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Violent Poets No:5 Darius Guppy

As pugnacious ex-offenders go, Darius Guppy is a bit of a one-off. The convicted insurance fraudster, fellow Bullingdon Club member with Boris Johnson and David Cameron, doesn’t do remorse. Instead of keeping a low profile in his newly adopted home in South Africa, he has come out fighting. Guppy, as readers of Private Eye will know, is said to have once asked his friend Boris to arrange to have a pesky reporter beaten up for violating some sort of honour code — a Guppian honour crime, if you like. Johnson refused, but according to the TV profile of the London Mayor, the two men remain friends, and not long ago Guppy defended his Oxford pal. In the past couple of years Guppy has several times railed publicly against the moral failings of Western society, comparing them to the honourable principles upheld by the present Iranian government, who continue to practise public hangings and still persecute, among others, the peace-loving followers of Ba’hai.

On his mother’s side Guppy has some dubious claim to ancient Persian aristocratic blood. One ancestor was a poet and indeed the talent for verse manifested itself quite early in young Guppy’s life. Although he has never published a collection, in 1984 he edited with John Adlam  an anthology of Oxbridge poetry entitled First Set: Blue Jade, which has become a bit of a collectors’ item. Guppy wrote eight of the fifty poems in it, some of which demonstrate a genuine lyricism, especially when applied to descriptions of place, in this case, Venice:

By a lamp post, on an edge,
A blue green wave danced up to me
And kissed a pair of
Dangling legs, draped on a ledge
Then melted into blue jade

Immortal like stone, a stony city
Rose up from the pearls with a ruby sun
To haunt the ghostly speckled sea blanket
With shadeless colours, vague reality
Which rolls and sways and dives into itself… ( Blue Jade in Venice)

Or when recalling the unwanted sexual attentions of a family friend from childhood:

I grew with her
Through scattered games
And skipping footsteps,
Through walks around the house
And nightmare nights,
Through stinking bedroom scenes,
She laid with me unfelt, unseen… (The Companion)

England has a proud tradition of pugilistic poets. Byron was handy with a duelling  pistol and the vertically challenged Keats had a mean left hook. The bull-fight aficionado and minor versifier Roy Campbell punched fellow poets Geoffrey Grigson and Stephen Spender for having the gall to express left wing views, while socialist poet Vernon Scannell, who listed 'hating Tories' as one of his hobbies in Who’s Who, was an amateur boxer.  Richard Savage, whose life was chronicled by Samuel Johnson in his Life of the Poets actually killed a man, but evaded the noose*. More recently, Bill Oddie lookalike Craig Raine, whose Geordie father was a prize fighter, and Tom 'appalling' Paulin nearly came to blows over something or other. (R.M. Healey)

*Also worth looking out for is Billy the Kid. An anthology of Tough Verse. [Compiled by Michael  Baldwin.Hutchinson 1963]

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