Sunday, October 26, 2003

Au revoir

For anyone who's been checking on this blog, I realise the irony of this heading. Folks, I have just been too distracted, and now I am coping with pre-flight nerves as I'm heading off to Paris tomorrow, on my way to the UK for a reading tour, with a slight detour in Iceland (check out my diary or Arc's website for details.

I am no good at reflective typing in internet cafes, so this blog will probably lay fallow until I get back. But it seems that it is becoming a little like the journal I used to keep, which I wrote in furiously when I felt like it, and didn't when I didn't. I'll probably scribble in cafes, something I only ever do when I'm away from home, probably because the coffee at home is quite good. But, then again, one never knows.

So, until next time...

Thursday, October 16, 2003

The Australian Way

Masochistically, this morning I was reading the great Australian columnist Greg Sheridan who, in an article of unusual mawkishness even for him, reveals this deep truth:

To watch the Bali memorials and commemorations this past week was to be struck by their quintessentially Australian quality. There was no great poetry but there was great sentiment.

and concludes:

The Australian way is the undramatic way, and our politicians have reflected that in normal times and, above all, in times of crisis. The undramatic, hard-headed, practical way sometimes annoys our scribblers and seers, who yearn for more drama in the public square. But the Australian way, magnificently on display in the reaction to Bali, may be, for all its faults and limitations, among the very best that mankind has yet devised.

Scribbler and seer that I am, this heroicisation of our great national virtues makes me feel mordantly depressed. The best that "mankind" has to offer is it seems a simplistic hardening of the intellectual and artistic arteries, liberally aneasthetised with hogwash and prozac sentiment, and best expressed by our nationalistic will to fight "evil" (as defined by the US).

Like I heard on a train once: "Is the human race worth saving?"

(Pause for thought)


Saturday, October 11, 2003

Readings more random

The only book I have been reading with any kind of regularity recently is James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (written by himself, with a detail of curious traditionary facts, and other evidence, by the editor). I have been reading it at random, picking it up and beginning where the page falls open. The introduction, by John Wain, is half-missing, so all I know is that James Hogg was referred to Blackwood's Magazine in the 1800s as the "the Ettrick Shepherd", from his being born in Ettrick in 1770. However, all the bits Hogg is responsible for, as "editor" of the book, are there, and so I have read them all, completely out of order, some maybe four or five times, and all of it at least twice. Consequently some parts of the narrative, where the book falls open more often, are as it were more coloured in than others, but it has all arranged itself in chronological order in my mind, which shows that some patterning is demanded in the mind, if not in habits. The book itself is a blackly funny satire on Calvinistic self righteousness, the hero, being of a rabid theological bent, having long conversations with a charismatic and terrifying friend who is clearly Satan. Having been convinced by the concept of predestination that he is one of the saved and so can do nothing wrong, being fated only to serve God, he succeeds in murdering his brother, his mother, the poor woman who is the object of his lust, and sundry other priests and so on, before fleeing pursued by various manners of demons, on the way writing his memoirs (here presented by the editor) and at last killing himself by improbably hanging himself on a hayrick with a rope of a kind that "not one in a thousand will hang a colley dog". He is buried at a cross roads, as the editor informs us afterwards, and then dug up again by educated men, creating a sensation by the amazing preservation of his clothing and his body, and bits of him are sent with chatty letters all over Scotland, to be kept on the desks of the literati as curios.

I have no idea why I keep reading this book, nor in such a way. Maybe I find it kind of restful, in its spirited negative argument for human decency and foible. More restful anyway than Barry MacSweeney, the paragon of human foible raised to a tragic music, whom I am also reading in as disorganised a fashion, which is maybe permissible with poems, but don't feel up to discussing.

