Lurgsy’s Wolverine (Pet’s Corner No.6)

This reminds me. Tomas Lurgsy wrote a poem called ‘each a vagrant mongrel’. Any fool knows this. But how many people can list the number of pets owned by the members of the Bulgarian Farm Poets Movement?

Pets is a tricky word, I know. Is a cow a pet? What if you don’t milk it? When does a stray cat become a pet? Suffice to say that, when in the country, the Bulgarian Farm Poets surrounded themselves with tame, half-tame and vaguely-tame animals: thirty at least – maybe more.

Amongst these, it is claimed, was an orphaned wolverine. As such claims go, this seems a relatively secure one: much more secure, I would say, than the claim that Ludomir Birovnik hand-reared seven golden eagle chicks. For although we have no photographs of said wolverine, we do have plenty of written evidence, including no less than fourteen poems. Sadly, these poems don’t appear in most collections of Lurgsy’s work. Why? Because they’re poor? Not exactly. Most of them are well below par, it must be said: but there are some strong works.

Strong is very much the word, I think. Disturbing is another word that suits. Consider ‘wolverine, sweet wolverine’ (or, if you’re eating lunch, consider it not). That’s some rather ‘heady’ imagery, make no mistake about. ‘Your sweat and fur float in my veins/your teeth sink sweetly into skin’. And all that stuff about a ‘hairy consummation’ – what has to wonder just what was going on there. Lurgsy liked his wolverine, that’s for sure. One might even say he loved it. Until it grew up, that is, and tried to bite his arm off. After that, I think we can safely say that their relationship went downhill. Or that the wolverine went downhill, in a tub, at high speed, into a lake (a weird way to put a once-loved pet down, granted, but then I’m no Bulgarian poet).

Factual Bark, Fictional Bite (Pet’s Corner No.5)

The author Egor Falastrom, as we all know, is not above putting himself into his books. He readily admits that his protagonist Egor Poeur (star of such works as Dark Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, Further Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, Still More Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, and the forthcoming  Beauty’s Tutor) is ‘but an enhanced and improved version of me’. A vastly-enhanced-and-improved version, that is – as Heidi Kohlenberg was to find out. As she puts it: ‘Egor Poeur has it all; sensitivity, sexuality, wit, wisdom, and an amazing ability to tame wild dogs’; whereas Egor Falastrom has a ‘valiantly hideous nose’ and a copiously sweaty brow. Poeur is a projection of Falastrom’s dreams: the man he wishes he was.

But what about the dogs? Falastrom’s books, as the titles suggest, are full of dogs. Are they too fantastical projections; enhanced and improved versions of actual mutts? It would seem so. Falastrom does, after all, own several dogs: each a vagrant mongrel, rescued from the streets, nursed back to some sort of life and puchased, for a pittance, by the lonely writer. One of them, Samsom, he has described in interviews as ‘a pug-nosed wretch of a bull-dog with a severe dribbling disorder and three limpish legs, like charred tree stumps’.In his fiction, however, Samson becomes Sammo, a fiercely handsome beast who ‘drives bitches wild’. Thus the poor creature is generously rehabilitated – albeit in words.

Philippe Bezar (Pet’s Corner, No.4)

‘What about Philippe Bezar?’ said Mr. B——

‘What about him?’ I asked, with needlessly casual scorn. Despite the success of his 1991 novel, Monkey See, Monkey Do (winner of the coveted Satin Glove for Gay Fiction), Bezar had never convinced me as a writer. There was something – I don’t know – artificial about his prose. ‘Too much pose, not enough prose’, as I think I wrote at the time.

‘He had no pet as such,’ said my drinking companion, ‘but he yearned for one nonetheless. Oh, how he yearned!’

‘Go on,’ said I.

‘What I know is this: Bezar’s most precious dream was to hand-rear a chick. To mother a little baby hen – this was all he asked. Unfortunately, the fellow had an extraordinarily elementary grasp of basic science, which led him to believe that shop-bought eggs would do the trick just as well as any other. For several years he dutifully sat on a dozen eggs purchased from the supermarket, keeping a tragic diary of his progress – or should I say, lack of progress? For of course, none of the eggs ever hatched. No chick was ever born. Bezar never achieved his hand-rearing dream. The only thing he ever mothered was this melancholy tale.’

