Among the books

‘Negative capability – when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ Letter of John Keats

It’s such an odd thing when things begin to cluster together – you remember or read something and then the same day the name or subject re-occurs several times.

Books fall into my hands these days – not in bookshops but on my book shelves. I realised the other day that it is only in the last two years that my books

have been back together in one place. I have a habit of losing them. They don’t fit into the luggage space – the box of books I left long ago in Heligan, along with the baby’s cradle and all the pots and pans. They get ruined in one way or another – my books left in England then those taken to Sri Lanka that were eaten by termites and stored boxes soaked by leaks in the garage roof. Others dotted around the world – Kenya, Vietnam, China, Pakistan that I intended to go back and fetch but never made it.


So this morning, I am sitting in my lovely room, all the books on shelves, some of the shelves that belonged to Elizabeth Bewick and are therefore endowed with special ‘poet’ essence. There is no easy source of poetry books here in rural outposts of Normandie other than through the post. I am not happy with Amazon at the moment on account of their taxes, although they have replaced for free my damaged Kindle which has pleased and amazed me. So I am beginning to re-read some of the hundreds of books I already own. In this way old favourites and un-read, yet to be discovered books are giving me a lot of pleasure.


Yesterday and today I have been re-reading ‘Negotiating with the Dead’, written versions of the Empson lectures that Margaret Attwood gave at Cambridge in 2000. They mirror to such an extent the concerns that I have been raising in my journals . Who do we write for? Who is the reader of our writing? Where lies truth, veracity, authenticity? This is a draft version of a poem that is edging its way I guess towards trying to work out some of these truths.

Being a writer

I create the world in my head.

Now I live with someone who says

Wake up and smell the coffee.

I watch pink light

coming up over the orchard

while my coffee cools

and the morning comes in the window

insistent of pollen

and spice smells

reveals itself


Is not a work of fiction.


And this is a bit from my journal recently which is trying to grapple with the same problem.    ‘Why am I writing? What drives me to it? What am I hoping to do? Is it to anchor random thoughts, to purify, locate and tether feelings and emotions? To make a mark – the original, distinguished (not compromised or mistaken for another) mark? – the mot juste, word in its right/write place? To mark, tether, join , anchor what it is I want to say and how I want to say it so that it can be read by others? How important is that? Is it recognition, a sense of ‘right fit’? Partly I guess I want to craft – make smooth, make it fit, – partly I want to reach clear water – not to be buffeted and caught in the whirlpool, the rip tide – out of control and sucked away. The free fall, the ice melt, the sheer swumf and swell of ice melting and the blue blocks churning, rocks breaking to brown mud. The heart free – up like a bird in air, washed clean by light – purified – so the eye can see clearly – the heart respond, cleave through with strength – arrive (not safe but sound).

It’s a bit strange to be writing something unedited straight from my journal but useful to me I think. I see the images – sea, ice melt, the mountains that are my kind of iconic images that re-occur in so many places. My recent poems have been about the Himalayas so the images are rattling around my head. I have been using my journals, or intend to use them, as source books for my writing. I am trying to put in some images into my blog – I think it helps to break up the text and I also think in image as well as words. Just hope the technology works.




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10 responses to “Among the books

  1. I don ‘t recognise the photo as your eyrie at the top of the stairs. Do you have another (secret) workroom? I see your journal extract as a prose poem, an adjunct to the poem which preceded it. Kind of like bread and butter. I write for all those reasons and more – this morning’s poem is an angry diatribe – you’ll find it at

    My books also go walkabout – lent to friends and never returned. Do I have any of yours?

  2. Hello Brigid,
    Glad to see you’re blogging again – me too! I was always envious of your study in Swanpool with all the shelves full of books. The French version looks just as good. Rediscovering books is a wonderful experience – like meeting up with great friends you haven’t seen for an age and reminding yourself how much you love their company.
    Fi x

    • Is, this is like red cat walking – when I read one of your poems I feel so happy that you are writing. Hope you get to go to the Cambridge Poet Residencies – it’s Owen Sheers at the moment I think – I envy you at this moment being in Cambridge!

      • Yeah red cat not just walkin but talkin too!

        French poets set him cruising,
        that moonless midnight thoughtpath
        Set red cat musing, while prowling one night,
        yeah he was yowling that night, all right.
        Mercy, mercy –
        hypocrite lecteurs, mes semblables.

        what are the cambridge poet residencies?

      • Cambridge Residences are about 8 poets in two week stints who will be attached to significant institutions like the Polar Institute(?) Not sure where I read about them – FB post I think, try and go, wish I could, it’s so different seeing and listening! Glad Red Cat is still walking.

      • have had no sight of the cambridge residences! I am now officially diabetic so going to change my life and stop working I think. Tiredness is the main problem at the moment. Rec Cat may have to retire from the barricades and curl up in his basket in front of the fire for a while.

        Have been reading Darien Leader’s What is Madness – a compassionate and Lacanian view of psychosis. Very readable, explains complicated ideas clearly and without oversimplifying but style is inclusive and avoids obscurantism. In the LRB, I liked Simon Armitage’s anglo-saxon beats in his poem DEOR – don’t suppose you remember that I was reading Gawain by Armitage at your’s last time we were there. That alliterative half-line rhythm is very compelling. I have a student who has a great affection for The Wanderer – an AS epic – I think I will have to go and read it again.

    • Hope you’ll drop in and see it sometime. I have another desk and computer station being built in the new extension, upstairs so I can see the dawn. Send me your blog details Love BrigidX

  3. My books go walkabout, yeah, they’re
    walking out and about there,
    Hanging out in other people’s bookshelves,
    Hobnobbing with novels and poems they weren’t supposed ter
    Sashaying under the arms of friends
    With never a thought for their lonely first reader,

    Where now Sunset Song, the copy
    My father gave my mother – the tall shy teuchter
    From the Highlands
    Sharing his country with his English girlfriend,
    Where now The Silver Darlings, with its yellow wartime paper
    And the inscription in his hand that I want to trace with my finger
    Feeling his hand alive.

    Yeah, you went off without a thought,
    All them promises about you’d be back
    You never meant them did you,
    Leaving me leafing through your memories,
    Trying to pleasure myself with substitutes
    Bright covers, new fonts, cheap slut editions.

    Well I hope you’re happy now with your new reader
    Hope they read you the way I read you,
    Catch your title on a sunlit evening, shining out
    From the shelf, remembering the romance of that first encounter.
    Maybe pull you out and read a bit, with all the rich resonances
    Of the years of reading you that come with old love.
    An old love you took away with you, books that left me.

  4. Dear Viv – no books of mine have walked your way! The room is my current workroom/library downstairs in the old part of the house. Upstairs in the eyrie is where I am going to work in the mornings – because that’s where the sun comes up. Am I
    lucky or what???

  5. Whoops! All my replies in the wrong place – I’m an opsimath wordpress user!

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