Thursday, 26 May 2011

The naked civil poet..


Photobucket
GS nudie pic, not safe for work

I don't think I have ever received any request quite like this and since it is not entirely personal correspondence I feel free to refer to my side of it.

It is an email from a poet / publisher who wants to raise funds and draw attention to diabetes. The way she wants to do this is by reversing the standard male poet-female muse tradition and to produce a calendar of twelve poems by female poets on the subject, along with twelve artistic nude photographs of twelve male poets, taken by female photographers. She asks if I would be one of the male poets because she considers me "a poet of quality and interest, willing to push boundaries and holding an air of beauty". This is all very flattering. My air of beauty is somewhat like the smog filled air of London c.1957. I hope to be of quality and interest. Not sure about these particular boundaries. She also offers me publicity.

My answer goes:
I don't think I know any male poets who have asked whoever they considered to be their muse - and I am not altogether sure I go for the muse idea, except as a personification of something I consider far more important, the sting of non-specific desire - to pose naked for a tasteful calendar photograph, so I am not sure what this reverses. It doesn't reverse anything real for me. Male poets have certainly kept photographs of their loves as have women, mostly of the portrait variety. The male gaze is a convenient theoretical position that I seem never to have mastered. I have been married for almost 41 years and will be sixty-three at the end of November. I have never thought I carried an air of beauty and considerably less so now, although I recognise that may be in the eye of the beholder. If I have any beauty it will be, as with everyone else, in the eyes. My own, I should say, are astygmatic. The last photograph I have of myself naked is one taken when I was a baby. I am not in my second babyhood yet.

I wonder if Dante kept a nude snap of Beatrice, or Keats of Fanny Brawne, and if they did so whether it would have been sold as a calendar (for a good cause, natch, tubercolosis for example). Not sure how that works at all. The male gaze, a kind of proprietorial lasciviousness as described, but which might contain other elements such as idealised physical desire and awe, is not quite the same thing as the cult of the Muse, and as I say above, that is a far from simple thing too. It is, as I feel it, the sting of non-specific desire as embodied in this or that specific woman. It blends desire with suffering and defeat, but it can also consume its specific objects.

I well remember, after some discussion of Robert Graves's The White Goddess, asking a class of almost exclusively female students who they might consider a male muse. My memory is that out of the sixteen eleven opted for Heathcliff. Jo Shapcott was up for a reading that week and when I told her this over lunch, her response was a withering: I'd sooner have Mr Blobby.

Regarding the male muse, Clare Pollard did a radio progamme on it, and Magma ran a feature. So there we are. But as for photograph, go to Mr Blobby. He is shameless and needs the publicity. Or, alternatively..


       



13 comments:

panther said...

Cult of the Muse ? Umm, that's a tricky area. That certain people inspire one is hardly unusual. Certain people inspire/have inspired me (to poems and to other things) but I'm reluctant to use the word "muse" because it seems to involve a passivity. . . as if they had no other function but to generate my poems !

As for Heathcliff, eek ! Which bit of that story were those women thinking of ? Angry, embittered, violent. . .Domestic Violence Units all over Britain know about Heathcliff : angry, embittered, violent, controlling. . .

My Blobby doesn't appeal either, frankly, though I daresay I could sit down and have a nice cup of tea with him.

panther said...

A bit of that escaped my editing eye-apologies. But my meaning is clear enough, i hope. . .

George S said...

Yes, I agree with all of that, panther, Heathcliff included. Although he is a pretty elemental force in Wuthering Heights. The Brontë sisters liked their men on the well-done savage side, and thereby might hang many a curious tale.

If I am being sensible, of course, yes: he is angry, embittered, violent, controlling. I felicitate you all. Don't do it, girls! It's not advisable. But then I think of Cathy and Kate Bush, and to be truthful something at the heart of sex, those raw scary edges, those little deaths. Mr Blobby has no edges. He is squashy and round. His best friend is Mr Hot Water Bottle.

And don't anybody go being a muse either. Although the Muse is not passive in Graves or in the texts he refers to as I recall, the role of the human muse is dramatic but restricted. More exhausting than passive, I'd say.

But you are essentially right. Have I said that? I say it again, partly to reassure myself. I certainly wouldn't advise my daughter to go Heathcliffing or Musing There are a great many other things to do in order to be fully human. We should try those.

puthwuth said...

You should tell her to ask me!

George S said...

I will, puthwuth.

Carrie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Midgley said...

Hah! I was asked to do this, too. A little bewildering. J

George S said...

James, you are clearly holding an air of beauty. At least you are younger than me. Are you going to do it?

James Midgley said...

I'm not really sure. It's for a good cause but, well, someone would be taking a photograph of me naked -- it's bad enough with clothes on! J

dana said...

Interesting idea. I like how Duchesse takes on the idea of male muse plus 50. He's generally some sort of artist. It's not just about looks with her, and she describes her thinking better than I could mine http://passagedesperles.blogspot.com/search/label/udeman

As for Heathcliff, of course. Emotionally distant and scarred men are catnip to young women. Older women generally aren't interested in that anymore.

Of course, this is due to more than looks. Otherwise, they'dve asked policemen, or accountants. So, either offer that adorable baby shot, or ask for Annie Liebovitz, and enjoy!

George S said...

Thank you for the link, Dana. It's a nice lively blog. Two of those gentlemen - Van Morrison and Ian McShane - have a touch of the dark about them, wouldn't you say? McShane has just been filming in Norwich Cathedral next to the school where my wife works a day a week. Him and Bill Nighy and Ewan McGregor. They've gone now. The film? Jack the Giantkiller.

Anonymous said...

As the sender of said email request, it is very interesting to read all the comments here and to consider all that is being discussed. Yes, if it was just about looks, it would have been considerably easier but the criteria was a talented poet, a person whose work and social presence show someone willing to question, push boundaries and take positive creative action within society, and for the male poets, had to possess a quality of beauty - which by the way, has little to do with age in my opinion, but yes, all are people that one could consider to be attractive in a classical (and I am aware of the loaded nature of that word but hey, it is late) sense. So, the requests sent have been very carefully considered before being made. The project also involves a number of female poets and photographers whose work explores the idea of the muse and the nature of sexual desire, the concept of the female gaze and the physical form of the male nude. So, I hope that anyone I have asked who is reading this blog will accept my sincerity in the invitation and reassurance of the respect with which all those involved will be treated. The publicity is there for those who wish, and more importantly, is there to offer a mutual platform for those involved and the cause behind it: the aim is to raise awareness of the life impact of diabetes type one, and to raise funds for organisations working to develop a cure and improvements in care for those living with this disease - including my three year old son, in whose name I am making a shameless hussy of myself and approaching men to ask if they will forfeit their privacy and help me to help him and the thousands of other children and adults whose lives are debilitated and threatened by diabetes, and those of us who stand helpless on the sidelines, hoping that our loved ones will survive, thrive and one day, be cured.

George S said...

My apologies to Anon for any facetiousness. My quarrel is with the idea (Muse / nude calendar), rather than with the fund raising, of course. I just didn't see the idea of nude male poets as a valid reversal of anything valid, and flattered as I was (in a way) to be asked, since everyone has a degree of vanity, which is only balanced by doubt and insecurity, I felt the request was taking a lot of things for granted. My offer to Anon is to pay whatever will be the cost of the calendar and right away to send a cheque for that amount. Maybe other male poets will oblige her. And they may be right.