When I was at university studying English Literature, I was invited to attend a lecture from a distinguished visiting academic who claimed to have discovered a modern poet who was comparable to Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was quite highly regarded in those days so this claim caused a sensation. The lecture theatre was packed.
The middle-aged academic addressed us in tremulous tones. He was reading from handwritten notes something that seemed like a story because it was written in the third person. It told of a sensitive middle-aged man who was shown some poems that moved him to ecstasy.
It was quite a long story and the details were vaguely embarrassing. Our lecturer, who was dressed in a faded blue corduroy jacket, looked up shyly from time to time to check we were all still listening. We were.
The poet was only twenty-four, he told us. The implications for poetry in England were immense. This poet’s staggering range and depth were like nothing in the English canon. At once profound and polific, the poet’s work had the virtuosity of genius. The man who was handed them realised that his world had just changed … changed utterly.
He ended, euphorically, “I am here today to tell you that I was that man. And I have brought with me that poet…”
There were gasps in the auditorium.
A tall willowy blonde stepped onto the podium. She demurred with a breathy giggle, composed herself quickly, and read us some poems.
A very long silence.
This lecture was followed by a brief flurry of interest in the international press. There were some sarcastic and bitchy exchanges in literary journals. And the poet’s career ended abruptly. Her prolific output ceased.
This series of events made a lasting impression on me. I can remember nearly everything with astonishing clarity — except, sadly, the poems.
I don’t have the gravitas of a distinguished poetry specialist at one of the world’s leading universities. My words carry little influence. But I still think I should be careful of praising too highly the works of living writers whose reputations are still unformed.
That’s why I’ve been silent on the subject of 4:Play, a collection of stories by Jess C. Scott. These stories are too complex to be called erotic, too creative to be classifiable, too genre-bending to be conventionally published and far too hot for me to handle.