I came across George Szirtes' "The Akhmatova Variations", subtitled "Sixteen variations on a couplet of Anna Akhmatova's" on his website, and liked it so much - both the sentiment and the technique - that I asked if he would mind me quoting part of it here. So, by kind permission of the author, here are the theme and the first eight variations:
THEMEFor me, praise from others is like ash,
from you, even abuse is praise
(tr. Richard McKane)
I can dismiss the praise of all the rest
But when you censure me I still feel blessed.
The praise I get from others is mere guff.
For me your slightest cavil’s praise enough.
I don’t take compliments from anyone:
Your mere abuse is worth a smug well done.
When others praise my poems, it makes me spit.
I just adore it when you say they’re shit.
When creeps such as McGarrigle praise my books
I’d give the world for one of your sour looks.
Why do those filthy bastards pat my back?
I’d sooner you frowned and told me what I lack.
Am I obsessed? I want your kicks and blows
Not slimy compliments in Grub Street prose.
Hit me again. Abuse me. Burn my books.
I hate their wimbly praise and simpering looks.
I felt awkward about using the whole poem: he might want to make money from it some time. I hope curiosity will drive at least one reader over to his website to finish reading it and discover more of the Szirtes oeuvre (try saying "Szirtes oeuvre" on half a pint of gin).
And we had an interesting exchange about the word "wimbly" - whether its archaism gives it a useful charm, or whether it is too quaint to work, and what it means. I think in the context it's pretty clear, though the OED only notices the word as the adverbal form of "wimble", a synonym for "nimble". George coined it from "wimbly-wambly", which crops up in Lawrence's poem Pansies. Here's what the OED has to say, complete with Lawrence reference:
Shaky, unsteady; feeble, effeminate.
1881 Leeds Loiners' Comic Olmenac 24, I went all wimley-wamley e me head. 1882 F. W. P. JAGO Ancient Lang. & Dial. Cornwall 312 I'm all wimbly-wambly. 1929 D. H. LAWRENCE Pansies 113 Flat-chested, crop-headed, chemicalised women, of indeterminate sex, And wimbly-wambly young men, of sex still more indeterminate.
Not much difficulty about the meaning, but it is northern or is it Cornish?
George gave me the option of substitution "piddling" or possibly "piss-pot" here; but the alliteration that would give is less attractive than the assonance of "wimbly" and "simpering" (and both have that hint of effeminacy). So "wimbly" it is.