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An Invitation

Thomas Blackburn

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Men of Letters
Added by: Andrew Mayers
This poem is specifically about a poet, but in more general terms can be seen to highlight the difference between what we are and what we appear to be to others.
Blackburn presents us with a realistic picture of a poet and he does this by first mentioning the picture the man who has invited him to speak has of Blackburn. He thinks of Blackburn as a man “eminent / In the field of letters” and the poet comments, “No doubt what he’s thinking of is poetry / When ‘Thomas Blackburn’ he writes”.
Blackburn then presents the real picture on two levels, the physical and the mental. The man inviting the poet did not imagine he was addressing his letter to the sort of man whose hands shake in the morning or as being a “red-eyed fellow whose mouth tastes rank as soot”. His mental state is as disorganised as his physical state. His good and bad states are constantly at war and when there is a particularly savage battle between the two he produces a poem in an attempt to resolve that battle. In the last line he shows how he hides the battleground of his body behind the polite hypocrisies of conventional expression.
Instead of the romantic picture we are usually presented with of poets being almost FROM a different world, full of daydreams (and probably wearing floral patterned shirts), Blackburn humorously shows us a far more authentic picture of him. He is concerned, like the rest of us, with a “decent fee”, as well as being capable of HAVING a hangover, which is what I assume he is referring to when he writes of shaking hands, bloodshot eyes and a foul taste in his mouth. Such phrases as “Since I’m no stiff”, with the slang use of “stiff”, help us to realise that poets are, as they should be, firmly rooted in reality. The poem as a whole reminds us that there is a big difference between how we appear to others and how we really are.
I particularly like the poem as it is a much-needed (to judge FROM some of the comments on this site) corrective to many people’s ideas about poets.

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