Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Worlds of Wells

What is this mysterious envelope? Why, it is only another slender pamphlet of verse from Cardinal Cox, erstwhile Poet Laureate of Peterborough. Oh, and he just happens to be focusing on my favourite of all time...

Yes, it's the Bertie Wells half-hour, or however long it takes you to read some poems. This is cracking little volumette, and I will now proceed to praise its contents. As usual, each short poem is accompanied by the Cardinal's thoughts on related matters.

All the poems are inspired by one or more Wells stories. Thus the first, 'Stone Age', is a reflection on Andoo the cave bear, who comes a cropper in 'A Story of the Stone Age'. Andoo has 'views waiting for a golf club to spout them in', and as the note makes clear is seen as an archetype of the Trump/Brexit bullying ignoramus.

'The Moth' is a nice meditation on Hapley in the eponymous tale of battling entomologists. The repetitive nature of the sestina (if that's what it is) conveys the increasingly obsessive efforts of the living antagonist to deal with the fluttering spirit of the dead one as the moth 'flutters about my room'.

Then we come to 'starring Joan Collins'. She is not quite old enough to have known Wells but did star in a truly awful 1977 Bert I. Gordon adaptation/mangling of 'The Empire of the Ants'. Cox recalls his first viewing of the film in a fleapit, and reflect son the Sixties Cold War neuroses that influence the movie DDT and 'burning jungles'. I agree with his argument that Phase IV (1974) is much truer to Wells' vision.

'Guinea Coast Praise Poem' takes us to Africa and the scene Pollock's encounter with the Porroh-Man. Again, repetition - 'Spider spinning in the dark' - captures the way Wells' anti-hero breaks down in a story that is masterfully ambiguous as to whether it is a supernatural tale. 'Agape' looks at the altogether more benevolent power of altered states of consciousness in 'The Purple Pileus', with a Sixties hippie twist.

Two poems, 'A Shop Near Seven Dials' and 'The Visions' consider the Martians' preliminary reconnaissance of Earth  via 'The Crystal Egg'. Poor Cave, the curio dealer and henpecked husband, has 'seen such sights that mere space transcends'. Among his visions is a 'glimpse of an ape being chased' and three-legged machines.

The next two poems, 'Phaeton's Ride' and 'Scavengers', consider 'The Star', in which a rogue planet collides with Neptune and almost wipes out the human race as the combined body hurtles into the sun. This prompts a wider meditation on the cosmic threat, as the Martians observe the Earth's close escape. Meanwhile, the imperial powers seek to occupy the polar regions due to a warmer sun. Climate change, folks...

Arguably the best story Wells wrote was 'The Door in the Wall'. In 'Crimson Virginia Creeper, Green Door' Cox riffs upon the all-too-brief tastes of happiness experienced by Wells' protagonist. In his note he rightly refers to Machen - anyone asking what Machen was about could be referred to Wells' story. 'I hope he found again that garden sweet'. Me too.

'Legacy' looks at some of Wells' other fantasies, such as 'The Magic Shop' and 'The Temptation of Harringay'. The latter is given his place in the history of art, as a 'friend of Enoch Soames' and an influence on Rothko. In the note Cox wonders what Wells might have accomplished with a novel-length fantasy. Arguably he gave it a try in The Wonderful Visit, and perhaps The Sea Lady, neither of which are that good.

The final poem, '21st Century Blues', considers Wells the social prophet through two of his most problematic works, When the Sleeper Wakes and Things to Come. It is not difficult to see both tales as distorted reflections of the world imposed upon us, with 'No tomorrows - only eternity of today', a culture where 'greed and envy create their own slavery'. And yet I think Cox is right to argue that Wells was essentially an optimist. This very quality is the light that casts such dark shadows in his best fiction.

So, if you want a copy of Worlds of Wells, follow the usual procedure.

1 comment:

Cardinal Cox said...

Thanks for the review!