Erotic Poetry, the Oxford Don and a Racy Mistress Who Died of Aids

Daily Mail (London), November 20, 1999 | Go to article overview

Erotic Poetry, the Oxford Don and a Racy Mistress Who Died of Aids


Byline: REBECCA FOWLER

HE IS A celebrated British poet who spends his life between the dreaming spires of Oxford and the champagne-soaked parties of London's literary circuit.

She was his doomed and beautiful muse, who taught him the 'language of sex' and has inspired his latest love poem.

At a glance, it has all the trappings of a classical tragedy. But this is a thoroughly modern literary affair, featuring the controversial and prize-winning poet Craig Raine, who once described himself as 'extraordinarily gifted'; his mystery lover, who is not named in the poem; his wife, a renowned Oxford don; and a host of fashionable, back-scratching London writers.

The poem is presented as a tribute to his lover. But Raine has described their clandestine meetings in shockingly graphic detail over six pages of steamy verse. He has left out nothing in recalling his mistress's voracious sexual appetite, the quirks of her anatomy and her colourful sexual history.

The tragic coda is that she died of Aids.

Raine, now in his 50s, delights in memories of her hirsute body. He celebrates the cut of her British Homestores bra. He refers lovingly to the 20 hairs on her chin. He remembers her shaving her legs in the bath.

He also cheerfully recalls her habit of picking up men on the London Underground for casual sex: 'the odd white prole, but black boys on the whole'.

But Raine has not included everything in his candid couplets after all.

What about his wife? There is no mention of the fact that he has been married for 27 years to another literary luminary, Ann Pasternak Slater.

She is a formidable name in her own right in the heady world of academia, as a don at St Anne's College in Oxford, where she teaches Shakespeare. She is also the mother of his four children.

To add to the saga, it now emerges that the scholarly Pasternak Slater not only knew of his affair, she has warmly praised her husband's poem for its literary merit.

ALREADY, the explosive cocktail of verse, sex and tragedy is causing a stir in the literary world. For years, Raine has been at the centre of the so-called 'glitterati' of the most successful British writers and academics, who all rub self-regarding shoulders at the same book launches, literary festivals and award ceremonies. A chosen few already knew of his lover.

The mystery woman in question was, in fact, the exotic Kitty Mrosovsky.

Born into an Eastern European family and raised in Britain, she was a popular figure in her own right on the London literary circuit. But she was also a free spirit who lived by her own unconventional rules.

Raine is uncharacteristically tight-lipped about his latest work, entitled The Way It Was after Kitty's favourite Proust novel. He has simply stated that every word of the poem, which will be published next month, is 'accurate and true'.

He describes her as his sexual instructor who 'formed' his sexual tastes by 'alteration' of his 'technique'. And he remembers her 'long glowing nipples shabby with hair' that he found a 'turn on'. He also recalls the shape of her legs, her leather vest, the way she used to put on her bra throughout the endless list of passionate trysts.

Although Raine does not name his mistress in the poem, it is crammed with clues to her identity: the name of the road where she lived, her favourite opera, a reference to her most famous translation work of a French classic, the name of her bisexual boyfriend in New York, and even the combination of her bicycle lock - 666.

Kitty was a talented linguist who loved literature, Italian opera, Bach and cats - as well as men. She studied English poetry under novelist A. S.

Byatt, lived in poverty in Oxford, lectured at universities across Europe, even considered a modelling career and wrote two unsuccessful novels.

With his uncompromising quest for the truth, Raine describes Kitty's first novel as 'unreadable'. …

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