Diana Saenz, Writer

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Scandalous Hearsay and Salacious Tales

By Diana Saenz and Marshall Harvey


Amid Dusty Books & Et Cetera. . .It is not an unimportant consideration, to wit, why it is that a man would know a great man's business to all appearances better than he knows his own. Our common desire to know leads to many errors. In result, an excellent poet such as Chaucer we think to have been a lecher to have written lecherous tales, or the great Shakespeare to have taken to bed a dark woman or a young man because he had written about them, or Byron not to have bedded two hundred young women because so high a number is not to be believed. We must in each instance consider in the first place the skill each man possessed in the utmost. By

good observation a man may learn much but a man may accomplish only that for which both nature and his own effort grant him the proper skill. "Nothing is so much admired or so little understood as wit?" did Addison say? Instead of wit, better it had been this--why poets either devote many good hours to proving slanderous-sounding claims to be slanders or else to fabricating slanderous claims against their own persons for others to witness. That Moliere was said to have tried both the mother and the daughter is an illustration of the former. That Shakespeare willed to his wife "the second-best bed" may prove an instance of the latter. Whatever the truth may be, it is a fact we know beyond any doubt that Dylan Thomas did not yield his virginity at fifteen years of age in spite of what he avers. For that knowledge we are in debt to hours of careful labor by careful critics, eager to know.

The Colonies Invade

Pulitzer Prize winner, Mrs Anne Sexton, arrived in London to participate in the five-day Poetry International Festival sponsored by the Poetry Book Society and the Arts Council of Great Britain. This nevertheless places her among the lesser poets as internationally respected superstars such as Pablo Neruda and W.H. Auden were present. However, as luck will have it, John Berryman did not arrive in time for his appointed reading and Mrs Sexton was given two slots of reading time. This not being enough for Mrs Sexton, she went over her allotted time by three minutes, then as noted by Jon Stallworthy: the American poetess "laid down her book, threw wide her arms like a pop singer embracing her audience, and blew them a fat kiss. . .about two thousand people . . . looked at her in disbelief."


Not satisfied with being the only poet to make news in the next day's press, the appetitious Mrs Sexton was seen in the company of a certain George MacBeth, another poet at the convention who later interviewed her on the BBC. Later, both apparently rather keen on each other, they drifted from pub to dinner to Mrs Sexton's room at the 69 Hotel, situated not far from Queen Elizabeth Hall. They proceeded to disrobe, quietly, as they wished to not disturb Lois Ames, Mrs Sexton's traveling companion and biographer who lay sleeping in the next bed--in the same room.


Several days later, Mrs Sexton's, whose excesses were apparently not completed, was seen in the company of a certain Mr Michael Bearpark--an old chum from their school days. Overheard by their waiter at Rules, a restaurant near Covent Gardens, was Mrs Sexton asking her dining companion about his sexual preferences as they sipped their soup. After dinner and an astonishing quantity of spirits they also drifted to the poetess's hotel room and closed the door. Mrs Sexton, however was not content to leave the British Isles until she was spied necking in the back seat of a motor car with a Herefordshire schoolmaster, known to be none other than D.M. Thomas, author of The White Hotel.


Anne Sexton is now back in New England, and a great sigh of relief is felt among the judiciously inclined here in Old England.

The Red-Hot Valentine


"If I die tomorrow, I shall have lived to be older than my father. I am ninety years of age," said Percy Shelley a day before his death.


On the eighth of July, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lt. Edward Williams were drowned off the coast of Livorno, a small town situated in Tuscany. Lord Byron, Leigh Lunt and Edward John Trelawny, attended by soldiers and the Health Officer went to the site of Shelley's grave to exhume his body for its cremation and return to England.


It is easy to imagine Mr Trelawny as he sat dejectedly in one of the local cafes, much the worse for wear and well into the evening, painfully lifting his seventh cup to his weepy lips, his seared hands swathed in bandages, and dictating the following words to a friend: ". . .The lonely and grand genius that surrounded us so exactly harmonized with Shelley's genius, that I could imagine his spirit soaring over us. The sea, with the islands of Gorgona, Capraji, and Elba, was before us; old embattled watchtowers stretched along the coast, backed by the marble-crested Apennines glistening in the sun, picturesque from their diversified outlines, and not a human dwelling was in sight. As I thought of the delight Shelley felt in such scenes of loneliness and grandeur whilst living, I felt we were no better than a herd of wolves or pack of wild dogs, in tearing out his battered and naked body from the pure yellow sand that lay so lightly over it, to drag him back to the light of day; but the dead have no voice. . ." (Eyewitness to History, Edited by John Carey, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1988.)


