Prince the very great artist is dead and this is sad for a range of reasons, not least of which is our cold reminder that poetry is in a critical condition. What the fan needs now is not another obit reminding her that this man recorded more great albums than Bowie, provoked more marvellous controversy than Madonna and offered more teenagers a hint of the ineffably sublime than Sia. What she needs now is a poem.
WH Auden might have been a good man for the job. I am fairly confident that he would have admired The Revolution’s work on Around the World in a Day almost as much as he admired WB Yeats. For whom he wrote,
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
In the guts. Those clever or lucky enough to have given Prince’s works an intimate audience will know that’s where he rests. Like Bowie or Madonna or Sia — whose charms I personally don’t quite grasp, but this is an ignorance made clear to me by the intestinal devotion of her young fans — he was a truly digestible artist.
There are many good pieces paying tribute today to Prince’s virtuosity, his playfulness and his marvellous refusal to behave as he should. I haven’t found it yet, but I am sure there is an homage to the movie Purple Rain, which is, in one reading, mythologising schlock but, in another, the best teen rock movie of all time. There is a headline perfectly formed by those geniuses at The Onion which proceeds Nation Too Sad To Fuck Even Though It’s What Prince Would Have Wanted. Hashtag SoTrue.
But there is, so far as I know, no poem yet written for a man so magical, he could even make Sheena Easton seem hip for a couple of minutes.
There is, or there soon will be, a thousand public diary entries written by persons of my approximate age. We X-ers will tell you how we were transported by Prince from our dreary bedrooms and far away from the oppressive suburbs etc. into an uplifting purple fantasy beyond race, gender and our own earthly scent etc. I will read these things gladly and I will revisit those memories of teen hope provided to me by a man who never, unlike Bowie or Madonna, gave himself over to the familiar affections of the market. Prince, bless him, never became uncool.
But, what we need right now is a poem.
This important man has earned more than personal reminiscence and even though I am tempted to tell you about the time my little sister asked me in the early 1980s if I thought it were possible that Prince really was a purple dove — look. At the time, it seemed plausible — I won’t. Because I am not up to the job of honouring Prince.
This is a job for the poets.
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.