Come in, it's lovely to see you. Pull up a cushion and stay as long as you like.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Walking and Thinking and Making Connections Between Then and Now

On my way back to my flat after a visit to the Coop, I walk past a little antique shop that opened recently and pause to look in the window. A treasure trove unfolds before my eyes. It used to be a second hand book shop many years ago, before I lived here, and I visited often. I lived a few miles away then.

I particularly remember one occasion, (the first time I was signed off work with depression, in my late twenties) buying a complete set of D H Lawrence short stories, the first one I read being Ticket's Please, and it just blew my mind. I had recently joined a reading group and this was instrumental in opening my heart to the absolute joy and wonder of literature. I also bought the complete Sherlock Holmes short stories and some poetry.

Very recently I bought a silver Parker pen and propelling pencil set, (in a brown plastic case and made in England) from the shop who's window now has me entranced. I bought it because it is very similar to the one that mum and dad gave me as a reward for passing my 11plus. It was either late 1971 or early 1972. 

I remember at the time dad was wearing his red waistcoat. I loved that waistcoat. It was a dark red and it was felt-like to touch. I wonder what happened to it?

I seem to recall he had a silver pocket watch at one point, but can’t be certain of that. I guess he was trying to cultivate a certain look, similar I suppose to the look I cultivate now. It definitely made an impression on me. He always made an impression.  

I also roll up my shirtsleeves like he used to, just one or two turns, and I have a tattoo like he does, of a small swallow on my left forearm.

I had it done while I was still at secondary school and he was in prison, perhaps as a way of holding on to the man I had already lost, that we all had lost, who if truth be told was lost himself, although I was far too young and hurt to realise that then, and have to constantly remind myself of it now.

He has been married now for longer than he was married to my mum, and has never been in prison again. His current wife has the same name as the Pyrenean mountain dog we used to have as children. She is a fine woman as far as I know her, which isn’t very well truth be told. I haven’t seen either of them for, what, thirty or so years now (apart I think from a brief half hour when they were visiting my sister about ten years ago). I stopped seeing him, intentionally, after a particularly painful weekend visit when our children were babies, over half my lifetime ago.

He is an old man now, and I am getting older. I hold no grudge and bear him no malice or ill will. He wasn’t the best father. I’m not sure I was the best son. As an adult I have had no relationship with either of my parents, having lost mum to cancer in 1979. She was 58. I was 18. Her and dad were already divorced and he had moved on. I am 55 now.

I was a child back then, with the weight of the world on my shoulders. I’m not certain I’m a man now, I just get on with life. Sometimes the depression rises and sometimes it’s quiet. It’s been a faithful companion, that’s for sure.

I return to the flat with my memories and essential provisions, tea and biscuits, and I sit and write. Me and the words I try to form into meaningful sentences, my relationship with literature deepening, growing. I am still learning.

I pause to sip my tea, an image still vivid. I think I will buy a red waistcoat.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Reflections on poetry leading to other things

After talking poetry with a friend last night, this morning I take two of my favourite collections down to the water where I sit and slowly read from them. Each poem a treasured memory yet also something new on each re-reading. In one book is a short essay on prose poetry as a form, which I devour. I begin to reflect on poetry.

People are taught, at an impressionable age, that poetry is the poems themselves. Some say poetry has to rhyme, and many like to decry it as meaningless, never reading it, preferring meaning handed to them through various media without any thought involved. Some people are so moved by a poem that it changes the course their entire lives. Some teach it but never write it, reducing it to dry academia. I cannot imagine life without poetry.

Matsuo Basho studied Zen buddhism and dedicated his whole life to the Haiku form, giving up everything in it’s pursuit and attaining a profound mastery. He even invented his own poetic form the Haibun. 

One of my favourite quotes, that I have written in a notebook somewhere, comes back to me, by W B Yeats. ‘Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.’

From where I am sitting I can see across the short stretch of water. The tide is out. On the other shore, between some trees, I can see the top half of a house with a tall chimney, painted white. Immediately I begin to imagine a story. On the sea bed a boat leans to one side, stuck there until the water returns. 

A woman jogs past, her running shoes make a tapping noise on the concrete and her lycra top a ssshhhhing sound as her arms brush against it, in rhythm with the movement of her legs.

The breeze has a rhythm to it, a flow, and the birds call to each other. But I am restless now, and nearby there is a large shallow pool of water, left from when the tide was high. I have a yearning to put my bare feet in it so I walk over and remove my shoes and socks and roll up my trousers. The water is cool at first but soon warms. Initially I step tentatively as if drunk, trying not to fall over, but soon become looser and more confident in my stride, stirring the sediment. Something primordial awakens in me. 

The fish in me wants to dive in and swim away, and live my life beneath the water. The puritan in me wants to give up caffeine and live a chaste life. The fornicator in me wishes for the horses giant cock and an endless supply of willing women. The contemplator in me wishes for Einsteins mind and the Monks concentration. The poet in me wishes for paper and pen and a white walled room. And for days like these.

All of this is poetry, as clear as the poems printed in the books in my bag. Here is rhythm, and form, and white space, and couplet and stanza.  Here is prose, short story and novel. 

On the surface of the water reflections shift as each wave makes it’s way across the pool, carried along either by it’s own momentum or by other forces, until it runs it’s course. Just like we do.