Tango with Muppets

damning with faint praise
the diamond classics
mods in sparkles


an m-peg and a j-peg had a tiff
cats in hats and rats in spats
who is that?
rat-a-tat-tat     pussy cat
an’ oily prat
     quit yer bellerin’


cheeky wee monkeys
tombs of the founders
holes through the lyre
now everything is fast forward
book the Turk for the infringement on the Spaniard Cervantine


a standing ovation kills the fruit flies
flirting the leads
unsupported drivers
Kanyok & Luba

Tired of googling, the editor asks for a gloss on my manuscript. This is a problem with contemporary poetry, you need a glossary but then marginalia become like the explanation of a trick. I feel explaining it spoils it since whatever you hear will trigger your own mental associations. “Tango with muppets” (with its echo of “Tango with Cows” by V Kamensky) comes from an earlier poem and refers to a segment on Plaza Sésamo (the Mexican version of Sesame Street) which I sometimes watch to practice/improve my Spanish (since i am a beginner), which is why the earlier version has Spanish phrases interspersed.
Pickering’s Diamond Classics, published in London in the 1820s were tiny (4.5 x 2.75 ins) fashionable editions of Horace, Milton and Whatnot, printed in diamond type by Chas Corrall. The Mods were fashion-conscious teenagers in UK in the 60s.
The second stanza evokes an old nursery rhyme, except an oily prat is a pun on French vermouth. “Quit yer bellerin’” is a line from a Margaret O’Brien movie (I think), I dont remember which one. “Cheeky wee monkeys” is an old Scots expression, used by tv’s own Craig Ferguson, the comic. Again something that re-emerged from my childhood. “book the Turk for the infringement on the Spaniard” comes from watching soccer, however Cervantes was wounded in a sea battle at Lepanto when the Spanish fought the Turks in the late 16th century. It was his wounds that helped identify his remains in the convent, hence Cervantine.
“flirting the leads” is a quote from No 44 the Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain. He is describing someone removing two point leads from a page of hand composed type with a make-up rule or a shooting stick. I never heard that expression and have not seen it elsewhere but the idea of teasing out the leads like that appealed to me. “Unsupported drivers” has a double meaning. It could be someone in an old truck with no seats in Africa as well as a problem encountered with my scanner when I upgraded my computer. Kanyok & Luba are two tribes from the Southern Belgian Congo (as it was in 1952) recorded by Hugh Tracey around Lubumbashi. I wrote it down in that place in my notebook in Amoeba, in order to check that I had the CD. It fit since I think a lot about African culture.

Alastair Johnston is a printer and author living in Berkeley, California. He is trying to realize Oliver Cromwell’s dictum: a man never rises so high as when he doesn’t know where he is going. www.poltroonpress.com

You can see more of his work in 3.3 2.3 and 2.1 (translations) and in 1.3 and 1.1