New Poetry — Fred Agonistes

Ten new poems

Robert Conquest

Fred on Myth

Though Orpheus won the laurel crown
He drank the bitter cup:
Eurydice first let him down
Then Maenads tore him up.

An Orpheus Complex? Fred won’t fuss
With such an ancient tale
(Unlike old Freud with Oedipus)
-The thought, though, turns him pale.

Mere myth?-But that old Greek (thinks Fred)
Who told the tale as true
Had some material in his head
On which he later drew.

Footnotes from Fred


Si la jeunesse savait, si
La vieillesse pouvait“, yet
Fred brings up an anomaly
That aphorists forget.

He finds that, with the years he’s spanned
In his not special case,
The savvy’s finally to hand,
The pouvy still in place. 


Of course, the knowledge has its gaps,
The power sometimes fails,
And, as with all imperfect chaps,
Incompetence prevails. 

In any case, he’d hardly claim
That spoilsports like La Roche—
foucauld would ever mark his name
Sans peur et sans reproche“.


Fred Goes Into Detail

Women distinguish many a hue
Far beyond men’s scope,
“Teal” it seems is vaguely blue,
A muddy shine is “taupe”.

“Minutiae from which”, we groan,
“There’s little to be learned.”
But Fred’s not one to leave a stone,
However small, unturned.

Well yes, we say, the colour sense
Differs in him and her
So girls’ minds aren’t the same as men’s?
Whoever thought they were!

Fred replies that what we’ve known’s
Been attitudes to love
And shops and time and telephones
—All superficial stuff,

But now he feels he’s found the key:
Whoever thought a girl’d
Be structured to not even see
The same objective world?

Yet Fred approves of Nature’s plan,
(From which we can’t escape):
Who’d want a woman like a man
Merely of different shape?

Fred and Fifi 

Old Fred’s imagination has
In its conceptual net
A honey whom he thinks of as
Fifi Lafolette.

French maid, or can-can dancer at
Folies or Moulin Rouge,
She may best serve to indicate
A really not too huge

Array of varied images
In vision’s repertoire,
Exotic with her flashing eyes
And her unfloating hair:

One of a princely harem? Well,
For accuracy’s sake
Let’s say, of the material
From which a lad can make

A sort of sensual symphony,
A meld of metaphors?
A blazon of humanity?
A condiment or sauce?…

When real girls come into play
The tactful little pet
Just waves her hand and trips away.
(Her perfume lingers yet.)

Fred faces facts 

If Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs
(Fred muses, rather pissed)
Are possible, as most things are,
Can Noir de Blancs exist?

His reason tells him in a tick
This is the merest dream.
But is his intellect so quick
When women are the theme?

Not without effort. For he’ll let
His fantasy grow fond
Of, let us say, a blonde brunette
(A sort of Brune de Blondes),

With eyes of blackly hazel-blue
And skin all ivory-tanned;
Tall, tiny; slim and buxom too;
Huge breasts that fit the hand.

—Such dreams he can return to store
(Albeit with regret),
But others come which lure chaps more
Insidiously yet:

A temperamental and serene
Bohemian home-girl type;
A poule de luxe of modest mien,
Mature and not yet ripe;

Demure, farouche; unspoilt and chic…
Of course the lesson is
He shouldn’t actually seek
For contradictories.

So when he toasts a girl in Brut
From Ay or Avise slopes
Fred takes the realistic view
—Or so he says he hopes.

Girls aren’t exempt. Their dreams evoke
(Fred hears it every day)
The strong and independent bloke
Who’ll do just what they say.

Not Fred’s style

If you are wanting to annoy
(As Fred hopes that you’re not)
Nowadays there’s many a ploy
To make girls’ cheeks go hot.

One method Fred has sometimes struck:
With eyes half-shut and grin
Of patronising homage, chuck
A girl beneath the chin. 

“Well, well, my little one” will serve
To aggravate your crime;
But even if you have the nerve
Fred doubts you’ll have the time.

Because, meanwhile, the chance is high
That, when the penny drops
You’ll rapidly be silenced by
A smack across the chops.

Meekness, in fact, has had its day
(If it was ever found)
But still nostalgia for it may
Give chaps the runaround.

If so, to realists like Fred
Their compensation seems
Only attainable in bed
—That is, of course, in dreams.

Fred at a wedding

Fred’s been to marriages before
(Though mostly to his own).
He stifles, if perhaps no more
Than other chaps, a groan

At tedium, cramp, a shirt too tight…
But shudders as he spies
The awful air of triumph bright
In all the female eyes.

And his discomfort grows profound
As if he had to view
A lot of lionesses round
A poor sod of a gnu.

Festive Fred

De minimis non curat Fred
Or so he’ll often boast
But some things send him off his head
That don’t loom large to most.

Christmas comes but once a year
And as to what it means
To Fred, he’s often made it clear
He sees two different scenes:

The first is when at Christmastide
And not engaged or wed
Girls go back to their parents’ side
And leave a lonesome Fred 

Who, with stout, claret, whisky, hock,
With Melton Mowbray pies,
With tins of tasty tongue in stock
Stretched on his sofa lies.

He doesn’t shave. He reads a lot.
Soft jazz relieves the hush.
He hugs himself to think he’s not
Out in the sleet and slush.

Holed up in his basement flat
Such simple joys suffice:
The thought of all the mishaps that
He’s missing adds the spice. 

Viz: Christmas trees, charades, church—this
All taking place amid
A rat-faced brother talking piss,
An ankle-kicking kid;

And worse !—Some solace, as he can’t
Deny, may perhaps be found:
A bright and bodice-bursting aunt,
A sympathetic hound.

Fred’s fair, so mentions this relief
But adds that, truth to tell,
Such interludes are rare, and brief,
And all the rest is hell.

He daren’t drink suitably. Instead
His brain gets out of phase
He doesn’t follow half that’s said
He drags round in a daze . . .

Weeks or months, you’d think to hear
Old Fred, are thus misspent
Instead of just three days a year
—Not even one per cent!

Which a less fine-bred chap might stand
(Except when matters seem
So balanced that a grain of sand
Would make them kick the beam).


Fail-safe Fred

Some people think, though it’s not true,
Fred’s nature is inclined
To take too sceptical a view
Of love and womankind.

Addiction to the other sex
Is praised, and shared, by Fred,
He just thinks there are side-effects
On which light should be shed.

And though explorers can’t be safe
There’s one rule they should keep:
Don’t use a leaky bathyscaphe
To probe the dangerous deep.

Fred at the finish

Fred is of service to his kind
Or so we all must hope
And those should bear his points in mind
Who plan to (say) elope. 

His views are quite consistent (but
He’d plead a change of mood).
His touch, though sometimes delicate,
More often’s pretty crude.

But if his warnings sound too stark
It’s only thus one schools
Chaps who might otherwise embark
Upon a Ship of Fools.

He doesn’t always come out well
From stuff that he relates:
—He waives his self-conceit to tell
What may affect their fates.

The good things about girls, Fred says,
Are clear to all who’ve looked:
He could go on like that for days
—They really have him hooked. 

He’s lots of evidence to prove
Only with them you’d find
Such lovingness when they’re in love
Such kindness when they’re kind.

And if the tributes thus bestowed
Are seldom here expressed
It’s that they fit a lyric mode
That other chaps do best.

Though most men hope, if perhaps not soon,
Eventually to lie
At anchor in the blue lagoon,
Their chances don’t seem high.

Mourning all those who’ve come to grief
On stormy seas of sex
He seeks a passage through the reef
Guided by previous wrecks.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"