Not so much blues as confusions. I woke an hour early having set the alarm wrong so a nice, black but cold morning. I read Derek Walcott and Adrienne Rich. An odd couple maybe. I have had Walcott for such a long time and not read him, now I am diving in to him in a haphazard way and coming up with some jewels. I like his St. Lucia poems – maybe it’s the taste of the tropical sands, the street corner repartee, the bread fruit and the palms. It immediately conjures a landscape for me, although of course it is Sri Lanka and the scissoring palms rather than the Caribbean. I am moving gradually towards working on the Sri Lankan material. At the moment it is quite a handful of poems and the basis of a book, Careless Beauty, which I wonder if it’s too late to finish. Surprisingly little has been written about Sri Lanka and I think that maybe I am ready to do it soon.
Reportage – telling it how it is – it’s what I am thinking about as I revise all the poems that I have put into the blue folders, in order. The problem is that that great work has taken, to some extent, the impetus for writing anything new. Then I ask myself why I am doing this?
The whole competition thing has suddenly become a real burden and distraction. Revising what I already have in the files is good; I enjoy the exercise and it’s interesting to come back to older stuff and see it with new eyes however I think that doing it for the ‘competition’ with it’s deadlines, the cost when I might be buying books of poetry instead, and it’s sense of hopeless opportunity interferes with my need to be a writer.
What does a writer do? They write! They trawl the wreck, they bring up the treasures from the detritus. I was reading Diving into the Wreck today. It is such an amazing poem, every time I read it it means something different. One of those wonderful travelling poems that keeps pace with wherever you are yourself. I was given a pile of Adrienne Rich when I left my teaching job (thanks Isobel for choosing them). So these poems have travelled with me for over forty years. I went to a reading once, in Heffer’s bookshop in Cambridge. We all sat on the stairs that are wide and shallow leading down to the basement books. This small, rather dumpy woman sat at the top, her hair in a bun, black clothes. When she read it was electric; the air vibrated with all the people coming alive, being touched, thinking about their own wrecks and lives. I don’t think I have acknowledged how her death last year diminished me in the way that important people in our lives leaving us does.
There are people that I always wanted to write to. Eliot, Doris Lessing amongst them; I wanted to tell them how much their writing had meant to me, how it had changed me as a person. The only person I ever wrote to was Kathleen Jamie and I think that the letter probably never arrived. I did meet her though when she came to Falmouth to read and I realised how important the face is. I am glad I saw Adrienne Rich. I am glad that I can visualise Kathleen Jamie when I read her latest book The Overhaul. I wish it had won the Forward Prize. And I do feel, like *Maitreyabandhu, that the pressures of external audiences, prizes and competition, can distort the ambience of our writing. So today I will think about writing something new in between making the curtains for all those new windows!
* His wonderful article The Further Reach in Poetry Review Autumn 2011