Paul Bailey

Flights of Fancy

Soho

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Asylum

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Jonathan Cape 63pp £10 order from our bookshop

Enter, Fleeing

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While reading the poems in Soho, Richard Scott’s outstanding first collection, I was reminded of a conversation the young Peter Hall had with Edith Sitwell on a television arts programme some sixty years ago. When the newly famous director asserted that good poets could write about anything they chose to, the bejewelled Dame Edith, who was dolled up in full medieval gear, snorted with disdain. Poetry, she pronounced, should only concern itself with noble matters. At around the time of this pronouncement, Thom Gunn wrote a poem celebrating the fact that he had recently caught crabs (of the kind that attach themselves to the pubic regions). And now here is Richard Scott recalling the ‘ripe fullness’ of a butt plug. To someone of my age, it seems only yesterday that Cavafy was admiring a boy’s reflection in a tobacco shop window.

Apart from the scientific terms for the bacteria that find a home in or near urinals, Scott’s vocabulary – often inventively employed – is instantly familiar. This is how he describes the regulars in ‘Public Toilets in Regent’s Park’:

All for the thrill of placing their knees
on the piss-stained cold, the iris shimmering
behind a hand-carved glory hole,
a beautiful cock unfolding like a swan’s neck
from the Harris Tweed of a city gent’s suit

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