Friday, February 11, 2011

In memory of A.K. Grant

Today is A.K. Grant’s birthday. He would have been 70 today.

The 31st in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the March 1996 issue and reprints five of Alan’s poetry parodies. Four more were published in the June issue – they were all collected with other poems in his last, wonderful book Parodies Regained, published in 2000, the year he died.

I didn’t know Alan well but every time I went to Christchurch in the 1990s he was always my first port of call. Before I met him I had the privilege of occasionally editing his Listener column in the 1970s, which was a joy. Later, I met him in the 1980s when he was in Auckland struggling with TVNZ’s script editors and we would go out for lunch and drinks. Well, I had lunch, Alan had drinks and I had no clue what this meant. 

If I have got the story right, when Alan was dying in Christchurch hospital, his doctor was called Fernando. On being introduced, Alan said, ”Can you hear the drums, Fernando?” Talk about courage being grace under pressure.

The heading was:
The Rewrite Stuff

The intro read:
If the Troggs could cover Wet Wet Wet’s “Love Is All Around”, if Otis Redding could cover Michael Bolton’s “Dock Of The Bay” – why shouldn’t Marvell, Kipling, Rochester, Gray and even Omar Khayyam rewrite a Sam Hunt poem in their own style? AK GRANT recently unearthed these long-lost manuscripts.

This is the Sam Hunt original:
Enough! to count the cars
Sliding by, remember the bars
where women and jokes were shared
Scars smart now, like the stars through tears –
a man and his dog, running scared.
(from Running Scared, 1982)

And here are Alan’s parodies in other poets’ voices:

Bottle Creek
by Rudyard Kipling
By the DB Paremata, looking lazy at the sea,
There’s a green-eyed girl a-settin’ and she’s settin’ next to me;
But the wind is in the toi-toi, and its plumes they seem to speak:
“Come you back, you rovin’ poet, come you back to Bottle Creek:
Come you back to Bottle Creek.
You’ve been gone at least a week:
And the herons all are cryin’, Bring Sam back to Bottle Creek!”
I must go to Bottle Creek,
(When my dog has had a leak),
Where the dawn comes up like thunder out of Pae-ae-kak-arik!

The Missed Mistress
by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
Pray tapster, fill the flowing bowl
As quickly as you can,
For I must drown my haunted soul
Inside this DB can.

I loved a woman once, but now
I tremble when I shave;
And all that’s left’s a bow-wow-wow
To guide me to the grave.

I loved for better, loved for worse,
I think, I think, I think.
Oh Christ! I think this sort of verse
May drive a man to drink.

To His Shared Mistress
by Andrew Marvell
Had I but world enough and Time,
I would confront the Great Sublime,
By which I mean the girls I’ve kissed
In places which I sometimes missed;
Discovering with a sudden start
Myself adjacent to a part,
Though not the one where I’d been heading;
Enough! I brought the bawd to bedding.
But at my back I always hear
A surly barman hurrying near,
To fill my glass and count my cash,
Of which I have a dwindling stash.
Dog! to the window let us go
And count the sliding cars below.
The grave’s a dry and crumbling wicket –
Bugger! I think I’ve got a ticket!

Omar Khayyam Tries To Work It Out
by Edward Fitzgerald
A Book of Verses underneath the Bar
A Jug of Beer, a Georgie Pie – a Car
A Dog! beside me in the Wilderness –
I sometimes wonder who I am – or are!

Elegy Written in a Country Tavern
by Thomas Gray
The barmaid, Nell, is wiping down the bar.
The lowing herd winds slowly out the door.
The ploughman plods towards a distant car.
The Ploughman’s Lunch is squashed upon the floor.

Now fades the glimmering pokie on the sight:
Switched off the beacon of the TAB.
Nell says to me, “Will you lock up? Goodnight”,
And leaves the pub to darkness and to me.

Full many a gin of purest ray serene
The dark upended spirit bowsers bear
Full many a DB Bitter can of green
Will wash away full many a bitter tear.

Far from the car park’s mad ignoble strife,
The sliding cars have sped upon their way.
I count them, as I think about my life
And sing (in noiseless tenor), “Yesterday”.

And now my dog’s my truest friend on earth,
Though I’m to Fame and Fortune not unknown:
Nothing especially humble in my birth,
But Melancholy marked me for her own.

The dog’s not looking cheerful, come to that.
We’re running on an empty tank of fear.
Mutely I give the mutt a moody pat,
And pour a Scotch to chase away my beer.


Phil said...

I was lucky enough to know Alan in the 80s. As follows, a letter to his friends on the occasion of his funeral:

To Family & Friends of Alan Grant,

As one of the junior writers on Issues and More Issues, I was often in contact with Alan and got to know him over a couple of years.

He was always the one to congratulate the junior writers if a sketch went particularly well before the live audience. He would always come out with the crew after the show, to wind down and chat.

Alan was kind, encouraging, warmly welcoming and always a gentleman.

I have no hesitation in recommending him for a special place with his future celestial employer.

Kindest regards and best wishes,

Stephen Stratford said...

Thanks, Phil. Whatever Alan's private demons were he was in my experience, as you say, always a gentleman.