Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Poetry corner

I'm really enjoying spending time in the 1940s at the moment. The novel I have in mind is going to be set in the war years and I'm at that stage of gathering material, mood and feel.
As well as reading up on the Land Army I've been re-visiting an old collection of the poems of Sir John Betjeman. I had a fierce crush on his work a few years ago, but then fell out of love - so it's great to go back.
1940s tennis girl
My heroine is pretty clear in my mind now. She's positive, sporty and likes - to use an old-fashioned phrase - to get stuck in. So it seemd like meeting up with a friend when I got to to 'A Subaltern's Love Song' and its object of desire, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.
Written in the early 1940s, Betjeman's  poem is a marvellous tale of unrequited love and pokes fun at the manners of the English middle classes. For some reason that I can't quite put my finger on I find lots of JB's poems sexy in a repressed, buttoned-up sort of way, and Miss Hunter Dunn has 'it' in spades.
She's 'furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun', sporty, strong and confident.

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

I want to be her, I want to be him. It's all a bit confusing (as is his mention of her boyish grace...) And it also feels a bit voyeuristic:

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and short,
And the cream-colour walls are be-trophied with sports...

And is it just me but do I dectect a hint of the spanko sentiment? 

Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand!

Betjeman's dream?
Probably not, but you never know. According to Paul Johnson he liked 'pigtails, gymslips, black stockings and navy-blue serge bloomers' and wrote of his own early CP experiences.
PS There was a real Joan, who apparently died in 2008. JB's poem was, she said, mostly fantasy.


  1. Hello OFG.

    I suspect our spanko radar is probably a little overdeveloped, and the sentiments we detect are often our own ;). But I do also sometimes think that kink and creativity go hand in hand, and there's plenty of art and literature from past decades that hints at off-centre sexuality.

    I'm very much looking forward to your novel, by the way. The forties setting sounds perfect, and I'm sure its spunky heroine will be an engaging creation!

  2. Yes, you're probably right - I'm constantly on the look-out for promising blips on my personal spanko radar. It is a very sensitive piece of equipment. Mind you, there are a lot of us out there...
    The 1940s novel is going very slowly at the moment, so don't hold your breath. Why not try my Victorian one (see the 'book shop' page) while you're waiting. It's a jolly mix of FF, MF and FM that tries to capture something of the mood of Glassco's 'The English Governess' and I'd be interested to know what you think of my attempts to capture the FM vibe.