I found an excellent barber in Houston, one who seems to know intuitively what I want without me having to micro-manage every snip. She’s getting married next week in Las Vegas, where she and her soon-to-be-husband already have tickets to see Elton John. She has earned her happiness and I’m happy for her, but I’m going to miss her comb-and-scissors magic when the boys and I move to Seattle in a few weeks. I’m also going to miss her gift for food-processing language into a species of ad hoc poetry.
Her business moved last week to a new location about a mile west of the old address. It was still being set up and painted when she cut my hair on Saturday. I asked how the salon will look when finished and she said, “A little more feng-shui-ish. You know, kind of Art-Deco-ish, but not too expensive.”
No, I didn’t know exactly, but I can’t wait to see it. When I asked why she wanted to see Elton John, without hesitation she answered, “Well, he’s gay, you know, but his music isn’t gay. I mean, it’s gay like `happy’ gay, but not, well, you know…. It’s gay-ish [Her preferred suffix is `-ish’].”
In Speech! Speech!, Section 94, by the way, Geoffrey Hill writes “Great singer Elton John though.”
My barber and her husband have booked a helicopter tour of Las Vegas. I asked whether the aircraft would be equipped with slot machines. She answered: “I don’t know. They are kind of gambling-centric out there, you know, like slot machines and blackjack.”
Coleridge might have had my barber in mind when writing this passage from the second chapter of Biographia Literaria:
“Hence of all trades, literature at present demands the least talent or information;and, of all modes of literature, the manufacturing of poems. The difference indeed between these and the works of genius is not less than between an egg and an egg-shell; yet at a distance they both look alike.”
Basil Bunting, too, was on to my barber’s poeticizing. In a review published in The Criterion in 1938 he wrote:
“Every revivification of poetry has taken the same route, towards the language of the streets and the cadences of song or bodily movement.”
Poetry, he seems to be saying, ought to be street-ish.