When at last, after an hour of digging in the general area of Shelley's grave, the spade went into the sand with a thud. They had found Shelley's skull. They then proceeded to exhume the body, by this time well along in its integration to the earth. Lord Byron went off to swim in the sea as he could hardly bear to look upon what had once been a beautiful form, and was now the decomposing remains of his beloved friend. This time Mr Trelawny had brought sufficient cuts of wood and was relieved that the poet's limbs remained attached to the trunk, unlike the experience they had suffered on the previous day in exhuming Lt. Edward William's body. Lord Byron had requested from Mr Trelawny to preserve the skull for him, but as Mr Trelawny had once seen Lord Byron use one as a drinking-cup, he was determined that Shelley's should not be profaned in such a manner.


The funeral pyre was so fiercely hot that the iron contraption used for this purpose turned white with heat. Mr Trelawny watched in horrified fascination at what had become a ghastly symbol of a man's life, the brains bubbling away and the bones cracking and turning to ashes as all succumbed to the intense fire. That is, everything except for Shelley's heart, which remained intact! Mr Trelawny without thought of self or sense, suddenly reached in and seized the heart, lifting it from the cavity of fire and severely burning his hands in that mad act.


Thus, Percy Shelley's ashes were then transported and buried in the same cemetery where Keats has rested for the past year. Shelley's gravestone bore three of his favorite Shakespearean lines;


"Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange."

The Generous Heart

Conversation overheard between inquisitive child and his patient, knowledgeable mother.


"Mama, mama, Tommy's grandpa told us that he's a Dharma Bum. What's a Dharma Bum?"

"A Dharma Bum is that what he said?"


"I'm not surprised the way he walks around in those old sandals he should have thrown away decades ago."


"But what's a Dharma Bum, Mama?"


"It's a person who thinks of himself as part of the Beat Generation. Some people just call them Beatniks, but they didn't like that."


"What's a Beatnik?"


"Able-bodied men who never worked and wrote poetry with the first word that came into their heads and drove all their women crazy, or only knew women who were crazy, or only women who were crazy would associate with them. I don't know which one it was. They were always committing suicide."


"The Dharma Bums?"


"No the women."


"So Dharma Bums were men who liked crazy women?"


"No, Johnny, that was just a small part of it. Most of them were crazy themselves, experimenting with drugs and walking to Mexico and taking more drugs with the native people. None of them ever held a job for six months. Or they were getting thrown out of the school their parents worked so hard to put them in."


"But Mama, how did they get thrown out of school?"


"You should ask Allen Ginsberg."


"Who's Allen Ginsberg?"


"He was really a nice Jewish boy but he got himself thrown out of Columbia University. I should think it would have broken his father's heart, but his father was a saint of a man the way he put up with Allen's mother who was a tramp and ran off with another man. But then she was psychotic, so maybe it wasn't her fault. Who's to judge, certainly not me."


"But Mama, you didn't tell me why he got thrown out of school!"


"Because he wrote offensive graffiti on the dusty window pane. He said it was to get the Irish cleaning lady to clean the windows. He said she hated Jews and he wrote "Fuck the Jews."

"What does fuck mean, Mama?"


"It's the acronym for "fornicate under the command of the king." It means to have sex, which is what people do to have babies but they don't necessarily do it to have babies."


"Then why do they do it?"


"They're practicing their natural instincts."


"Oh . . . But why would practicing their natural instincts with Jews be a dirty thing?"


"You have to have a dirty mind to begin with, then everything seems dirty to you."

"Oh. But Mama--"


"What, my little sweetheart?"


"Just because he wrote that thing about the Jews he got thrown out of school?"


"Well he shocked everybody because he was Jewish and everybody thought it was because he hated his own people, but I think it was a symbolic gesture because it would mean the anti-Semitic Irish cleaning woman would have to clean off a sentiment she had in her own heart. And besides he also got in trouble for having Jack Kerouac spend the night in his dormitory room."


"Who was Jack Kerouac?"


"A very confused young man, who drank himself to death the way your poor Uncle Richard is doing. He wrote On the Road, a book about him and all his friends that has managed to capture the heart of young people for the last fifty years. But I don't for the life of me understand why his friends ever gave Jack the time of day, because he was a real punk and a mama's boy and was never around when his friends needed him even though they were always there to help him. He was just a plain bum, if you ask me and the way he wrote about his very good friend Neal Cassidy. When Neal got in trouble and was sent to jail, Jack didn't even want his name mentioned and said that it was Neal's fault for selling Maryjane even though the police found out that Neal was Dean Moriarty in Jack's On the Road which sealed Neal's fate. William Burroughs said Jack was a weakling and a coward and I am inclined to agree."


"But he was Allen Ginsberg's friend and Allen was a nice Jewish boy."


"Well, isn't that how it always is?"


"I don't know, Mama. But why would Allen Ginsberg get in trouble just because he had his friend spend the night?"


"Because they slept in the same bed and big boys are not supposed to do that in America because then everyone will think they have been fornicating under the command of the king."

"But did they do that, Mama?"


