The latest issue of The Spectator – or to be more accurate, the issue I’m currently reading, which is the one of April 17 – contains a poem by a Denis Welch.
I was about to email my old friend and colleague of that name to advise him that he had a British namesake who writes poetry when it suddenly occurred to me that the two Denis Welches might be one and the same.
There was a small clue in the poem: the tell-tale phrase “as right as rain”. It’s a commonly heard expression in Masterton, which happens to be Denis’s home town (and mine by adoption), but one that I suspect is rarely used in the sophisticated salons of London – or even Wellington, for that matter.
Sure enough, it turns out that Denis, with whom I worked in the distant past at The Dominion, The Listener and the Evening Post, and who readers of this blog may remember as a former Listener political columnist, has a secret life as a poet (well, secret to me, anyway, though we’ve kept in touch and meet up occasionally).
His poem in The Spectator is a tribute to the late Northern Irish poet Derek Mahon, who died last October. It starts with the lines:
Flaubert said he could hear the fall
Of the words several pages ahead
Before he’d even written them.
Your poems felt like that to me …
I don’t profess to be an authority on contemporary poetry, but I’ll pay Denis’s poem the sincere compliment of saying I understood what he was saying, even without being familiar with Mahon’s work. I can’t always say that about poems that appear in The Spectator (which, incidentally, has also published work by New Zealanders Fleur Adcock and Peter Bland).
Anyway, big ups (is that the expression?) to Denis for getting recognition from such an eminent publication. It’s not easy breaking through from 20,000 kilometres away, especially in a magazine whose leading names all seem to share Eton and Oxford connections. Now that he has his foot in the door, I hope there’ll be more.