The Clone of Beauty

detail from The Bower Meadow by Dante Rossetti, Apple Blossoms by John Millais, Hylas & The Nymphs by John Waterhouse, Laus Veneris by Edward Burne-Jones and The School of Nature by William Holman-Hunt


The Clone of Beauty

So why did the Pre-Raphaelites have just the single face to paint ?
Did they all maybe share a model, or ideal, or a joke ?
Or were they merely moral allegories, underneath the quaint,
The playthings of a puritanic club of touched and airy folk.
Their lounging nymphs of languid myth are diaphanous deities,
Sometimes naked, always perfect, from Pompeii to Camelot –
But rousing such lacklustre lust, or any spontaneities,
These strangely-sexless sextuplets are gazed upon to be forgot.

These muses with the single face,
And even fewer flickers of emotion in their artful grace,
Demanding our devotion as they pose from Albion to Thrace.
Androgynous, without a trace of cleavage,
Under wafting folds of lace,
But then again, their cold embrace has little use for heavage.
At least their hair is big and wild,
Those flowing waves and ringlets piled in unexpected verve,
Quite out of place around a mask so English in reserve.
This Sisterhood of sylvan sylphs –
In pastels, primary and bright,
Or bathed within a golden light –
Are quite the finer sort of elves,
Perhaps the fairest of the fay,
Just waiting for a errant knight or shepherd boy to pass their way.

Or maybe just ourselves,
The gawpers in the gallery –
The hoi-polloi who shrug and stare,
And wonder why they have to share
A single personality.


I wrote this some years ago but dug it out after visiting the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  I had always assumed that the apinters made all the faces the same in search of an shared ideal of beauty, but I now suspect that the the similarities were in the flesh rather than the paint – the woman they chose as models already looked alike.  They also shared their models around, in every sense, and I don’t think these women did any modelling for more establishment artists.  Now, we just need a good investigation about the male models they used…



Curtain Call

Theater Audience by Hippolyte Michaud


Curtain Call

You’re filling the halls from the gods to the stalls,
You’re shaking the walls with your blast –
You cry your encores as you cheer yourselves hoarse
For the grand tour de force of the cast.
And how they deserve all the plaudits you serve,
For they are the verve of the play;
But spare just a few for their hard-working crew,
For we perform too, in our way.



Waifs & Fodder

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis


Waifs & Fodder

Impressionist painters in poverty
On canvasses lacking in threads,
Glamorous silent-screen starlets,
And bereted and bearded reds,
Scientists seeking-out secrets,
And dare-devils pushing their luck –
They died too soon and died too young,
When fortunes came unstuck.
In days before the drugs did for,
Disease was the way to go –
Consumption, of course – or else it’s the pox –
Or the needs of the narrative flow.
Heroines, gothic or chivalrous,
In novels antique or sublime –
They’re dying too young from the loin or the lung,
Yet they’re dying precisely on time.



Turner Churners

Lights go on. Lights go off. Lights go on. Lights go off...
The lights going on and off…and on…and off……and on………and off………

Turner Churners

The critics just faun it, the Mail just loathes;
The public’s not stupid, it’s in on the deal –
We’ve always known it’s the emperor’s clothes,
It’s only the artists who think it’s for real.
And all’s just performance-ing art in the end,
These artists we hate yet adore:
That pompously-arrogant, smugly-camp blend –
Such wonderful caricature !

Sunflower Saviour

person holding van gogh book beside sunflowers
Photo by wendel moretti on


Sunflower Saviour

(in response to Don McLean’s Vincent)

Dear Don,

You often speak of they and them,
So, so shall I.
You see, I’m firmly one of them
Whom you decry as sheep or swine
Who are too careless with their gaze.
But Don, I also use that phrase,
I also have my thems and theys
And you are one of mine.

For you, like they, have ordered me
To venerate their saints:
Picasso, Rothko and Matisse –
Apostles in their paints.
Never must my adulation cease
Upon your feted clutch –
But who’s the Zeus of all these gods ?
Of course, your martyred Dutch !

I know, I know, it’s treason,
But I still think that depression,
Though it’s pretty good a-reason
Is a really bad excuse
For his whingey self-obsession,
And his self-harming abuse,
And for his total lack of wit,
And being such an all-round shit.

But what’s the use ?  You won’t agree.
And truth to tell, that was obtuse of me –
Both me and him are far more complicated
Than we either you or I have stated.
And anyway, let’s judge the work and not the man –
Who cares if he’s a relic or a brash young Turk ?
Except you’re doing all you can
To make the man the work.

So here I stand – a heretic –
A unbowed Philistine and hick.
For Don, though I can listen fine,
I’ll never like the tune he played.
Ironic’ly, I quite like yours –
A modern hymn to hector and persuade.
I guess that Vincent makes you happy,
And for that, I’m happy too.
Just never try to set me free.

With love, from one of them, to you.



Pips in the Slips



Pips in the Slips

There’s no such thing as in-the-round,
For ev’ry stage has front and sides,
And despite ev’ry good intention,
Actors shall forget the wides.
So sit dead centre, free from such malarkey –
For ev’ry circle has its hierarchy,

Round tables, while we’re at it,
End up far from democratic:
Always there’s a head, and it’s
Whichever side King Arthur sits.
Then right hand, left hand, straight across –
There’s no disputing who’s the boss.



Dramatic Tension

audience auditorium bleachers chairs
Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on


Dramatic Tension

Ah, Theatre !  I think I’m gonna miss you,
But maybe not the agony you always put me through –
You may raise gasps and titters from the proper-postured sitters,
But you leave me bent like Richard, black and blue.
Your drama may be modern, but your seating is Victorian,
Which quickly sees my comfort heading south.
Your balconies and rakes are my source of joys and aches,
That always leave me heart-and-knees-in-mouth.