Gavin Ewart

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David Howarth

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 623

[Ewart] is a joker, taking the piss out of everyone and himself and doing it better than competently. In Pleasures of the Flesh, with a poem called 'Short Time', he manages to deflate even "… the gentle hypocrite reader." He also analyses, very comically, certain sexual "types". The series 'Eight Awful Animals', describing fauna with names like "Panteebra" and "Stuffalo", is a wonderful classification of stereotypes, from the butch lesbian to the exclusive masturbator. In The Deceptive Grin … it is the advertising industry, the rat-racers and the slogan-mongers who come in for it. The Gavin Ewart Show is catholic. (p. 64)

[He] claims to be the inventor of the "ewart" (sic!) or count-down poem, where the unrhymed stanzas have a line length of 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (following John Cage into silence?) he is not so exclusive that he will not take a trick or two from O. Nash, W. Stevens and Wm. McGonagall. He is also the perpetrator of a very ugly-looking poem of three, eight-line stanzas in which every line, bar those at the ends of stanzas, ends with a split word….

[This] is poetry for the masses and excellent too: a proof that the élite and the popular may be reconciled. I showed the book to a friend who "… loves no plays … hears no music." and he enjoyed all that he was able to read in half-an-hour. (p. 66)

The book is in three parts (This being a show, why not "acts"?) and the first division looks arbitrary. I see no unity of theme within sections one and two, nor do I see any significant differences in style or subject matter.

The poems of Part Three are united by form. These are 'The So-called Sonnets'. I like the title. Already Mr. Ewart has given us 'The Pseudo-Demetrius'. May we anticipate 'The Self-styled Epic'? the sonnets are all unrhymed octet/sestet. When I counted fourteen I began to suspect the anarchist of elaborate plotting, but I was wrong. This is not a "cycle". What a relief!… I began to count syllables too, but soon gave it up as a worthless exercise. What's the point. Might as well write haiku.

Subjects treated in the sonnets (so-called) range from the simple scorn of 'A Sectarian View' … through the laconic 'Poetry is the Dustbin of the Emotions' [which notes] "As invalids simply revel in invalid port / so we love our disabilities. They go well into verse", to the satiric/polemic 'The Only Emperor is the Emperor of Ice Cream', an advertising copywriter's fantasy. He [wants] to be "… a Verdi / of cornflakes or detergents consoling all" but "… Self-perpetuating markets / demand our sacrifice, my bending of the mind / I offer up to cans and aerosols and packs. / Surely someday those shining gods will speak?"

A "fun time"? I'm not so sure. A lot of the work here is decidedly not frivolous. 'The Sentimental Education', for instance, recalls the intense bitterness of the "Thirties Poets". Its ending, especially, evokes MacNiece in its exasperation: "All you learn—and from a lifetime—is that that's the way it goes. / That's the crumbling of the cookie, till the turning-up of toes." And talking of sentiment, I was affected by 'A Black Rabbit Dies for its Country', though I do not share Ewart's concern about using animals in experiments. What could easily have been sloppy and cheap is controlled; sensible. An object lesson for writers of tear-jerking documentaries.

Essentially, despite the seriousness of intent in many poems, The Gavin Ewart Show is, to use his own words: "… sensual man's two-fingers-up to Culture." At all costs to be avoided by uncertain writers of theses. Much better to take Ewart's advice:

       Slup me rough and homely and I'll taste fine.
                                           (pp. 66-7)

David Howarth, "Two-Fingers-Up," in Phoenix, July, 1973, pp. 64-7.

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