The Glass Key holds a literary dinner every month with the most recent commemorating the life and work of the poet Christopher Hampton. We had invited people to enter a sonnet-writing competition with the winner being selected by ballot at the dinner. I had offered a prize of a book token for 25,00 to be spent at The Glass Key. All the entries were read out and I have printed the winning entry below. Modesty prevents me from naming the winner.
Shall I compare thee to my lederhosen?
Thou art more lovely, but they hardwearing.
Rough winds can blow when cabbage has been chosen.
But trousers for a summer leased will need returning.
Sometimes my eyes on thee so hotly burn
That I can scarcely stand; so dimly sit
And see the declination of the things that yearn
As my unnatural braces slide to the pit.
But nothing here shall be allowed to fade
And you shall hold one-handed onto life.
Death will not brag nor stand you in his shade
Because you are both trouble and my strife.
So long as trousers last and men desire
So long wear out the one and quit the fire.
SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE
After hearing of yet another Israeli attack on Palestinian towns – Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem.
‘Something has to be done’.
That much we know.
The world won’t wait
while sitting over late
coffee we prevaricate.
‘Something has to be done’.
Even to reiterate
suggests a kind of desperate
For if the world won’t wait,
how can we let it go
while the hate-seeds grow,
driving us down pathways
into a dead-end dark
where the claustrophobia
of closing doors breeds panic,
and the voices that would speak
alternatives are silenced?
– Christopher Hampton, 2003.
To be published in ‘What Remains: New and Selected Poems’ September 2013
It is just a year to the day since the death of the poet and political historian Christopher Hampton – a good time to take a moment and reflect on his life and work. Christopher had so many virtues that are lacking in the push-and-shove of the modern world: he was courteous but quietly determined, he listened as well as he spoke and he used language with a careful precision that one wishes were more widespread.
I am happy to say that a collection of Christopher’s poems, some unpublished at the time of his death and some selected from his previously published works, has been edited by Christopher’s daughter Rebecca and his friend Patsy Fraser. The book, with a foreword by Dinah Livingstone, will be published in time for the Salon du Livre (16-17 June). Full details will be available shortly. Advance orders are more than welcome
The poet and critic Christopher Hampton died at his home in Montmorillon on 28 April. Christopher was born in London and, studying first as a musician, he worked for a time as a pianist and conductor before giving up music for writing. From 1962 – 1966 he lived in Italy with his wife and daughter, teaching English in Rome. On his return to Britain he joined the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster), where he taught for 28 years, as well as lecturing at the City Literary Institute. Active on the left of the Labour party, he was involved in many protest movements of the eighties and nineties. In 1997 he resigned from the Party in opposition to Tony Blair’s New Labour Third Way politics. His poems and articles on philosophy, politics and literature have appeared regularly in print and on the radio since 1960.
Publications by Christopher Hampton include The Etruscans and the Survival of Etruria (Gollancz 1969 & Doubleday 1970); Socialism in a Crippled World (Pelican 1981); A Radical Reader (Pelican 1984) and The Ideology of the Text (Open University Press 1990). He was the editor of Poems for Shakespeare published by Sam Wanamaker’s Globe Playhouse Trust in 1972. Christopher Hampton published four volumes of poetry: An Exile’s Italy (Thonneson 1972); A Cornered Freedom (Peterloo 1980); Against the Current (Katabasis 1995); Border Crossings (Katabasis 2005).
At the time of his death Christopher had a number of completed projects in the pipeline. Christopher is survived by his wife Kathleen, daughter Rebecca and grandson Rohan.
Christopher was a man with an inquiring mind. He was not just interested in books, in poetry, in music or in politics but also in people. One always left any meeting with Christopher feeling more positive and enthusiastic because his positive enthusiasm was infectious. I only knew him for the last four years of his life but I feel privileged to have been able to call him my friend.
We held a poetry reading for Christopher in the Glass Key bookshop in May 2010 and you can see and hear Christopher reading his poetry on a couple of short pieces of film posted on YouTube at http://youtu.be/pDV4UVh0JIs and