‘Sad story,’ said I: ‘but can it really be true?’

My source looked offended. ‘Oh, I’m sure of it,’ he said, unconvincingly.

I pondered a little more. There were three options. First, the story was indeed true. Second, it had been invented by Bezar’s enemies, to convince the world of his idiocy. Third, it had been invented by Bezar, to convince the world of…. what? His winning ignorance of the way the world works? His powerful mothering instinct? His pure, unalloyed eccentricity?

Beats me.

Hector Spinkel/Louise Margreta (Pet’s Corner No.3)

As we all know, professional eccentric Hector Spinkel (see here) owned a Bornean Whoolah Bird. This bird was trained to ‘recite “scientific” speeches’, which it did so dutifully, without so much as a shadow of an idea of what it was squawking on about. Off the cuff comments there were none: the bird knew three speeches, and this was all. It could not answer questions, or respond wittily to interruptions. It was, essentially, a living tape recorder.

Talking of ‘living tape-recorders’, I believe this same analogy was employed by Swiss writer Louise Margrêta when questioned over her own relationship with the animal kingdom. In this case, however, it was she that was the recorder – and not the animals. ‘I am a device through which animals speak,’ said Margrêta, memorably: ‘I have no creative talents whatsoever, beyond the ability to record what others have created’.

Others, in this case, referred exclusively to non-human creatures, whose ‘stories’ were collected in her 1997 work, Translations: an unforgettable compendium of absorbing, moving and frequently amusing narratives. Most critics credit Margrêta for the quality of the book, but she is loath to take it. ‘These stories were written by my pets,’ she wrote in the preface, going on to describe, in slightly tedious detail, the personal histories of said scribes, amongst whom we find four cats, three pigs, two dogs, two sheep, a horse, a cow, a goat and a nightingale. Later, with more grace, she recounts the manifold difficulties of her ‘art-form’. ‘Anyone who has attempted to transcribe a moo, a meeow and an oink will understand me when I say that it is a rather complex affair. Rather complex indeed’.

Well, yes: ‘indeed’ is probably the right word.

Edmund Ek (Pet’s Corner No.2)

‘Pity poor Heidi Kohlenberg,’ I said, my mouth full of nuts.

Four or five wise heads nodded in agreement.

‘I refer,’ I added hastily, ‘not to the woman, but to the cat.’

The same heads continued their steady up-and-down, as I reminded them of how the Norwegian novelist Edmund Ek (aka ‘Blumin Ek’/ ‘Edmund the Honest’) had retired to the wilderness and lived in near solitude, saved from complete loneliness only by small white cat, which he had named after his ex-wife, the literary critic Heidi Kohlenberg (follow the early stages of the controversy here).

‘I pity that poor pussy for many reasons,’ I explained. ‘First, as its very name attests, it is destined to live in the shadow of the woman it was intended to replace. As if this wasn’t bad enough, this shadow-living must take place in the middle of nowhere. Cats may be quiet creatures, but a desire for peace does not always indicate a desire for complete silence. Even the most sour-faced mog needs requires a smidgen of social interaction. The cat Heidi, however, has nothing of the sort. It is a slave, quite simply, to the whims of its muddle-headed master. Like all pets, it must go wherever the owner goes. It has no say in the situation. It must merely follow.’

More nods and – dare I say it? – one or two glistening eyes. I was touching something – and who knows? – it might well have been a nerve.

‘This cat is not a cat, but a living symbol; a simple piece of writing apparatus; a physical manifestation of the writer’s warped mind. Any purpose it serves it is not the purpose for which it was intended. This is, in essence, a true pet.’

At this I stamped my fist upon the table, sending a lone peanut flying into space, to be caught, nimbly, by the man sitting on the left of me.

‘What did you say the cat’s name was again?’ asked someone.

