Algernon Charles Swinburne

by Bob Bradshaw
The Writer's Block
Second Place, September 2019
Judged by Lois P. Jones


Lean like a flamingo,
he boasted a cataract of red hair—
but was just as famous
for his drunken pratfalls,

his poetry accused
of being just as confused
as he was when sloshing about

a room spilling brandy
or shrieking hysterically
like a peacock.

Yet he did have his fans,
often women who–
not knowing Algernon

preferred flogging
to copulation, pain and drunkenness
his antidotes to boredom–

would sigh and swoon
in faints of adulation
at his readings,

piling together, like coats
which slip with ease
from their hangers

onto the polished floor,
having come undone at a touch
or the thought of such.


This poem is a quick caricature of little-known Swinburne whose controversial poems caused a stir in Victorian England. We imagine women swooning at the likes of Liszt and Paganini in the classical world but we don’t hear much of the literary figures with comparable powers. Perhaps Swinburne had a feral charm which came through despite his slight and sickly figure. Poetry holds that power just as this poem brings us perfection in simile where women pile “like coats/which slip with ease/from their hangers/onto the polished floor.” The hangers mirror the flamingo-like sketch. --Lois P. Jones

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