The perils of enthusiasm



Tallis has commented to me that it’s all well and good letting Benor have a bit of publicity, but Tallis has his own patrons to panegyrize. Thus and so I am handing his  blog back to him.


It cannot be said that I, Tallis Steelyard, the leading poet of his generation, has a closed mind. Indeed Shena has been known to comment that on some nights, when we are in bed, she feels a draught as the wind blows in one of my ears and out of the other one.


I am resigned

To be maligned

It’s too unkind.

To be confined

To be left behind

I am disinclined


I’ll forge ahead

And earn my bread

With an open mind.


But here in Port Naain there are many free spirits. For reasons I’ve never entirely understood, I seem to be held responsible for them and their antics.

Let me give you an example. I bring to your attention Almas Slackwater. She in turn was brought to my attention by her father, Thespan Slackwater. A usurer but not a bad chap for all that, he was heading into The Great Gusto to dine when he saw me coming the other way. He beckoned me to dine with him. After the civilised preliminaries of ordering, tasting the wine and asking after mutual acquaintances, Thespan got down to business.

“Tallis, my daughter wishes to become a poet.”
I smiled encouragingly at him. “It’s a noble aspiration. Also for a lady, it is practical as well. Not only is it an indoor job with no heavy lifting, but she can continue to practice her noble art when she is married with children. Indeed my experience is that once she has had her children, then her career will blossom. Some of the most excoriating verse I have ever read has been written by the mothers of young children whose husbands linger at work at the end of the day to avoid domestic duties at home.”

“No you don’t understand Tallis, she’s not merely my daughter, she’s her mother’s daughter as well.”

I confess that I wasn’t entirely sure where this conversation was heading. I obviously looked somewhat surprised because he decided to elucidate.

“Do you know her mother or grandmother?”

“I’m afraid I never had the pleasure.”

He snorted in a most unbecoming manner. Still the meal arrived and we set aside trivial matters and addressed ourselves to potted mott on a bed of rice. Finally our plates empty and our glasses recharged he continued.

“Her mother, a delightful lady, decided to study theology.”

I ventured a comment, “Well I cannot see the harm in it.”
Thespan ploughed on, ignoring my interruptions. “She decided she would write the definitive study on ‘Theology as a displacement activity.’”

“I confess that I’m not entirely familiar with the concept.”

He waved one hand airily. “It’s where theologians spend their time endlessly discussing the minutia of faith, Gods and things, in a desperate attempt to put off that dread hour when they actually have to start living as their faith or God expects them to.”
I nodded sagely, “Beautifully expounded.”

“My wife has written a history of the phenomena. So far she is in her eighth published volume and still has a thousand years of history left to cover.”


I confess I felt for him at that point. He sighed. “It’s the same with all the ladies of our family.”

“You married into family of theologians.” My sympathy for him was diminishing; he’d known what he was getting himself into.

“No Tallis you idiot, they’re not all theologians, it’s just they always take things far too far. They get swept up with enthusiasm for their subject and there is no restraining them. Indeed my father-in-law to be advised me against even trying, for my own peace of mind.”

I was about to say something but he topped up my glass and called for another bottle. That opened and tested he returned to the topic of conversation.

“My wife is the theologian. Her mother was a dancer. You might have heard of her?”

“I’m not sure.”

“In her sixty third year she danced, spontaneously, at a Council of Sinecurists meeting. How can I put it, by the end of the dance she was wearing somewhat less clothing than she had been wearing at the start of the dance. Her dancing was so salacious that six of the older men had to be assisted out of the hall by stewards and two needed medical attention.”
I was beginning to see the magnitude of his problem. “And her mother?”

“We don’t talk about her. Let me just say that there are villages in Partann where girl children are watched intently as they grow up, lest the community should inadvertently raise another like her.”

Tentatively I asked, “And your daughter.”

Here he smiled. “She will be inviting you to dine with her tomorrow. My reason for being here is I’m to leave money behind the bar to pay for her bill!”




The invitation was waiting for me that evening when I arrived home at the barge, and the following day, promptly at noon, I was once more at The Great Gusto.

Now I don’t know whether you are at all acquainted with Almas Slackwater? Various terms have been used about her; ‘winsome’ is a popular one, but then so are ‘frenetic’ and ‘maenadic.’ Still given a choice I would propose the term ‘charming’ with the comment that she is a perfectly acceptable dining partner. Witty, fascinating and yet she is also interested in people so genuinely wants to know what her companions are thinking.

We discussed poetry and patrons, but we also discussed styles of poetry. Eventually she said, “Tallis, I wish to be a performance poet.”

“Well, unless you’re merely going to write it down for others to read, all poetry is performance.”

“I want more than that, I want something exhilarating.”

“Are you thinking of following in the footsteps of your grandmother in this matter?”

She had the decency to blush a little. “Not perhaps to the extent that she did, I hope to make dance a medium for the verse, not merely an end in itself.”

I thought about this. Her father had asked me to advise her wisely. I owed it to him to be honest with her.

“My experience is that following that path for the next ten years or so will make things very difficult. You’ll struggle to get patrons, ladies will be nervous of you and gentlemen will be forbidden your company by their wives.”
Noticing she looked a little crestfallen I added, “But during this period your father is still there to support you and bale you out. Then in ten or fifteen year’s time, with a solid reputation for scandal behind you, you’ll be the toast of our art. Salons will compete for your favours, you’ll be sought after and your every word quoted in hushed tones. Then you can set your sights on growing old disgracefully and all the ladies will cherish you as an example of what they could do should they merely put their mind to it. You will liberate a generation.”

Somewhat hesitantly she asked, “Do you approve, Tallis.”

“Entirely my girl. In my old age I want to know that poetry in Port Naain is in good hands. There are too many who think that being a poet is merely stringing words together and making some of them rhyme. You are somebody who will not merely write poetry, you will live like a poet should; you will be the mentor of a new generation.



It should be noted that Tallis is nothing but generous and has suggested that we put a notice drawing the attention of his many friends to what he calls, ‘Benor’s little book.’


Thus and so

A measured response: The Port Naain Intelligencer

Hired to do a comparatively simple piece of mapping work Benor should perhaps have been suspicious when the pay seemed generous.
Will he ever get to the bottom of what is going on?
How rough is the rough justice of rural Partann?
How to clean out a privy with a crossbow. Welcome to the pastoral idyll.


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