There is a discussion, I suppose it has rumbled on for some time, as to what is the correct collective noun for poets. In all candour, I feel that there is no group less deserving of a collective noun, but still my opinion carries little weight in these matters. Some have suggested, ‘a usage of poets’, which lacks all merit. Others have suggested a ‘rhyme of poets’ which I would dismiss instantly as trite beyond bearing. The term a ‘gang of poets’ does have a certain verisimilitude, given the nature of some of my colleagues who would unhesitatingly mug you for a half competent verse. Others have suggested an ‘obscurity of poets.’ To my thinking this is too close to the bone to pass as wit, and any laughter tends to be bitter.
If I had been asked, I would merely have pointed at this picture that Chris drew my attention to. It shows a group of the minor poets at one of our informal meetings. The chap in the foreground reading his work is worth mentioning. It is Basharn Fellstick, the haberdasher. He has a small shop where he deals with thread, buttons, and similar. He has a reputation amongst ladies of a certain class as a gentleman of absolute reliability. I have been told by several ladies that at Fellstick’s Haberdashery any button, or any colour or weight of thread, can be purchased for entirely reasonable sums. Indeed some have been most glowing about his stock of silk ribbon, and one in particular always swears by his thimbles.
Yet this is not enough for Basharn. I can personally vouch for the excellence of his sugar fancies. He can also make a pastry cornucopia filled with whipped cream and summer fruits which people queue up to buy. Finally he is a more than competent carpenter, fitting out his own shop and producing his own domestic furniture, all to the highest standard. And of course he is a poet. Admittedly a minor one, but still, I know nobody who can match him for comic verse. When he was widowed several years ago a number of ladies competed with unseemly enthusiasm for his hand in marriage. So far he remains resolutely single, but a number of ladies still lay siege to him. Their parallels are dug, the trenches inch forward and the breaching batteries constantly pound his outer defences. I know people who have placed not inconsiderable sums on when he will finally succumb.
The surly lout with his pipe thrust through his hat is Lancet Foredecks. The painter has caught him at a bad time. He is neither constipated, nor suffering from indigestion, it’s just the weight of his responsibilities. Lancet without a dreg to his name is ebullient, he whistles happy tunes as he strides through the city, and has a cheery word for everybody. But he has responsibilities, as well as being a performance artist, he is proprietor of The Foredecks Rooms. There ladies will sit, drink copious quantities of various infusions and eat his sugar fancies. They will compliment him on the infusions, they will gush enthusiastically about the cleanliness and elegance of ‘the facilities’ and they will say nice things about his sugar fancies. Before adding, slightly sadly, ‘But they are not Basharn Fellstick’s sugar fancies. There is a sad irony that somebody like Lancet allows this entirely trivial observation to eat into his very soul. I’ve told him, “Ask Basharn to train your cook” but will he listen to me? So on some days there is no cheering him.
Then behind Lancet, you have Dirful Droon. He is the chap with the red hat. Dirful calls himself a poet and frankly I think he deserves the epithet. His work tends to the elegiac. His verses are normally short (and none the worse for that) and often sympathetic. He specialises in short works which praise the newly deceased.
In his role as paid mourner and bearer he dresses in black, is sober, sombre and solicitous. Not only will he prepare the deceased for carrying to the dead boat, he will wheel them there on his black painted trolley, and included in the price, will produce a suitable verse, written in black ink on the whitest of papers.
Then there are the days he escapes his profession and spends time with the minor poets. He dresses like an escaped convict who has been forced to assemble his outfit by stealing from washing lines in one of the city’s less salubrious districts. I have been told that there have been times when he has returned home sober from our meetings, but in all candour I have my doubts. I would wager good money that I’ve carried him home more often than he’s walked home under his own steam. Still, a capital fellow and I confess to liking him immensely.
Then there’s the chap with the hat, standing behind Basharn Fellstick and who appears to be going through Basharn’s pockets. This is Trillan Bore. Trillan is that rare beast, a prophetic poet. He will have a prophetic vision and will be inspired to memorialise it in verse. His visions are, up to a point, entirely accurate. I remember one verse which I won’t repeat lest you are about to dine. But four days later Querl Tranpass had an unexpected, undignified, and fatal accident with a clockwork mannequin. Now if Trillan had stuck his verse into Querl Tranpass’s pocket, it may well have had a salutary effect and Querl might indeed have avoided the fatal instinct to tamper with those things man was never meant to know. As it was, I merely found it in my pocket just after breakfast and consequently felt vaguely queasy all day. He’s obviously sticking one of his prophetic verses into Basharn’s pocket.
Then there’s the chap in the background, draining the glass. That has to be Bussval Truckle. Bussval is not difficult to deal with provided you remember the two rules. Firstly, never let your glass stray from your hand when Bussval is present. I learned my lesson when I put my glass down to help Lancet demonstrate a conjuring trick he had been practicing. You know the sort of thing, pure prestidigitation, where the speed of the hand deceives the eye. To be fair, Lancet made a success of the trick, involving as it did three, twenty dreg, pieces, a corset stay and an ear trumpet. But he wasn’t as practiced as Bussval who as the bottle was circulating, passed his own glass across for a refill, then passed mine, with the comment, ‘So that Tallis doesn’t miss out,’ before drinking off my glass first.
The second rule is never drink wine that Bussval provides because he always buys the cheap sour stuff. It’s not so bad when he decants it or simply stirs sugar into it, but I know he adds some compound of potash to it, (I saw him buy a large jar at an apothecary’s) as well as adding pieces of fruit and some cheap spirit in the hope nobody will notice.
Oh and his poetry? He writes lyrical romantic ballads. They’re normally sung by the sort of young woman who describes herself as a chanteuse. It’s rumoured that they pay him well for them, in hard cash, no promises or displays of carefully feigned affection. In which case, he can damned well start paying for decent wine!
Should you wish to learn more of the life of the leading poet of his generation
As a reviewer commented, “What’s a poet to do when one of his lady patrons is being blackmailed and his own life may be at risk due to his actions in defending another from attack some time in the past.
How are both these events connected?
Well – read this tale and find out – trust me, it’ll be time well spent.”