How I Came to Dance With Fonteyn

27 April, 2008

<i>I Peed on Fellini</i> by David Stratton

The venerable David Stratton was addressing a lunch crowd at a launch of his autobiography, I Peed On Fellini. As he autographed my copy, I reminded him that I had sometimes been mistaken for him at film festivals from Cannes to Honolulu. Similar age, height, Panama hat, beard; easy mistake to make. To some people Australians all look alike. Even imported ones like Stratton.

The title of his book got me thinking.  If I found the energy,  the memory and the courage to one of my own, I might well title it I Danced With Fonteyn — with perhaps a sequel called I Dueled With Nureyev.

At about the same time as this launch lunch, my son discovered and sent to me an old scrapbook of mine in which was a cringeworthy poem I had written in my 20s about the then binary stars of the ballet universe, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev.

Read my new page, Invitation to the Dance, for the full story of how the book got to be so named and how I got to dance with Margot Fonteyn.


Dorothy Parker and the Art of Light Verse

30 August, 2007

Life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong
And I am Marie of Roumania.

Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967) in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Dorothy Parker said she wished she could write like a man and drink like a lady. Perhaps we should be grateful she got it the other way around. Along with her criticism and more serious writing, she penned astute and witty light verse much of which demonstrates her talent to use language like a well-plucked lyre.

As John Hollander points out in his erudite critique, Dorothy Parker and the Art of Light Verse*, the mention of the once celebrated Marie of Roumania no longer has the resonance it did when Mrs Parker penned those lines. He suggests that today those thoughts would need use a more contemporary figure as a punch line. Here is my modest example:

Life’s bounties pour upon me like rain
Life’s riches unceasingly grand.
Love is a never-ending refrain,
And I am Premier of Queensland.

OK, I said modest. Besides, she had scant respect for critics of her scansion:

Say I’m neither brave nor young
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue
Still you have my heart to wear.

But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!

Many of Mrs Parker’s aphoristic verses were effectively oozed by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Robert Altman production Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle. In this there is much of the ambiance of American letters in the 1920s with its literary knights’ nights of jousting with wit-tipped lance and broad-sword tongue at the round table at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, New York City.

I hope to get back there sometime to pay it a visit. Hommage, actually.

*First published in the Yale Review 85:1, 1997


Sin Tax

17 August, 2007

It doesn’t sound like a really funny word, but syntax is the key to much unintentional humour and miscommunication.

As a child I used to delight in Edward Lear’s nonsense rhymes, limericks and riddles — as had a century of children before me. Syntaxually-challenged classified ads were a childish favourite: “For sale: grand piano, hardly used, by elderly lady with carved ebony legs.”

Hey, I was four!

Journalists can do it, too, and most of them are older than four.

Sometimes this leads to humour of a darker shade. The BBC reported the disappearance of a man in Nepal saying “he was last seen being dragged from his home by soldiers wrapped in a blanket.”*

The most devastating effect of Australia’s current drought has not been to the trimmed, green lawns and herbaceous borders of the cities’ suburbia, but to those who provide the crops and herds to feed this and other countries.

So overwhelming have been the consequences of the drought on the many farmers and graziers that some have been driven to take their own lives.

A common slug line for this sad statistic was: “One farmer commits suicide every fours days.”

Australia does not in general celebrate Groundhog Day. If only the solution were as simple as finding this one farmer endlessly recycling himself and stopping him before he does himself a damage.

*Anyone who sends me an illustration inspired by the soldiers wrapped in a blanket may have it included here. Use the “contact me” form to reach my e-mail directly.

Heard on BBC World Service, 31 August 2007.


Year’s End

6 January, 2007


(Right-click on the picture and select “View image” to see the whole. Picture by my Nikon D70)

A year has passed.
How strange that it should end
Without a sound.


~ Haiku, RSC, circa 1963.
A lot of years have passed since then. Not all of them quietly.
~ Day’s End, RSC 2006. The view across the bay from across my road and through the dunes.


It really is “Massage”.

14 July, 2006

The Medium (really is) the Massage

In case it appears that I made a monster typo or my sense of humour is even more askew than usual, here is the book in question. I did my best to wipe off the coffee mug rings but the photograph is as is and un-retouched. The title is more often misquoted than any I can think of. Could McLuhan have been making some point here?