Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Sleeping with the fishes and Mark Doty

I had an encounter of the fish kind, or rather the human kind today. Whilst ruminating over the fish counter at the supermarket I asked the young girl serving how old the mackerel were. Yes I know that sounds 'grumpy old womanish' and it is unlikely that the truth will be told . A good fishmonger would have sold me the story that these mackerel were only landed yesterday and were still hung about with the scent of salty spray. She would have told me they were mackerel that had been no where near the Firth Of Forth, given its recent sewage injection. These were mackerel of unparalleled provenance. The girl stared at the fish and they stared back at her in what I thought was a rather ironic and glazed way , mirroring her own rather bored expression.
'I haven't got a clue I'm afraid, how do you tell the age of a fish." she replied
I was rather tempted to give her a specious lecture on their age being calculated by the number of stripes on their skin, like trees and their rings.Perhaps these were indeed ancient mackerel who had swum with U boats, lost galleons, Viking raiders, bronze age coracles and had survived the ice ages in the warm belly of a prehistoric whale.The mackerel glistened, their upturned mouths looked almost as if they were laughing. These were dead fish with a knowing attitude.

Whilst on holiday in the USA last summer I came a cross a van in the car park of an Eastern seaboard port that had the motto, 'We specialise in cold dead fish'...see the photograph above. This van moved and reappeared at very late and very early hours. I built up a whole back history for this van as a disposal truck for the Soprano type men that hung around the bars near the harbour and in nearby Boston. I never saw any large objects wrapped in polythene and weighted with bricks being dragged from the back of the van at night and dumped onto the deck of some waiting fishing boat but I did hear long shaggy dog stories (or should they be called scaly fish stories) from local fishermen about the severed body parts they sometimes pulled up in their nets , which they said they never reported as it would mean endless good fishing time being wasted talking to the police. I thought these were tales for the tourists,until a local retired coast guard officer regaled me with actual factual accounts of gun smuggling by the IRA in the seventies from the port and the resultant sea body count of those that might know too much and be less than tight lipped. There is something about a dead fish eye that says something more than just dead, maybe what passed before those eyes as they moved through seas and oceans is written onto them.
Best fish poem is a toss up between Elizabeth Bishop and Mark Doty. As I've posted a Bishop poem recently I'm going to plump for Mark Doty's, A Display of Mackerel

I have, as, your far from dead eyes, will note played about with the background colours and text colour and size on the blog. With my professional hat on I know that black text on a pale yellow background affords many, those with sight problems and those with dyslexia, a better reading experience. If a few people tell me they hate it I will ignore them, if many people say they can't get along with it I shall consider changing it back. Don't you just love socialistic tendencies and benevolent dictatorship existing in one body politic...much like the recent French election results.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Kettles and Launching the Craft,

I have neglected posting, mea culpa. I shall try to do better dear reader. I attended the launch of Tamar Yoseloff’s new collection, Fetch, on Wednesday. Does that link turn this into a flog blog I wonder...so spit upon by those that know about the inappropriateness of such things and keep the purity of blogging close to their hearts and mouse.

It was held at Kettles Yard. This was originally a group of old workmen’s cottages in Cambridge that were brought together to form one house by Jim Ede, an ex curator of the Tate Gallery, in the fifties. It has modern gallery space attached and inserted into it now but it still, in parts, has the feel of poking around someone’s house when they are in the bath. In some rooms you expect Ede or his wife to potter round a corner, towel and dressing gown slightly askew, straightening a picture or re-arranging a pile of pebbles, on their way to getting dressed

I find it interesting that books are launched, like ships; with due ceremony they slip into the ocean of other books and for good or ill make their own journey. Of course alcohol is usually involved in both processes and that basic question is always asked, sink or float? Some books and poetry collections are immediate successes, they do more than just float; they become galleons in full sail, grand Cunard Liners or small yachts that circumnavigate the globe to great acclaim. Others are launched like the Titanic to great hoo-hah, enormous expectation and hype and then the iceberg of disappointment or inability to quite match the hype, holes it below the waterline and it sinks or limps on plying the old trade routes of backwater library shelves and second-hand book dealers on Amazon. Some books slip out , almost silently, and can make their way across endless oceans without being noticed, picking up a satisfied passenger here, another there, a good review in the Shipping Times and it becomes more than it was. Of course it was always what it was, or is; what changes is the perception of it.

