John Goodby: section VII of ‘Young Ames’

Author’s note:
Young Ames is a partial (both senses) autobiography in poetry, though hardly a Prelude-like account of ‘the growth of a poet’s mind’. It distances, reflects on, and refracts its narrative through spliced-in samplings from a now-unknown historical novel, Young Ames, written by Walter D. Edmonds and published in 1941. Set in New York a century earlier, this tells the rags-to-riches story of its eponymous central character, a clerk in a trading company. The novel was chosen in the first instance because of its title; the autobiographical material is itself sampled, consisting only of material from my life involving a good friend of my childhood and late adolescence surnamed Ames.

Viewing the self through the prism of another figure, one who is made central, further distanced the threat of anecdotage and lyric indulgence, and permitted some play on the title: ‘young Ames’ (as he is persistently referred to in the novel) as ‘youthful aims’, ‘ames’ as ‘amis’ or ‘âmes’, and so on. As the central figure, and as and someone far more advanced than me in numerous ways, Ames has quasi-heroic status, making Young Ames a mock-epic. It is therefore presented in 12 books, and indulges in intermittent, largely unserious parallels with its classical precursors, the Odyssey and the Aeneid (part VII presented in Junction Box, is its equivalent, in the form of an LSD trip, of Aeneas’s and Odysseus’s descent to Hades to seek advice from the dead seer Tiresias, or collective mind).

Ames is not always a good role model; there is more than a little of the Trickster in him, and his induction of my/self (referred to as ‘go by’, or ‘go be’, variants on the nickname ‘Goby’) into the ways of the world is always unsystematic, and sometimes negative. Nevertheless, both Ames and he are bound by their opposite but complementary temperaments and by unacknowledged affinities – the full name of the eponymous main character of Edmonds’s novel is John Ames, which combines them both.


To Read: Young Ames VII


John Goodby recently became  Professor of Arts and Culture at Sheffield Hallam University. He is a poet, critic, and translator, and an authority on the work of Dylan Thomas, whose Collected Poems he edited in 2014. His poetry books include Illennium (Shearsman, 2010) and The No Breath (Red Ceilings, 2017), and he has published translations of Soleiman Adel Guemar (with Tom Cheesman), Heine, Pasolini and Reverdy. With Lyndon Davies he ran the Hay Poetry Jamborees 2009-12 and edited the anthology The Edge of Necessary: innovative Welsh poetry 1966-2018 (Aquifer, 2018).



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