Friday, October 10, 2003


Thinking today, as I often do when I count the coins in my wallet, of Dosteovsky writing to someone asking for money because otherwise he would end up with no trousers. I have never believed in the romance of the garret, no one who has been seriously broke does. Work is done in spite of such things, not because of them. Oh, I have been more broke: I console myself at such times with the memories of when the oldest two children were very young and I had nothing, and couldn't pay my rent for a whole year (my landlady was most forebearing, more than the previous one, who had me evicted by the police) and had no phone and when I wanted to ring anyone had to go to the public phone by the station, which was very often vandalised in most interesting and creative ways. And in those times, I thought about people who didn't even have a house, and couldn't feed their children. I fed mine, although I do have a painful memory of dragging Zoe along the street, and she was crying because I hadn't enough coins that morning to buy her an apple. No, my heart sings with Marquez, who had a fresh yellow rose on his desk every morning, and spent hours deciding what to wear before he started work, and who said that writing in comfort was much better than being cold and hungry, and just as acceptable to whatever muses float around a writer's head. Having no money loosens your purchase on this world; all those small humiliations of desperation, the scramble to get through each day, the way the horizon narrows to the immediate crises because the future is unthinkable, how skilled you become in shelving worries to the back of your mind because you can't do anything about them at the front of it. There's a funny poem by Alice Notley about all this, I can't remember its name... And the banal fact of poverty attracts all your incipient neuroses, so that money and the lack of it begins to represent everything that's wrong or right, and before you know it every full-blown depression you've ever met has invited itself to dinner. No, it's a bore, and a continual bore, and it makes writing harder, not easier. On the other hand, you can get so desperate that a retreat into the lala land of the imagination can be productive: writing can end up being the only place where you have some autonomy, some measure of control and competence, some sense of freedom... but you can't write like that forever, because your soul gets too tired and scratched from the application of too much will. And as you get older it gets harder. But if I ever get rich, I don't want ever to forget what it's like to be broke.

This is a moan, if the moan of so many artists besides me, and I seriously don't mean to retreat into self pity. I chose this life, and in many ways it's such a good one, such a privilege. If I don't render unto Caesar, I can't expect him to pay my bills. I guess...

Friday, October 03, 2003

Another dream poem

birds are gathering silently
along the rooflines
leaping and returning
in restless circles

even such squabbles as entertain them
evaporate in the feverish sky
it is as if a doom
clouds over them

inevitable as the soft night
who is a small boy running up the street
when he reaches the end
the game is over

then lovers leave their blood
to cool on the stems of briars
the lame king closes the shutters
against the wasteland

only children remain
listening to the silence
until whatever swells in them
bursts open

will the nightingale spring up
alone over the darkening roof?
will the children speechlessly
run through the door?

who is this word which approaches
from the white horizon?
they cannot tell
longing from dread

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Today, today, today

Sometimes I understand that I don't have enough solitude. I have never been able to function very well without at least some. Aloneness has never been a problem for me, although loneliness is; but that is another matter altogether. (It puzzles me that French doesn't have separate words for aloneness and loneliness, it seems such a necessary distinction.) So, for the first time for far too long I have had a day and a night (almost) entirely alone, apart from the talk I gave last night to a local SFF club, which provided the excuse I needed for farming out my remaining children between their friends. And all that's happened is that I have spent the past twenty four hours feeling as if I was made of glass, as if I was something fragile and hollow which might shatter at any moment, a curious mixture of plenitude and emptiness. I think I am not used to myself, or perhaps this solitary person I have met is not someone I quite recognise, as if I have changed behind my back, while I was busy with other things.

Was it Louis XII who thought he was made of glass, and had to hide in corners because he feared he might be broken? That used to make me laugh, but I think I understand the feeling. Not that I am going to hide in corners: this is after all a metaphor, not a delusion. And the metaphor isn't quite apt; to fit properly, the glass, besides being sumptuous, would have to be molten, fluid, as well as brittle and cool. A cross between silica and silk and animal membrane, with a slight exhilaration thrown in, an inner lifting of air and light. Ha. This is where words begin to fail you utterly; the mind wants to make objects of itself, in order to understand what is happening to it, but the objects are all nonsense.

An illusory presence, as if a light became visible where it had previously been unseen, although it might have always been there, unnoticed. A sense of a threshold. A simultaneous desolation. Very sharp, a poignancy, in the sense that I have always understood Francis Bacon used it, a very particular sense, a kind of puncture which destroys any tending to illustration, the merely literal re-presentation of reality. But illustration, illumination, all the business of light and seeing, the making lustrous, the endowing with shape and colour and form and distinction and majesty, is inevitably ambiguous, surely - strange how all these words immediately shade towards the making of authorities, the commanding Eye, which sends out rays of light itself, like a little sun. That anti-illustration Bacon wanted is also a business of light, but it is a disturbance of such hubristic trajectories; it suggests light in all its indistinctness, how it hides as much as it reveals, how it makes shadow and absence, ambiguous and evanescent. It obliterates the Sun King of the self, blazing on its foolish throne, and shows that behind it exists something of opaque flesh, permeable, vulnerable, estranged, with no clear outline: a kind of blankness.

Well, maybe it's just as well the children came home.

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