So we launch books, may the gods bless those who sail in her. Ships are always shes, perhaps a book is too, irrespective of the gender of the author. She’s a fine book, an 'honest craft', as the old shipbuilders on Tyneside and Belfast said of ships they thought worthy of praise.

Craft ( definition)

A profession or activity that requires skill and training, or experience, or specialized knowledge (often used in combination)

Deviousness: skill in trickery or deceiving others

A vessel: a vessel used for travelling, for example a boat, ship, aeroplane, or space vehicle (often used in combination)

There you have three choices all of which could be applied to literature in precise or metaphorical ways.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Shakespeare as Poet in Residence at Aintree,The Grand National and Falling

I have just finished watching the Grand National and noted that over half the field failed to finish. If you want horses and disaster there is of course the poem Serenade by Andrew Motion but I prefer Shakespeare for good horse lines, he knew his horses or perhaps knew how much his patron loved his horses. I suspect that Will would have had a flutter on the Grand National and in the bargain eulogised the courage of Silver Birch, the winner, and would have the jockey say that when he bestrode the horse he soared, he was a hawk. He would probably have had an eye to a commission for a poem from the winning owner as well to celebrate the victory, he was nothing if not street smart when it came to earning a crust.He would not have turned his nose up at a Poet in Residence job at Aintree, although Stratford would have been his nearest course.

Falling takes up the rest of this post's theme. I was asked by someone to contribute to a most embarressing moment in your literary life anthology.Below is what I sent re my fall from poetic grace.

Extreme Poetry

So there I was at this cutting edge visual arts fringe do, a huge factory converted for the space of a few days into chicken wire figures and lurking surreal shapes meets urban industrial ambience and in one room there was the poetry. The place was heaving with the local artistic great and the good and art students vying for the piercing of the month award. Right, I think, fifty something menopausal poet, how’s this going to go down.
I thought for a fleeting second that my leather trousers might at least give me a fighting chance until someone mentioned the WILT (Women In Leather Trousers) phenomena, desperate women of a certain age attempting the not so trendy and failing even that miserably. I followed a techno type band, a couple of boys twiddling knobs and a male middle aged poet who believed that length was the way forward. I’m no shy and retiring sort, being a 6’ 4’’ woman that’s a bit of a pointless exercise anyway, difficult to attempt social camouflage when towering above men’s bald patches.
I took myself up to the microphone with the sort of gait you hope might be interpreted as nonchalant confidence but which no doubt looked as if I’d been drinking heavily. One of the knob twiddling boys was valiantly trying to raise it to an appropriate height. However a screw seemed a bit sticky. Behind me was a small podium on which was a small winged armchair placed there by the organisers in case any of the ageing poets perhaps needed to read sitting down. I decided to eschew the Val Doonican mode of delivery, especially as this would involve more mike stand adjustment and the equipment already looked a tad precarious. I stepped forward, then decided I needed to step back as the volume was set to heavy metal levels. Of course in my eagerness to appear cool, calm and in control, I forgot the podium.
It was, like all accidents, a slow motion moment, something in the brain seems to introduce this strange temporal Bermuda Triangle around you. As I began to fall backwards I considered all the possibilities of recovery but somehow the synaptic pathways to communicate limb movement were running at snail pace. I watched people’s faces as I fell, their changing expressions like a bad bullet deflection moment in The Matrix. I heard a man from the next band on after me yell something like ‘Watch out for mi’ drum kit’, his voice too oddly slowed and distorted into a Barry White impression. Knob boy sprang towards the mike to stop it plunging after me, one has an instinctive drive to grab the nearest thing when gravity takes over. Out of the corner of my eye it was Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, incredibly good wire work with the wire air- brushed out. I seem to recall a couple of friend’s faces with ‘Sh lwys ws ccdnt prn’ text messaged on their foreheads. The Bermuda triangle effect seems to miraculously disappear at the moment of impact and then it’s all a cacophony of voices asking if you’re ok and people struggling to heave you up out of the small space I was wedged into between the podium and the wall. I vaguely recalled the particular dull sound of something internal snapping somewhere below my navel as I fell but being English the pain of embarrassment and potential humiliation was to be avoided at all costs. I shuffled towards the mike, making some lame joke about it being all part of the performance.
I zipped through the reading at a rate of knots, probably sounding like a chipmunk on acid, I did have this voice as a backing in my head saying ‘My that hurts’ or words to that effect but I chose to ignore it, even afterwards when asked whether I was ok I said in a deadpan voice, ‘Well I think I’ve probably broken my leg’ which for some reason made everyone laugh. I drove sixty miles home with only two gear changes, as opposed to my usual four or five, as working the clutch was a bit tricky and the next day had two fractures to my leg and damaged ligaments discovered by the pale, overworked young doctor at A and E.
Sitting in the fracture clinic the following week amidst all the other breaks and cracks, tales were being told about how we had come upon our particular injuries. Skateboarding, roller- blading, karate, horse riding, football, car accident, fall from scaffolding, a bad tempered cow even a bar fight. I was the last to volunteer, ‘So?’ their faces seemed to say as they re-arranged their plastered limbs into more comfortable positions. ‘Extreme poetry reading’ I mumbled into my collected works of Edwin Morgan.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Poetic mooching like a meerkat, with Cab and Betty Boop

