A salty little (true) tale involving poetry, sex and a different type of success.
Aeons ago I was at university.
It was a “Science & Technology” university. In those days that meant that the male to female ratio was horrendously biased towards males.
Young males in their early twenties and late teens are composed mostly of testosterone. Or at least that’s how it feels. Consequently for the majority of the males at this university sexual frustration was rampant.
We used to meet up at the union bar looking out for elusive females. We often asked each other in passing if any had been seen.
I often imagined us to be like Ahab and his crew out hunting Moby Dick. Asking other passing whalers:
“Have you seen the White Whale?”
Of course with us it was women and we really didn’t care what colour they were.
But there was a minority among the student male population who were strangely popular with the opposite sex. There was one such guy on my floor.
Lets call him Ralph.
Was Ralph immensely good looking?
Not particularly. He was tall and thin. A bit gangly. He teeth stood at strange angles. He certainly was not a Michaelangelo. But Ralph was a nice guy. A bit quiet and understated in fact.
I had no idea of his amorous abilities until one night I had a knock on my door. It was Ralph.
“Chalkie! Chalkie!” He cried urgently. “ Have you got any condoms you can lend me?”
Of course I had. We all had condoms. A pack of three Durex Feather-light condoms in a little white cardboard box. Just in case God changed his mind and decided out enforced celibacy was to end.
I smiled. I tried to hide my envy as I handed them over.
Ralph was immensely grateful (as you would be) and trotted off. I got back to the Quantum Mechanics.
Next day, first thing, as promised, Ralph turned up and handed me a new replacement pack of condoms. I made a joke about hoping he’d bought some for himself. He laughed and informed me he had. Two packs in fact.
Lucky old Ralph I thought. He left and made for the building exit.
I watched out of my window as he ambled off across the courtyard with a lovely girl on his arm. A brunette. Smiling. Skipping along. Obviously overjoyed to be in Ralph’s company.
A day passed. Then, less than 48 hours since the last time, I had another knock on my door. It was Ralph again. He looked stressed and tired. Obviously he had not been to sleep for quite a while. I looked up at him with concern.
“You OK Ralph?” I asked.
“Oh Man!” He said. “You know that packet of condoms I gave you back the other day? Don’t still have them do you? Could I borrow them back?”
“What!” I exclaimed.
Had this guy already been through three packets in less than 48 hours?
Totally aghast I sought out the packet of three in my drawer and handed them over.
“Oh thanks man! You’re a life saver.”
Life saver indeed.
Looking at the state he was in I wondered if he would survive another three. Maybe I should have confiscated one (possibly two) of them for his own safety. Ralph staggered off and forgot to close the door.
My room was on the end of a corridor and if my door was open I could see right down the corridor and past Ralph’s room. Before my door closed of its own accord I saw a beautiful girl step out into the corridor from Ralph’s room dressed only in a towel. She was obviously impatient for Ralph’s return.
But it was not her eagerness that made me gasp. It was the fact that she was blonde.
Three days. Two girls. Twelve condoms.
No wonder he looked tired.
So what has Ralph and his exploits got to do with successful poetry you may ask.
Well, one day, after a few beers, I asked Ralph what was the secret of his success. He told me.
Ralph (who was studying Civil Engineering) was also a poet. But not just any poet.
Ralph was a self publishing poet. He also happened to be the first self publisher I ever met.
Before he came to university Ralph had fallen in love with a beautiful girl. She was well above his circle. But even so Ralph secretly wrote a series of love poems to his unrequited love.
One day, a month before he went up to university he handed her the first of the poems at a bus stop. It was written long hand on a piece of lined paper. She read it. She cruelly smirked. Then laughed out loud.
The bus arrived and she got on leaving Ralph destroyed and broken.
Love-torn and depressed Ralph analyzed the situation. He thought he would try again. But this time he would present her with all the poems. This time they would be in typeface. He was a pretty good artist so a cover was no problem. The book with its cover would express his undying love.
He called it:
Poems for Samantha
But by the time Ralph had mastered the art of hand-building small books his love for the cruel Samantha had waned.
The book was finished. It was a real work of art. I know. Ralph showed it to me. But it was never delivered.
Then Ralph went up to university. At first he suffered the same sexual famine problems as the rest of us. But he had a secret weapon.
A book of poems.
OK. They were all written about Samantha. But hell! A quick bit of editing to change the name and modify the cover was all that was required.
Then Ralph’s book building skills came to the fore and he had a drop-dead-and-die gift for a date.
Evidently it worked EVERY time. In fact, due to Ralph’s skill in producing a quality product in a short timescale it arguably worked too well.
Ralph did not limit himself to a book of love poems to one lady. Instead he (sort of) went into batch processing mode. He built books for any lady that caught his eye. If you build a book you want people to see it – don’t you? So they all got delivered.
So Ralph ended up with multiple partners in short succession. God knows what would have happened if any of them had found out. Or if Ralph had inadvertently handed the wrong book to the wrong girl.
In our envious eyes at university, Ralph was the epitome of a successful poet.
Yet Ralph made no money out of his poetry. In fact in condoms alone it must have cost him a fortune.
But I do not think he would have ever complained.
In finality and after many years I have to say to Ralph the Poet (and Civil Engineer):
Wherever you are now.
I applaud you. You are without doubt, the most successful poet I have ever met.
I just hope you have managed to get some sleep in the last few decades.