In Tom Pickard's new mini-memoir, More Pricks Than Prizes (just out from Pressed Wafer), he tells the story of how even as a garlanded poet, he was poor enough to have gotten rather desperately mixed up with some drug importers years ago. He narrates a tale dark and comic enough to come straight from Dickens in which at one point, the drug dealers have to find several hundred kilos of dead weight to fill out a swapped shipment that would be labeled "personal goods" on a customs form. In place of the original plan to fill dope-emptied crates with hand-carved African dolls ("too incongruous to serve that description"), poet Pickard suggested books. And so he sold them all the volumes he had of Strand Magazine (which only occupied ten kilos), an incomplete set of the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and a set of the Times History of World War I.
More ballast was required, so off the conspirators went to a second-hand bookshop in Marylebone, where they purchased three dozen bound volumes of Punch and ten volumes of Boys Own. Not enough still. They proceeded to another shop in Farringdon Road where they bought more sets of the Times History and some works about religion. Alas, 250 more kilos had to be made up. And so, much to the bliss of an ancient bookseller, they acquired - in Tom's inimitable description:
... space wasting dust gathering, back breaking, spirit deadening unread and unreadable religious and military texts; all those pounds of printed pages by puffing parsons, anaemic academics, bloated bishops, geriatric generals, corpulent combatants and high ranking haemorrhoidal heroes. All that catechistic cataplasm, that militarist mucus, that pedantic pus from festering farts. The engaging entrails of emetic ambassadors, pestiferous papers by prudish pedagogues. I struggled to the wagon with arms full of books...
- and still more was needed -
... so I purchased conquering chronicles by conceited commanders, acned abortions by abstemious abstractors, asphyxiating articles by arthritic archbishops, bromicidal broadsides by bumptious broadcasters, asthmatic excretions by abject aesthetes, moralising morsels from mealy mouthed manufacturers, windy waffle from former centre forwards, bird brained banter by juiced-up journos, celebrity cackle from coked-up cacky-crammed crack heads, pontificating prime-time poseurs promoting puffed-up personalities, mendacious manuals by manic muff munching mullahs, post-modern pancakes flipped from non-stick pans stuck to the threadbare ceiling of their own gravity defying gravitas. And it still wasn't enough so I bought the works of talk show hosts, canting sofa cunts coughing up chintzy chunder, bloated volumes by toady poets who sit in circles blowing prizes up each others arseholes with straws - until we'd filled the crates.
Sounds like all those best-of-year lists, no?
At his subsequent trial, former Wing Commander Basil Bunting would testify in his favor. He was acquitted.
No, PoBiz has never been easy!
Life is very strange, and the universe is very small...
as Apollinaire wrote to his beloved Madeleine in 1915. Stationed in the trenches during WWI, he was surprised to hear from a correspondent in Spain that "it would seem that there is more interest in French poetry in Germany than here [in France];" as the Spaniard reported:
"I have read an article in a Spanish paper which mentions Paul Fort, you, and Romain Rolland as writers to whom much attention is being paid in Germany at the moment. Apparently German reviews have even been publishing old things of yours."
About this Apollinaire mused in a letter to Madeleine dated 18 July that when it was all over, it would
"... become clear that the preservation of French literature during the war was the work of the other side. [...] But those devils are well placed to be art lovers. They hardly had any before the war, and the German avant-garde poets spent the last year of peace paraphrasing 'Zone,' the first poem in Alcools: they even produced a very handsome edition of the poem (in translation of course), complete with a very nice-looking illustrated cover, printed up 15,000 copies, sent me 5 and sold the remainder in a week at 75 centimes a copy, never having bothered to ask my permission to publish and never even offering to buy the rights from me and turning a deaf ear to all my claims for remuneration. There you have another example of what great lovers of Art the Germans are. When they are not burning down some French cathedral they turn to stealing from French poets."
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation, as Burns would have said; plus ça change, as a bad editor I once knew inevitably put it...