I went for a walk in a nearby nature reserve yesterday. Being the fens it consisted of flooded gravel pit lakes, flat vistas and squalls of midges, but still beautiful. Until relatively recently (the 18thCentury) malaria was actually endemic to the fens and many a poor Scottish or Dutch prisoner of war, used to dig the drainage dykes in the 17th Century) are buried in local churchyards or even unmarked at the sides of the bigger dykes. Anyway at least quinine is now no longer required but insect repellent is handy especially as the weather becomes hotter and the midges grow sharper teeth.

I am not a fast walker, I am an ambler, the purpose is not to get from A to B quickly but to mooch in a contemplative sort of way. Mooching seems to have gone out of fashion and I highly advocate its return. Mooching round the lakes I am passed by four sweating runners (one accompanied by knackered spaniel, obviously dying to be allowed to mooch and sniff) and two older ladies with wristband weights who are striding out at one of those power walk paces that almost but not quite breaks into a slow trot. Power walking seems a sure way of ensuring you neither enjoy the walk or the countryside you are passing through, concentrating as you are on the maximum aerobic experience. There were a gaggle of older children on bikes who seemed to have an innate sense of mooching on wheels as nattering and prodding piles of dirt and bushes with sticks is still a popular past time. There were the MP3/I pod walkers whose eyes seemed slightly glazed and turned in as the country passed by to a soundtrack.

Just because I mooch does not imply being unobservant of course or that I have a desultory sensory experience of the countryside. I can be a very tiring vocal observer for any companion, whether I’m walking in an urban or rural environment, rather like a huge overexcited meerkat, ‘What’s that blue flower called, what sort of bird is that, look at that yellow thing, look at that weird drain cover, that shop sign is odd, why does that building have fancy brickwork that looks like two pencils?’ Of course on my own I merely think these sort of things as talking out loud may ensure the power walkers do break into a trot to get away from the mad lady. I once embarrassed friends on my first visit to America by becoming very over excited in a supermarket and insisting on by-passing a rank of expectant and eager check-out girls when I spotted a self-service check-out where you scanned your own purchases (before they were introduced over here). When I was eleven I tripped over a kerb and gashed my knee very badly when I was taken to London for the first time as a treat for passing my eleven plus. What was the cause of my fall? I was desperate to examine a parking meter, as I had never seen one before. These incidents serve to flesh out the meerkat image somewhat.