Robert Wray (Pet’s Corner No.1)

Mr X—- P— ordered another drink from the bar, unbuttoned his cuffs, scratched his upper lip, blinked his right eye, stroked his companion’s knee, fiddled with a fingernail, and began:

‘Robert Wray,’ he said, ‘is the name that comes to mind’. We all nodded slowly. Robert Wray: of course! The poet Wray.

‘I met him four times,’ he went on, ‘in the summer of ’89. Or was it five in the winter of ’86? I know not. Does it matter? I think not. Every time I met him, at any rate, the animal was also there. Every single time.’

He took a sip of cider. ‘I was playing darts at the local pub. Research for a novel, of course, otherwise I simply wouldn’t have been caught dead hurling small arrows at concentric circles. It was a long novel, however, so I’d joined a team. I was, in fact, rather good. The novel required this of me – and so it was.’

Another, longer, sip.

‘One night we were due to play a team from Hartlepool. They cancelled, but our captain had a friend who had a friend whose captain had a friend who was part of team playing another team who had also cancelled. So we two teams played each other instead. This other team were a decent lot, a regular squad of fellows, so to speak, with only one exception. This exception was Robert Wray.’

‘What was so annoying about Robert Wray? First up, he never took his coat off all evening. He wore this whopping great coat, fur-lined and all – but he never once took it off. He threw every dart with his coat on. And the coins in his coat pocket, of which there were a horrible lot, went clink-clink-clink all the way. Every time he leaned forward, moved a leg or a hand, cink-clink-clink went the coins. It drove us mad. We played, needless to say, like a gang of feckless mongrels.’

‘There was, however, worse to come. Nothing could stop Wray when it came to making a fuss. He really was the one when it came to professional fuss-making! And god, did he get under your skin? Playing Wray was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. He disrupted the rhythm of your very breathing, let alone your game. He wouldn’t let a falling leaf settle. He was, in short, the most frustrating man I’ve ever met.’

‘But what about the animal? I haven’t even come onto the animal, have I? You’d think it was bad enough, what with Wray himself, clinking and fussing away. But no – this wasn’t enough for poor old Robert. He needed more – just a little something else. So what did he have? A chicken on a leash! A full-grown and feathered chicken on a three foot leash, clucking and clucking to its heart’s content. Clink-clink-clink, cluck-cluck-cluck. What a game of darts that was! Robert fuss-pot Wray and his flipping chicken-on-a-leash. Tied to the radiator, clucking the night away. Can you believe it?’

Well, yes, I can believe it. It was Robert Wray after all.

More on that, however, later.

Tales and Tails

Last night at The Crippled Bee I urged my companions to bring forth beer, and then, in turn, the very best of their writer and pet related stories.

Why so? After all, I care not for pets myself. Why people will insist on wandering around our beautiful parks and woodlands accompanied by a yapping, hairy, four-legged professional-shit-depositor on a lead has always been a mystery to me. A goldfish in a bowl? Unless it’s nestling on a bed of salad, with a fig-flavoured balsamic dressing, it’s not for me. A rabbit in a hutch? I don’t think so. Bunnies belong in Hades’ lair.

Still, one must appreciate that, beyond my own (clearly) superior tastes, there are other points of view. Writers and artists have, throughout history, frequently turned to animals – as inspiration, as part-time companions, as – dare I say it? – close friends. Like it I don’t, but pets abound in the annals of obsure european literature. Who can forget Hector Spinkel’s Bornean Whoolah Bird, or Louis Marchant’s monkey-faced owl? Literary history crawls with animals: lambs lightly leap, moles courageously dig and cheetahs simply wizz through its never-ending pages.

So, I hear you say, isn’t it time someone created some sort of ‘Pet’s Corner’ for fans of obscure european literature? Perhaps you’re right. In any case, though I wouldn’t go so far as to predict that this will be a regular feature (what ever happened to my daily routine series after all?), I hereby announce that I will, over the coming weeks and/or months, be sharing a few of those aforementioned writer and pet-related stories with you.