Christopher Logue

Poetry is in the news today.

Yesterday’s announcement that the 23rd  Poet laureate is to be Carol Anne Duffy has generated as much comment about her sexual orientation as the undoubted quality of her verse.

But that’s not the point of this post.

I don’t know why but all the stuff in the papers reminded of a very rare recording I heard years ago the poet Christopher Logue with a Jazz group led by the drummer Tony Kinsey.

Christopher Logue is now in his eighties and is probably best known as a regular contributor to the satirical magazine Private Eye (to which I have not yet cancelled my subscription). Among other things in the Eye, he edits the hilarious Pseuds Corner, a collection of the most pretentious drivel culled from newspapers and magazines.

But he’s also a fine poet in his own right and has been for many years.

The first time I heard this old recording made in the late 1950s, I didn’t listen very carefully to the words. I thought it was just a very funny skit – a posh British guy doing beat poems couldn’t possibly be serious, could it?   Especially if it sounds like Allen Ginsberg meets Julian Clary…

..but listening to it again, and especially studying the words it’s grown on me so much I now think it’s a minor masterpiece.

large_8be9743ce0f84fa88d982cbdb1949b9cThere is an audio-only version on Youtube, but it refuses to be embedded. Click here if you want to hear the performance on record.

Now read the lyrics:

1.

Lithe girl, brown girl
Sun that makes apples, stiffens the wheat
Made your body a joy
Tongue like a red bird dancing on ivory
To stretch your arm
Sun grabs at your hair
Like water was falling

Tantalize the sun if you dare
It will leave shadows that match you
Everywhere
Lithe girl, brown girl
Nothing draws me towards you
The heat within you beats me home
Like the sun at high noon

Knowing these things
Perhaps through
Knowing these things
I seek you out
Listening for your voice
For the brush of your arms against wheat
For your step among poppies grown underwater
Lithe girl, brown girl

2.

Steep gloom among pine trees
Waves’ surge breaking
Slow lights that interweave
A single bell

As the day’s end falls into your eyes
The earth starts singing in your body
As the waves sing in a white shell
And the rivers sing within you
And I grow outwards on them
As you direct them
Whither you make them run

I follow for you like a hare
Running reared upright to the hunter’s drum
You turn about me like a belt of clouds
the silence, though it is stupid
Mocks the hours I lay
Troubled by…… nothing

Your arms – translucent stones wherein I lie
Exhausted
And future kisses
Die
Lust
Your mysterious voice
Folds close echoes
That shift throughout the night
Much as the wind
Which moves darkly over the profitable fields
Folds down the wheat
From all its height

3.

In the hot depth of summer
The morning is close, storm-filled
Clouds shift -
White rags waving goodbye
Shaken by the frantic wind as it goes and
As it goes
The wind throbs over us
Love-making silenced

Among the trees like a tongue singing
A warning or just singing the wind throbs
And the quick sparrow’s flight is slapped by the wind
Swift thief destructive as waves
Weightless without form
Struck through and through with flame
Which breaks
Soughing its strength out
At the gates of the enormous, silent, summer wind

4.

That you may hear me
My words narrow occasionally
Like gull-tracks in the sand

Or I let them become
Tuneful beads
Mixed with the sound

Of a drunk hawk’s bell
Flick me your wrists…..
Soft as grape skin – yes

Softer than grapeskin I make them
Which is a kind of treachery against the world

Yet
You who clamber
Over all the desolations of mine
Gentle as ivy
Eat the words’ meaning

Before you came to me
Words were all that you now occupy
And now they’re no more these words
Than ever they knew of my sadness

Yet
Sometimes
Force and dead anguish still drags them
And yes

Malevolent dreams still betimes
Overwhelm them and then

In my bruised voice
You hear other bruised voices
Old agues crying out of old mouths

Do not be angry with me
Lest the wave of that anguish
Drown me again

Even as I sit
Threading a collar of beads for your hands
Softer than grape skin
Hung with a drunk hawk’s bell

I think these are beautiful poems made even more effective by the musical setting. In fact they are loose re-workings of some of the famous love poems of Pablo Neruda. Logue moved far away from the Neruda’s originals, but put them into impressionistic free verse, which he reads in his plummy English accent, while the band provides appropriate backing for the sentiments of the poetry as well as providing improvised passages in between the verses.

Looking at this now, I have no idea why I thought it was meant to be funny.

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10 Responses to “Christopher Logue”

  1. If you liked that, you should check out the recordings in Loguerythms. I doubt it’s available nowadays – very rare on vinyl, but I think other varients of the recordings crop up on secondhand sites. Words by Logue, music by the Kinsey Quartet (quintet?) and sung beautifully by Annie Ross. The words are less abstract than for Red Bird, but Annie’s voice is perfect for them. Actually, if you’re interested, searching under Ross and Kinsey might bring you more luck. Also – if you look for the late 50’s publication ‘Songs’ by Logue (also out of print, but often available 2nd hand) there are all 20 of the Neruda “translations” plus many other great (really great) pieces.

  2. […] chance to combine jazz and poetry (for what would only be the second time on here, the first being this post). Unfortunately, though, I’ve been unable to locate any recording of a performance of this […]

  3. mike leroy Says:

    I sang the title song for the film’ high wind in jamaica ‘ in 1965
    Music by Larry adler
    Lyrics by Christopher Logue

    I need to ask Christopher Logue to add some more lyrics for me to the two couplets he created on that soundtrack for an album I wish to do that will include that song

    Could you tell me how to reach him

    Mike LeRoy

  4. Roy Curtis-Bramwell Says:

    First heard Red Bird on BBC radio. Bought Parlophone 45 rpm
    as soon as it came out, then later 12″ Evergreen Records EV1

    Inspirational, in yer face and deeply moving. A classic of jazz/poetry.

  5. magickwords Says:

    Always loved this. Bought the EP when it came out but unfortunately lent it to someone who I lost contact with. Glad to find it on YouTube.

  6. Ian Woodward Says:

    Too young to hear the original broadcast, I bought the EP about 10 years later. I loved it from the start and still love it. I managed to get a copy of the “Songs” book in a library sale around the same time as I got the EP.

    The EP is somewhat scratchy now but, a few years back, someone put a copy (plus the “Loguerhythms” LP) on to a CD for me. I played it once again only a few days ago. It never fails to excite me.

    • I have the Loguerythms LP. I think it is one of the most gripping albums I have ever heard. The LP, which I bought second hand, is unfortunately very poor quality. I have just come across your post about the CD. Is there ANY chance of having a copy?

  7. […] and political activist Christopher Logue. I therefore decided to repost the following poems, which first appeared on this blog on 3rd May 2009. Logue himself performed them with a Jazz group led by the drummer Tony Kinsey and […]

  8. My daughter has been trying to locate a poem which she thinks is by Christopher Logue. She thinks it begins:- “Fathers…You say that we are scum because we sing; You swear that we are vile because we dance…” Can you help?

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