Monday, November 23, 2009

Elegant Insults

Catullus the poet is a great insulter. He names names: "Egnatius aping class with your thick black beard and/ flashing teeth scrubbed white with Spanish urine . . . " Reading Catullus has emboldened me. If he can write "prick,"--that's the mildest of his insults--I can begin a poem with "Shit for Brains, don't tell me . . . "

I'll never achieve Catullus's polish but I hope to find language as vulgar as his. But that's not all I've learned from Catullus. He wrote a love poem to a place, "Of all near-islands, Sirmio, and of islands/ the jewel . . . " Paene insularum, Sirmio, insularumque/ ocelle . . . ." So musical in Latin. And he talks to himself, "Miserable, Catullus" one poem begins.

I've now begun a poem with, "Poor, sorry Mim." If I'm lucky I will be able to write a love poem to a place.


  1. When I was young I learned Latin and blushed whenever we translated Catullus's poetry.

    How brilliant to come across it again. I look forward to reading your work, written under the shadow of Catullus.

  2. Thank you, Elizabeth. I'm still blushing after yesterday's conversation with J. in Starbuck's. We talked about Catullus and I asked him for particularly juicy insults I might use in a poem. He whispered one, which I can't bring myself to type out. Catullus would not have hesitated.

  3. Terribly timely, James Robson in the Evening Standard today wrote about an email quoting Catallus: "irrumabo vos, et pedicabo vos". Like James, I can't help admiring the emailers gall!

  4. my, my.....looking forward to reading the new work...

  5. One translation of "irrumabo vos, et pedicabo vos": up yours and in your mouth. Shameless Catullus!