It is so good to get responses to blogs and poems it now makes me think that I must write a new blog and do it more regularly. I spent the day, which began in a great deal of icy fog and glistening branches, trying to organise and make lists. It’s this thing of deciding to be a writer – what must I do to make it happen etc. etc. Journals are weird – I spent a gloomy evening reading two that covered the six months I was in Vietnam. I am trying to write a long poem, partly as a discipline, partly because something is struggling out and it is taking this route it seems. I read the journals and emerge knowing nothing about Vietnam – it’s all about how I was feeling – of course this is also what the poem is about and maybe this is what is struggling to emerge but still it seems pretty thin stuff. I had hopes of discovering poems and descriptions; if they were there then they have got lost somewhere. I did write a book about Vietnam for my grandchildren as a Christmas present – it was funny and illustrated, but that too seems to have disappeared. Perhaps mostly it was a time of want on a summer’s night. Can I get that infused into the long poem, get also the lack or want that was war? For me the streets of Hanoi seemed blood soaked and sad. Anyway it’s a good discipline to try and organise something that is long. Since I can’t seem to even organise my files or my room I have a certain hesitation about imagining the birthing of this long poem! Anyway more poems in the recent poem category – I seem to have centred on war – partly it’s to do with memory emerging but also living in this part of Normandy which was the rue de liberation makes me very aware of the thin lines between living and dying, the collisions of nature and of organised chaos that seems to be war. There is a wonderful poem by Ho Thien called The Green Beret in the War section of ‘Being Human’. It is about Vietnam and makes me think of the lake under the mountain where we went on a wicker boat and where there were words and lines scraped into the rocks above the water. Anyway two poems on war off to Poetry News and also a letter about ‘want and lack’ which I think they are going to publish. At least I’ll be published in a poetry magazine of some sort. I have sent off quite a lot in the last two months – Ezra Pound’s ‘new born babies’ pushed out into the unforgiving world. Now I want to send out some of the Ha Noi 2000 series as single poems and see how they fare. At least it makes me concentrate on trying to get the last word and comma right. Also sent off 21 poems in Field Grammar to Poetry Business and my novel first 10,000 words to Cinnamon First Novel competition. More is happening than has ever happened before at least. As soon as I sent off the novel I wanted to change – the title, the opening and the end. I am not sure if this is because I don’t think they are good enough or whether I really have had a new insight. The first page is so important, it is almost all that will usually be read by anyone who is judging or considering – I got carried away with Margaret Attwood’s Blind Assassin and I think it has now got too complicated. There is a wonderful Sinhalese expression – Aiyo – which is a kind of strangled wail, an articulated despair, a sense of end of the road. I find it very useful and sometimes the breath and sigh helps me to go on anyway. It is nearly a year since Phil and I came to France and found Le Marais – that feels like a good staging post. Now there is just consolidation and hard work. Aiyo!
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I have been reading W.S.Graham’s letters in ‘The Nightfisherman:Selected Letters. Carcanet’ which is an amazing insight into the mind of a poet at work – and at drink and in permanent condition of losing roof, needing money and searching for recognition and then questioning it when at last it comes. What is exciting is the way in which the poems arise in the context of the letters – you can catch the thread and then find the poem in the ‘Collected’ – its an interesting and motivating way of accesssing what are often quite difficult poems. I start to think like him some mornings – until the domestic or the outside drive thoughts away. This morning read this in a letter to Robin Skelton (1974). ‘The idea of a long poem is so exciting because things can happen and ways of speaking can occur in it which would not be in a literary object of lesser dimension’. Looking at this again as I write it out I am astonished at what it conveys and think, again, of my efforts to write a long poem Ha Noi 2000 which have been put on hold because the immediate but less important is currently holding the front of my mind and doing. The notice board is empty and waiting and I find, oh the pleasure of this, that W.S. too had a big notice board on which he spread out current work – perhaps I’m cracking this now! It has been encouraging to have comments from known and unknown people – it seems a privilege to have that contact. The thing about W.S. which really resonates with me is the ‘hippy’ context of the sixties and seventies in West Cornwall which is so familiar from my time living in Heligan. Familiar names, happenings, the whiff of Mary Jane, impromptu music happenings, songs, sky and sea – it all brings back memories, like sand discovered amongst the sheets next day after the visit to the beach. If you glance into happengs you will find what has been keeping me from writing – but these crafty activities have been hugely enjoyable – stretching different kinds of muscles and allowing different thoughts to flow – also nice to think about little grandchildren I miss a bit now and then. A new great grandchild, Isaac, arrived last Wednesday – his brother Oscar didn’t sound greatly impressed when I talked to him on the phone. Things arriving, greeted with language that makes them real, even when we can’t see or touch them – it’s a wonderful thing.
What’s weird is that having set up the blog I now find myself reluctant to add to it. Why? I’m not sure but it’s something to do with the reflection of a public voice I think. I have kept journals for over fifty years – there are about 70 battered exercise books, notebooks, the occasional lovely binding, sitting on my bookshelves waiting for me to trawl them. What will I discover there and why is it taking me a long time to do this? What I find difficult as I read the journals is the disagreement that I feel with the ‘tone’. Not so much with the words, although they plough their way through all kinds of labyrinths that maybe I’d prefer to lose or ignore – but having hauled them round the world for so long, rescued them from the white ants in my jackwood desk in Sri Lanka and eventually at least put them in date order there is a reluctance to face the person who wrote them I think but also a reluctance to ignore or destroy them. So the same reluctance seems to face me with the blank page to post. I think about writing by hand then putting on a Word document, then writing on a Word document straight away. Both approaches seem to be a bit like cheating. What is the reason for having a blog? Well something to do with communication and a sense of giving voice – and , like journal writing, this seems to be closer to stream of consciousness than well articulated and structured writing. On the other hand who wants to read stuff that is wincingly self-conscious, it always seems self-congratulatory when I read it in others’ writing. But- if I had yet another hand – if I don’t get on with the writing down of things time will run out. However opsimathic I might feel there won’t be too much time for more learning. I read Geoffrey Hill’s Mercia Hymns VI and found his lines ‘…..But/ I ran slowly; the landscape flowed away, back to/its source.’ provoked a lot of thinking and writing about early memory. Not yet worked on but a resource waiting. Now I’ve started I feel better about writing here – and just hope that the voice that comes out is accessible and true. Although what that means is a bit dubious too. There is stuff to send off to magazines and competitions (I am hesitant about these but in the current situation for print it seems a legitimate way to try to fund struggling magazines) – Maitreyabandhu wrote excellent articles, one of which addressed this, in the spring and summer Poetry Review this year. I increasingly enjoy what he writes and it touches on delicate chords, on my own Quaker beliefs and on the writing of Joko Beck that I find so important. This prompts me to add a category now about important books that affect/ed me closely. So writing this was not such a struggle after all. Will anyone read it? I guess this is what all bloggers wonder. Anyway its enjoyable to write like this, early in the morning as light struggles through a deep grey mist over the orchard; after I have put away my journal, drunk the coffee and looked forward to the new copies of LRB, Agenda and Granta that arrived in post carried over from England by Kay yesterday.
‘I would like to speak in front
Of myself with all my ears alive
And find out what it is I want.’