It would appear that I am drawing up a contradictory picture, mooching and a compulsive need to question and look at things that catch my eye. I looked up the definition of mooching, ’to wander aimlessly from the 14th century French muchier, to hide.’ Well I think I mooch so more things can actually reveal themselves, the old saying of making sure you sniff the flowers along the way springs to mind. My personal definition of mooching would be ‘to wander reflectively whilst maintaining a keen curiosity in the environment you find yourself in.’ Very John Clare (without the madness), very Lakes poets and Wordsworth (without having to involve daffodils and the sister business), very much part of observed poetic behaviour. I think if there was more mooching life could be a little less fraught for some people. If you are a zipper, however, sustained contact with a moocher could result in blown gaskets. Moochers and zippers rarely make good walking companions or life ones probably, although it may be a case of opposites attract and putting a bit of zip into a moocher and vice-versa could be an example of reciprocity and true compromise. I think I am too much of an entrenched moocher to be zipped successfully.

Before anyone tells me, the song ‘Minnie the Moocher’ (see lyrics below) by Cab Calloway was about a different kind of mooching entirely, mainly drug induced. Note coke-y is exactly what you think it is and we aren’t talking soft drink here and kicking the gong was an idiom for using opium. Calloway wrote a Hepster’s Dictionary to let people access the 1930’s jive talk. I just love reading old and new slang, some of it makes you fully understand what a versatile and organic thing language is.
So I guess now this fen queen better wiggly her jelly roll put her sky piece on put the twister to the slammer and trilly to the sound of mitt pounding.

If you have eight minutes to spare take a look at the original Betty Boop, Minnie the Moocher cartoon, a real classic with Calloway’s movements rotoscoped for the dancing of the ghost walrus.

Minnie The Moocher (Lyrics)

Folk's here's the story 'bout Minnie the Moocher
She was a red hot hoochie coocher
She was the roughest, toughest frail
But Minnie had a heart a big as a whale


She messed around with a bloke named Smokey
She loved him, though he was coke-y
He took her down to Chinatown
And he showed her how to kick that gong around


She had a dream about the King of Sweden
He gave her things that she was needin'
He built her a house of gold and steel
A diamond car with platinum wheels

(fast hidey-hi's!)

He gave her his townhouse and racing horses
Each meal she ate was a dozen courses
Had a million dollars in nickels and dimes
And she sat around and counted 'em all a million times

(hidey-hi's, one mo' 'gain!)

Now Min and Smokey they started jaggin'
They got a free ride in a wagon
She gave him money to pay her bail
But he left her flat in the county jail

(ominous sounding hidey-hi's and ho's)

Now Min met Ole Deacon Lowdown
He preached to her that she ought to slow down
But Minnie wiggled her jelly roll
Deacon Lowdown yelled "Lord save my soul!"

(upbeat hidey-hi's)

They took her where they put the crazies
Now poor Min's kickin' up those daisies
You heard my story this is the song
She was just a good gal but they done her wrong
(yet more hidey-hi's)
Poor Min, poor Min, poor Min!

Monday, 9 April 2007

Feeding the beasts, Penelope Pitstop and Margaret Attwood

So Easter Bank Holiday was gloriously bright all day, and there was heat in the sun, a little frisson that summer is waiting in the wings. However, ‘N’er caste a clout ‘til May be out’ my mother would mutter in the face of April sunshine, worrying that I might prematurely have thrown my liberty bodice and vest to the winds of March. A friend has sent me a photograph of snow currently laying on the blossom of trees on the East Coast of America and as we all know America sneezes and we all catch a cold so best not to put the thermals in mothballs yet may be?

