Interviews at Oxford, 1959
The guide book phrase is dreaming spires, the facts
are pleasing too, the staircases and quads.
Train-loads of schoolboys shuffle in, disperse.
I’m bound for Jesus, for an interview.
Sounds pleasingly irreverent, that phrase:
“I’m bound for Jesus”. Then alas, ill-met,
here’s John the Baptist getting on the bus.
Who is this man, smile spread, grin grown so great?
He has the Bard’s Collected Works, and totes
this ammo to his holster arm, before
he fires in his first offence. Your school?
My glum, gruff Welsh response is slow:
It’s Milford Haven (‘Grammar School’ left out).
I do not ask his school. He tells me though.
His school spreads wide on England’s Southern coast.
‘Tis Beadles, Boodles? Rather good, he says.
Good little school. But so of course (he grins)
is Milford Haven. What a sizzling pratt.
And on we go. Next question. Do you ect?
Ecting? In sooth. My mind describes new views
of some foul practice known to him alone,
of buggery in Boodles, beastly boys.
And then he clarifies: In our place
we did King Lear. The monstrous grin now spreads
so far it seems to hinge half-off his head
(a large one) and he booms that he of course
was Edmund. Now, self-deprecating wit:
The Bastard Son of Gloucester. And I think,
Well yes. We read in Milford Haven too.
The bus conductor’s shout hails my release.
To Jesus. Ed’s for Queen’s. I leave him thus,
the Bastard Son of Boodles on the bus.
by Robert Nisbet, first published in Prole (Wales, 2010)
Editor’s Note: The irreverent tone of this poem doesn’t quite disguise the sense of insecurity that pervades both the speaker and his nemesis, coloring their narrative with tension many readers will understand.
Poet’s Note: Form: blank verse with a concluding heroic couplet, in the manner of a Shakespeare scene.
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