"No, Love-of-My-Life, they just talked their usual nonsense all night long. But some time later they did because Jack Keruoac had a strong attraction for men, except as usual he was too much of a coward to accept his true self and instead went around making women miserable by having lousy, selfish relationships with them and driving them crazy then running back to his mother. But Allen was gay--that means he liked men instead of women. He and Jack were very good friends since they told each other all their secrets which brought them very close. Even when Jack turned out to be a right-wing alcoholic and went around saying how much he liked Joseph McCarthy and his miserable House of Un-American Activities Committee and the terrible things they were doing to people, Allen still was his friend, which says a lot about what a kind, generous heart Allen has, but very little good about Jack. Allen stuck by him even when everybody else had the good sense to not have anything more to do with Jack, which was easy to do since as I said, Jack mostly lived with his mother. His mother was a horrible woman who wrote hateful letters to Allen and reported William Burroughs and Allen to the FBI, who were the only ones besides Jack who ever took that woman seriously."


"Oh. I see . . . But then who was William Burroughs, Mama?"


"Love of my Heart, please I'm very busy right now, go to the bookshelf, the one in the hall, and find his book, Naked Lunch. Then if you have any more questions after you read the book, we can talk about it."

The Mischievous Ghost


By my troth was there a boy named David Lawrence, [D.H. Lawrence] near to a man. A woman of his town, who alas was married, asked if he would kindly lie with her. That time was the first time he did lie with any woman. Her husband, like many a man in that town, did love a cup of ale more than his own wife. David grew in years and made his way in the world as a writer of tales.

One day, he met Frieda Weekly, a woman who alas also was married. Before she met David, Frieda did fall under the spell of a love-priest, who beckoned her along a wayward course, known to many. Frieda had lain with many a man in her short years on earth, but she possessed a faith in the ability of the two sexes mixing together to prosper, which led her away from the common course and well-prepared her for meeting David. He was a priest like the other. One day, he did appear at her door and just as she had never any husband in her house that day, she went away apace with D.H. The two lived together many good years, but as oft times happens, there came a day when David strayed from the married bed, and an excellent poetess named H.D. the good David got with child--many do say.


When he died, David was more than forty years of age. Frieda sweareth he did appear to her after his death and chase her through the house. At the time of that event, she was with another man.

The Libidinous Heart

John Donne, a certain comely young man and a great visitor of the ladies, is different from other young men with lascivious libidos only in that he has employed the King's English in his libidinous quest. He is not content to keep within the company of men that would make amorous advances and ladies who would not think to put their temptations away--a society of loose shoulders and looser blouses--madams and their paramours commonly found in taverns of scandalous reputation.


But John Donne has committed a crime much worse than any of his associates; he has crossed the line and addressed those of the feminine sex who are literate. And what damsels are those but they from our own society. Aye, our very own mothers, sisters and daughters are now the quarry for Donne's poetry!


Since it would be less profitable to turn back the clock and bar the fairer sex from the privilege of literacy, lest we forget this purpose is served when they are mothers and play a noble role in educating our little sons, it is then easier to ban the dissemination of this immorality by punishing not only the bard but the publishers as well who dare to print such calamity.

In Paradoxes Donne advises women to enjoy as many lovers as they feel inclined with the argument of why should a woman be clogged by one man; that she be better served enjoying all the virtues through several men, rather than only some virtues in one!


Gentlemen of good breeding, what poison is he sowing in the innocent bosoms of our virtuous flowers, what earwigs of revolution! This advocate of the voluptuous must be quieted as he is plotting our very defeat!


At this point the good reader, who is of masculine and therefore wise mind, asks in gentle accent to give sample of this young man's lecherous verses, and to the excellent reason given here for murthering evil. I humbly present and pray that the good reader will forgive this innocent paper for holding such profanities as are laid forth in Donne's Satires:


". . .in rank itch lust, desire and love
The nakedness and barrenness to enjoy
Of thy plump muddy whore, or prostitute boy"


Is there no stopping this sex fiend? He is not content to contaminate our fairer self. He is intent upon the seduction of our youth! Anyone on earth, indeed, is given license to quell their beastly throbbing.


With sexual libertarianism come insidious lessons on patriotism or rather the lack of it. In the subsequent example Donne begins by evoking an innocent verse on war, then slowly twists the metaphor until we unexpectedly find ourselves in the arms of two pliant creatures, their limbs all entwined and tangled amid each other's unbridled flesh--(must give me pause for breath!)--. There methinks, to be recovered . . . With the following lines, no more need be spoken on the subject, for all will see clear as Heaven's skies and make his own righteous decision.


"Here let me war; in these arms let me lie;
Here let me parley, batter, bleed, and die.
Thine arms imprison me, and mine arms thee
Thy heart thy ransom is: take mine for me.
Other men war that they their rest may gain;
But we will rest that we may fight again.
Those wars the ignorant, these th'experienced love,
There we are always under, here above.
There engines far off breed a just true fear,
Near thrusts, pikes, stabs, yea bullets hut not here.
There lies are wrongs; here safe uprightly lie;
There men kill men, we'will make one by and by" ?