I have been wading through and re-reading the manuscript of THE definite Novel. Three agents sent to so far have loved the writing, loved the book, one goes as far as to say she thought it was a ‘superb mix of very dark humour and incredible sensitivity, I was glued to it’ but all say they are unsure of the market for such a book and hence no thanks. So I re-read it as best I can as if I am, ‘the market’, the person who is prepared to cough up money for a book. Of course I am Jo Public as I do cough up money regularly for books but my tastes are perhaps wide, weird, unrepresentative of ‘the market’, which seems to be referred to as if it is some huge beast that has to be fed just the right thing or it will spit you out or with one sniff turn its mighty back and amble away across the field towards some tastier offering. Of course I am aware there are a number of different ‘markets’ all of which are penned in their own little field, all needing to be fed absolutely the right thing. As the novel is about someone suffering from Alzheimer’s and her daughter I wonder whether I can turn it into ‘The Dementia Code’, some dark mystical secret at the heart of a mad treasure hunt/road movie. Could I turn the novel into forgetful Penelope Pitstop on a zimmer-frame being pursued by a toothless Dick Dastardly in a wheelchair. Peter Perfect coming to her rescue hobbling on his walking stick whilst the Gruesome Twosome and the Ant Hill Mob come careering round the corner on their motorized scooters. Would the market consume whole ‘Wacky Races, The Incontinence Years’?

I wonder then about the market for poetry, how many poets have been turned down solely on the basis that there may not be a market for their work, no matter how good the writing. Poetry is often a break even deal even a loss leader for many publishers (unless you belong to the revered dead poet’s society or the premier league of modern poets). I was told recently that the sales of books about DIY are ten times greater than sales of modern poetry All I can say is God bless the poetry publishers who as yet don’t seem totally driven to watch the market beast and drown under a tidal wave of submissions by the good, the bad and the handwritten in purple ink. I think poems about plastering, radiator replacement and how to strip floorboards could be a real winner.

I’ll leave you with one of my finds as I have become more and more a poetry archive junkie. Margaret Attwood is one of those rare writers that manage to juggle fiction and poetry, feeding the two beasts, very successfully. Her poem King Lear in Respite Care about her father beats any poem I could write about the elderly. Penelope Pitstop wandering the corridors of the Home for Retired Cartoon Characters looking for her Compact Pussycat car or Dick Dastardly calling repeatedly for Mutley, forgetting that he has died years before could make an interesting poem but then again, the King Lear metaphor does gives you a classier more artistic starting point.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Deckchairs as passion killers, Jeffrey Archer and Elizabeth Bishop

I sat in the gardens of the Grantchester Tea Rooms with friends yesterday and pretended to be amongst the literary and artistic. You can be Rupert Brooke, he’ll be Augustus John, she can be Virginia Woolf, the oldest has to be Bertrand Russell . E. M Forster is in the toilet and Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath are canoodling under that tree, or as canoodling as you can get in separate deckchairs. The deckchair was never designed to have passionate possibilities as a piece of garden furniture; it takes too long to get out of one even when your spine and knees are capable of greater flexibility. If you try and lean over in an alluring manner towards someone you also risk tipping ignominiously over into their lap.

Of course no one really wants to be Virginia or Sylvia; it all ended too painfully and badly. If you could just freeze them at their best then maybe but of course if they were frozen at their best they probably wouldn’t be who they were.

No-one wanted to be Jeffrey Archer who lives next door in the famous vicarage but we couldn’t resist peering through the hedge in the car park into his vicarage garden. What we expected to see I have no idea, celebrity doesn’t grow on trees. Many years ago, on another visit to these tea rooms Boo wandered through the adjacent meadow and jumped a small dry ditch and returned to say she had found a rather nice garden with statues and a lawn that was just like a smooth green carpet, she’d taken her shoes and socks off to check. Clean shaven lawns rather fascinated her as a child as I could only summon up a ragged meadow of a back garden. Mr Archer hadn’t fallen from favour then and was Deputy Chairmen of the Conservative party, I imagined hidden cameras tracking my young daughter as she danced barefoot on his lawn and security guards deliberating whether she posed a threat.

I have just done battle with a villanelle. I went to a reading once where a well known poet said that she had been told that a true poet had to have one villanelle in their oeuvre. I ought to try and at least complete one. I did so and I took it to the monthly poetry workshop I attend and they quite rightly said… ‘Ah a villanelle…nice obsessive repetitive form shame about your content.’ So I roll up my sleeves and work at it becoming a better villanelle and I re-read every villanelle I can find. I find Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art stays with me the longest (yes I know there is the Dylan Thomas one that rises like a monolithic structure in the land of this form), a slight subversion of the form a little twist to make that thudding repetition in the skull of the two lines, less like a dog with a bone and more like the turning of an idea over and over to see it from every angle.

