Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: Boris Vian

Stanley Chapman: satyrs and a dead dad

img_0001An early issue of Stand magazine (number 6, 1953) turns out not to contain what I was looking for, but it does have a stonking cover design, very fluid, with a nod to Picasso. Inside are two more images by the same hand, a header and an illustration to a story by Patrick Galvin. A bit of a pagan thingy going on here, evidently, and still sitting somewhere within the neo-romantic environment. I very much like the curvy, chunky forms and the confident, musical line that swells and narrows almost imperceptibly. You get the feeling that this person could doodle fauns till the cows came home.

The artist turns out to be Stanley Chapman, and there’s a poem by him in the same issue, on the death of his father. The inside illustrations and a little more on Stanley himself in a mo, but meanwhile:

 

WHEN DID YOU LAST KILL YOUR FATHER?

(On the tenth of March, 1953 – at the dentist’s).

Dad died in the countryside
Crossing Cannon Street
As eight great bells struck twelve o’clock
Dad heard his ten hearts beat
Sipped my soup in Lyons
Broke and ate my roll
While the dentist plugged the gag
Dad wrapped and packed his soul
Returning to the office
Ten thousand splitting bells took sides
Every bloody clanger slop
Ping hollow roots from hollow eyes
Cockrobin tugged Dad’s heart out
Sunshine swept it up
Miss Stay-No ground her spykey joke
In bloodstained kisses round a cup

*           *          *

Relatives were ran to
Before Dad’s doctor rang
The problems resolution
Came before the questioning
In my terms matriculation
Heavy traffics bandaged feet
Tramp the deafened country station
Where ten million dead hearts beat
Beat beat the race of Gracechurch bells
And crematorium chimneys
Not Nation all your ancient grief
And bloody printed similes
Can end my grief our grief black-tied
Fish-heads gaping trip-sex comfort
Ratmeat cafs in Billingsgate
Shall shine me to my sinking sunset.

“Cockrobin tugged dad’s heart out / Sunshine swept it up … trip-sex comfort / Ratmeat cafs” – Good, eh? Despite the alienating effect of the urgent, staccato hop and the enjoyably wrenched language, this does meet editor Jon Silkin’s demand in the same issue that a poem should deliver a “common bond of passion” that “sets up some sort of … animal stirring.” (The original is formatted with complex and curious line indentations that the clunky WordPress editing here won’t let me reproduce. Sorry about that. I think there are apostrophes missed in the second stanza, but as Chapman skips nearly all the punctuation I haven’t tinkered. “Spykey” – a spy’s key or meant for “spikey”? The second, I think.)

img_0002

img_0003Stanley Chapman has a brief Wiki entry, and some pages here. He would have been 27 when this poem was written, and he died in 2009. His reputation seems largely subsequent to this, and all very much to do with the London Institute of Pataphysics, Oulipo and Outrapo, constrained and generated texts and performances, his connections with Boris Vian and Raymond Queneau, and so on.

The few online photos show him snowy bearded, a pataphysical patrician. But I see that in the early ‘fifties he contributed artwork and poems not just to Stand but also to Listen and Chanticleer. The baroque arcanity of modern pataphysics, sometimes at risk of (excuse me for saying so) nudging up against Pythondom, is one thing, but it’s less easy to get a purchase on the twenty-something Chapman of this previous era, of whom I’d like to see and read more. But with luck some wandering pataphysician out there may see this and leave a comment with directions.