Brian Patten is (or was) one of the Liverpool poets; in 1967 he co-published The Mersey Sound, one of the most successful poetry anthologies in the English language.

Brian Patten also wrote a text entitled "A Fallible Lecture" (sometimes incorrectly classified as a poem, even though it's clearly prose), which presents an irreverent look at the history of English literature. It begins with the following words:

Eng. Lit was established one sunny afternoon in 1386, when a gang of people went for a walk to a place called Canterbury. They had a great time, telling each other dirty stories, which a man called Chaucer wrote down, thereby establishing the fact that English Literature is based on a collection of dirty jokes. After Chaucer Engl Lit dozed off a little until a man called Shakespeare began writing plays about murder, mayhem and paranoic Danish princes.

It contains comments about Milton writing Paradise Lost, surviving the plague, blindness and the death of his two daughters, and then writing Paradise Regained. The Romantic poets die young, "preferably in Italy". Coleridge is described as waving dead albatrosses in people's faces. The text is funny if you get all the allusions (e.g. who is the "shy librarian from Hull"?) but probably merely strange if you don't.

I once had a copy of the text but I can't find it any longer. (The above quotes are all from memory.) What I have never found out, however, is where this text was first published. I have used Amazon's preview feature to peek at the content of some of Patten's books but found only poems and children's literature.


According to Phil Bowen, author of A Gallery to Play to: The Story of the Mersey Poets (Liverpool University Press, 2008), the text was first published in Patten's 1988 collection Storm Damage. Bowen writes (quoted from Google Books):

At nearly 90 pages Storm Damage is by far Patten's longest collection, but it lacks cohesion and cries out for an editor. There is much to admire in the book. (...) 'The Almost Loveless Alphabet' and 'Hair Today, No Her Tomorrow' are effectively quicksilver performance pieces, the latter arguably his most successful comic poem for adults, while the somewhat uneven 'A Fallible Lecture' was to become a regular opener for Patten's developing live set.

Storm Damage was published by Unwin Hyman (London) in 1988 and republished by HarperCollins in 1995 but appears to have gone out of print.

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