Wednesday, 3 June 2020

from the lips of a cobra

Lips of a cobra

Jim Keery sent me an unknown Peter Yates poem which includes this passage:

This dark prince triumphs on the siren coast;
And in his coiled and cobra sting
The Eve kiss haunts us

This (‘The Double Door’) dates from 1954 and so is too late to have been included in his last book, of 1951. It is also missing from his 1983 Selected. The date is significant if one recalls (as who does not?) the 1944 Maria Montez movie, Cobra Woman. The poster for the film included the phrases “Pagan witch or weird woman of Rapture? ...Temptress of Terror quicker on the kiss than on the kill…”
Cobra, kiss, temptation. This shows yet again that New Romantic poetry overlapped with cinematic melodrama. Montez is one of few Hollywood stars to have entire films constructed around her screen persona – films which just wouldn't have got made if she hadn't been there. They are extreme films – most Hollywood films were based on existing novels and could at a pinch have substituted one of several stars. But without Montez they would never have started “Cobra Woman”. And all her films are like that. Cobra Woman has two characters played by Montez (offering value for money) but there was only one Maria Montez. Can we dream of an anthology of New Romantic poetry read by Maria Montez?
Siren coast? I see the good lady starred in a film called “Siren of Atlantis”. Dunstan Thompson wrote a poem called “Prince of Atlantis” - this is one of the ones I haven't seen, only seen the title in a catalogue. Do the works overlap? was Thompson the Maria Montez of poetry? is the film based on the Thompson poem? These are the questions that must be answered.
Thompson's poem ‘Lament for the Sleepwalker’ has these lines:

There, while jackals scream, Lord Vulture,
Wing caged in crystal, sings his subtle airs
Of praise; recalls how orchid adders hissed
Above the crypt when lion and lover kissed.

 so lord- adder- kiss. Not quite cobra. This is from his 1947 book (named after the quoted poem). As snakes have no lips, they can’t really kiss.
(This follows a previous post on poetry and 40s cinema.)

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