Elmore Leonard was a writer’s writer. When he died recently, he left some good advice behind him.
Dear God, I’m glad I’m not a poet. There are differences between writers—you might say A is better than B but not quite in the same class as C, but A and B are still readable—but a poet is in the top rank or nothing. And almost none of them make the top rank.
Is there, today, a better poet writing in English than Carol Ann Duffy? I don’t think so. I was reading last night through old Poetry Reviews (as you do, that’s right) and I came across this, which I had almost forgotten, published in 1999. How could anyone forget this?
If you prefer to hear the poet read it, she’s on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKMMH24bRUA
(PS: If I’m glad not to be a poet, I’m even more glad, now, not to be married to Aesop).
By Christ, he could bore me for Purgatory. He was small
didn’t prepossess. So he tried to impress. Dead men,
Mrs Aesop, he’d say, tell no tales. Well, let me tell you now
that the bird in his hand shat on his sleeve,
never mind the two worth less in the bush. Tedious.
Going out was worst. He’d stand at our gate, look, then leap;
scour the hedgerows for a shy mouse, the fields
for a sly fox, the sky for one particular swallow
that couldn’t make a summer. The Jackdaw according to
him, envied the eagle
Donkeys, would, on the whole, prefer to be
On one appalling evening stroll, we passed an old hare
snoozing in a ditch – he stopped and made a note –
and then, about a mile further on, a tortoise, somebody’s pet,
creeping, slow as a marriage, up the road. Slow
but certain, Mrs Aesop, wins the race. Asshole.
What race? What sour grapes? What silk purse,
sow’s ear, dog in a manger, what big fish? Some days
I could barely keep awake as the story droned on
towards the moral of itself. Action, Mrs A., speaks louder
than words. And that’s another thing, the sex
was diabolical. I gave him a fable one night
about a little cock that wouldn’t crow, a razor-sharp axe
with a heart blacker than the pot that called the kettle.
I’ll cut off your tail, all right, I said, to save my face.
That shut him up. I laughed last, longest.