betjeman. Both 'Pot Pourri from a Surrey Garden" and "A Subaltern’s Love Song" feature forceful almost amazonian characters, and the 'The Olympic Girl' with its lines:

"The sort of girl I like to see 
Smiles down from her great height at me. 
She stands in strong athletic pose..."

could be a description of Ms Swat. I felt I may have been channeling her when I got to read 'The Liquorice Fields'.

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