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 The Scent That Captures That "1930s Moment"!

All material copyrighted to © 2014

or to the various credited sources © 2014



Tins of processed mush, such are our manufactured characters,

Copied, processed, recycled, rehashed –all those fruits

Of our labours picked, plucked, peeled, put in juice to stew

To shrunken prunes, then poured into tins, sealed, stacked up

On makeshift shelves of the Trussel Trust, where truth’s as

Sought-after as truffles –canned handouts of comestible

Benefits, organic giros for digestion of indigence stripped

Of dignity, vouchers transubstantiated into victuals,

Fish and loaves, but there are no Beatitudes to soften blows

To the soul of the consumer scooped of power to consume,

Spending power (the modern breath of the Commerce-God

Which, alone, animates the body’s postponed corpse), and

All this produce, all this over-production for under-

Consumption –stigmatised with vouchers, tickets for handout

Lottos, benefits Bingo, pre-payment cards capped at ‘non-

Essential’ items: cigarettes and booze –those very opiates

Scrimping spirits crave the most to briefly escape

The conscientious throb of abstinence, the aboulia of broke

Sobriety wherein everything seems so infectiously clinical,

Gleaming bright but dirtily at the same time; they’ll pile on all

The labels, brandings, price-tags, stigmas and humiliations

They can –public sympathy for the poor is past its sell-by-

Date (if it had one in the first place!) –onto those brought low

By katabasis of the Capitalist Plan that capitalises on all but

Its people, devalues human currency, pauperises priceless souls

By the power of ephemeral paper –empty stomachs crop up

And howl from empty purses… Perhaps it could be worse?

Under true, unadulterated Communism unemployment is

Hypothetically illegal, or simply doesn’t exist (whereas

Under Capitalism it is a necessary automatic stabilizer

To ensure a perpetual surplus of labour and that wages are

Kept down through competition and high demand for low

Supplies of work –the choice, to be employed and poor, or

Unemployed and poorer) –but possibly because in such

A society it would be seen as a crime, not on the part

Of the unemployed, but on the State as employer: any person

To be kept out from the pool of common production would

Be perceived as a victim of government incompetence and

Neglect… As for the frequently unemployable poet, well, in

Communist society, his product would be valued above the many,

He would be gainfully employed by very dint of his publicly

Invested visionary vocation –Soviet versifiers would be

Effectively civil servants, pin-striped poets, conspicuously

Cadent special advisers to politicians, private providers

Of public subscribers, robed in crimson vestments, scarlet

Overslops, red surplices, and particularly prized for putting

The rhythm and beat back into labour whenever it threatened

To trip into dirge, to the tempo of their metronomic patterns…



For Cecil Day Lewis, poet-Communist, Communist-poet

(Never quite settled on which descriptor should come first),

‘All genuine poetry’ was schizophrenic in scope and

Purpose, the forming of ‘private spheres out of public chaos’;

Some sculpted out their own spheres of escape, apparently

Infantile fantasies, but actually satirical sanctuaries,

Surrealist countries, undergraduate Gondals and Angrias

After the Brontës’ crinkled-edged chronicles –such as Mortmere,

Weird realm dreamt up by Edward Upward and Christopher

Isherwood, while both still at Cambridge, a quixotic country

Where, as Isherwood furnished, ‘all accepted moral and social

Values were turned upside down and inside out’, peopled by

Perverted grotesques buoyed on schoolboy humour, with names

Like Raynard Moxon and Reverend Welken –echoes of Evelyn

Waugh’s satirical caricatures escaped from his novel

Vile Bodies, the “Bright Young Things” left over from the decadent

Twenties: Nina Blount, Agatha Runcible, Miles Malpractice

And other cack-handed Dickens-esque nomenclature; but

Mortmere was more the work of the anarchic subconscious,

A scissor-cut dualistic catharsis of those brought up

In the picturesque English Nightmare, the ectopic clop

Of willow on the village green, the manic vicar, the grasping

Shadow of his vicarage, scones and cream, tea and entropy…

Tea: brown water of anxiety that made the English race

Go mad through daily china sacraments and rituals –

Madness at breakfast (when we try to think of three possible

Things), madness at elevenses, madness at high tea, madness

At thirteen ‘o’ clock on the dot, sweet, warm, brown madness,

Dun nectar, the liquid mud of Anglo-Saxon thaumaturgy,

Curse of the English ever since the March Hare quarrelled with

Time and the Empire got stuck at six ‘o’ clock, perpetual

Teatime; our island’s beigeing chalk, tea-stained battlements,

So much crockery stacked up after elevenses –but

Our tribe is best at dusk courtesy of chirruping porcelain,

More beastly by far in the middle of the day, not to say

Burnishing Rose Madder in the midday sun when caught

Out abroad in a sunnier foreign clime –bear witness to

Beatrice Gladys “Bea” Lillie’s crimson lips when they spun

Noël Coward’s catchiest aphorism into a purled soprano

In The Third Little Show at New York’s Box Theatre, 1931…


Only mad dogs and Englishmen… Fa-ta-ta-ta-ta…

C Day Lewis
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