Gavin Ewart Peter Porter - Essay

Peter Porter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Ewart is] chiefly known to a wider audience as a light verse writer. Generations of students from Sydney to St Andrews have sung 'Miss Twye' to the National Anthem. But Ewart isn't just a light poet any more than Auden is. In fact, it could be argued that he is so obviously serious he sometimes spoils poems with liberal messages. While we can be glad that he is on the side of the angels, we may feel that he is often at his best when describing the works of the other side. Pleasures of the Flesh is echt Ewart, a remarkable flowering of a lyrical and satirical talent first revealed in 'Phallus in Wonderland', written when he was seventeen….

In almost every respect these new poems are an advance on the brilliant early Ewart…. (p. 87)

[In] what is perhaps the most impressive poem in the book—'A Christmas Message'—he concludes:

England is a Peloponnese
and Father Christmas a poor old sod
like any other, autochthonous. Who
in the beard and the benevolence?
Even in Greece
or Rome there is only a bogus God
for children under five. Those he
loves, he deceives.

Behind the kinky inventions and sexy observations of these poems, there is a reformer's zeal which hasn't turned to any closed system or religious orthodoxy. Ewart's emancipations are near-Groddeckian—if we let the sex in us grow straight we shall be saved. But he rarely lets his verse say this in any naïve way: he chooses instead to show it growing crooked or solacing itself with the fake achievements of status, money or kicks. One of the star turns of Poems and Songs was 'Audenesque for an Inititiation' in which he warns us:

Don't forget that new...

(The entire section is 815 words.)