Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate

Vikram Seth, The Golden Gate (1986, Vintage International 1991)

A virus had me sick in bed,
Too thick of head to watch TV.
I’d try to read but lose the thread.
Oh bored bored bored, Oh woe was me!
A friend* said, ‘Read The Golden Gate.’
‘Five thou, five hundred fifty-eight
Lines in iambic tetrameter –
No way! That’s not one for the amateur
And drowsy reader.’oooo ‘Have a go!
Just take one sonnet at a time.
They zip along and even rhyme.’
I read, coughed, slept, read, slept, went slow.
My friend was wise, the book’s a joy,
Seven years before A Suitable Boy.

The year is roughly 1980,
AIDS a whisper, Soviet bloc’s
Intact. A yuppie seeks a mate, he
Finds love through a PO box.
San Francisco, sexy, witty,
Like Maupin’s first Tales of the City.
John loves Liz and Phil loves Ed,
Though Ed loves Jesus more than bed.
Jan (sculptor) holds a torch for John.
An anti-nuclear demonstration
Includes a powerful oration.
The pleasure here was so full on
I’d like to read, though there’s no hurry,
Fredy Neptune by Les Murray.
——
* The ‘friend’ was Jo Walton, a writer and avid reader of, and blogger about, fantasy whom I’ve never met. She enthused persuasively about the The Golden Gate earlier this year on the tor.com blog. A copy turned up on BookMooch almost instantaneously.

7 responses to “Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate

  1. *Applause* funny!!
    Abigail

  2. Clever clever clever and funny!

  3. shawjonathan

    Thank you, thank you. If ever you’re down with with the flu you should try this book, seriously. And thanks for the retweet, Cassandra. It seems to have sent quite a bit of traffic my way.

  4. Fabulous poem: I grow continually more impressed with your poetry, and your technical knowledge and skill in poetry. I have a niggle though. ‘AIDS a whisper’ indicates a very precise time, not a rough one, and it isn’t 1980 but 1981. This may be more obvious to me as I worked in an STD clinic in 1980, and there was no whisper of it at all; it hadn’t happened yet. I also remember exactly where and what year it was when I did first heard the whisper through a friend, who later died of it, reading something to me about ‘GRID’ from a copy of Time – a friend who in that moment clearly saw his danger. But surely many people must also remember pretty clearly when they first heard about this strange new cluster of diseases hitting gay men?

  5. shawjonathan

    Well spotted, Jane. I was working in the NSW Department of Health at the time, and remember my first hearing about ‘the Gay Plague’ as later than 1980 . The poem’s narrative does start in 1980; perhaps the one passing mention of AIDS occurs far enough on for 1981 to have arrived, but I think the mistake is Vikram Seth’s as well as mine – the book was published in 1986.

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