One Art
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
– Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, 2 April 2007

Ashes, Inspiration, the Moon and Robert Graves

It was a beautiful bright sunny day yesterday, so I headed into the great blue yonder and decided to go and pull up a few weeds round the tree where my parents’ ashes were scattered. What better way to spend a pleasant early spring day than wandering around the quiet garden and grounds of a crematorium. I am so easily pleased and a cheap night out by the way, a curry and a Tiger beer and I’m a happy individual.

I was very impressed when a few months after my mother’s funeral in 2004, I was phoned by the crematorium staff and asked what I wanted to do with her ashes. I had not collected them, just as I had not collected my father’s; I am not an ash collecting sort of person, despite my usual ability to collect ‘stuff’. A small urn on the mantelpiece was out (no mantelpiece) and there was no football ground, special hill, valley, wood, park, street corner, pub, garden, lake or stretch of sea that seemed appropriate. My parents seemed singularly lacking in favourite geographical places, in fact most of their happiest times were spent in their own front room with family or round the kitchen table and the new owners of my parents bungalow would hardly want a ‘shake and vac’ dance done on their new carpet or laminate flooring with the ashes of a previous owner.

“Would you like your mother’s ashes placed exactly where your father’s ashes were placed?” I guiltily confessed that I have no idea where he had been placed. There was a pause at the other end of the line.
“We do, we have his sector co-ordinate”
Was this like spot the ball competitions, the whole crematorium gardens divided up into a precise grid? Indeed it turned out that it was but luck played no part in spotting the last resting place of my father’s remains; they already had a precise grid reference. It transpired that the crematorium keep an ‘ashes scattering’ map, they knew exactly where they had scattered my father’s unclaimed ashes eighteen years earlier. One metre due north of a particular tree. I was fascinated, thousands of people must have been scattered in eighteen years yet they painstakingly noted where everyone was. I did a rough mental calculation and decided some doubling up on grid references must have occurred but no doubt this was kept from relatives as no-one likes to think a nearest and dearest in merely one strata of the dead. These first thoughts are probably not to my credit but at least honest.
The day I and Boo turned up to scatter my mother’s ashes was cold and windy, there is no high ground between the Urals and the fens if the wind is blowing in a certain direction. A kind and efficient gentleman lead us to the exact spot and my mother’s remains were dispensed from a large lantern affair with bomb bay door underneath that could be opened by pulling a lever. Despite the wind he seemed to have developed a technique that prevented the possibility of blow-back. I and Boo, who insisted on being present, watched as mother and grandmother was scattered. I wondered whether if he was alone was he tempted to make patterns or write letters on the grass with the remains. He told us that many people take the ashes and bury them in the garden and then plant a rose bush on top, then sit back and watch it die.
“Too many calcium phosphates and nitrogen in the ashes,” he informed us “Kills the roots; we’re just too acidic. Only rhododendrons stand a chance and that’s pushing your luck. One woman was going to put her husband’s ashes on their allotment, which she still worked. I hadn’t the heart to tell her it would play havoc with any root crops.” I wondered who would want to eat spuds fertilised by their dead husband’s ashes. However I suppose it could be regarded as the ultimate re-cycling.

As I pottered about yesterday with a trowel I wondered at the whereabouts of the lavender, sage and rosemary I and Boo had planted round the tree. It appeared to have been dug up and shifted by someone to make room for an inscribed stone plaque for a married couple. I had a sudden hot flash of territorial encroachment. Suddenly Boo, who was with me, pointed back the way we had come and looked at her shoes. “Oh God, I think I’ve stepped in someone” There was a trail of gritty white ash across our path across the grass and now white footprints leading towards the tree. The crematorium was empty save for a man way in the distance with a watering can and a small spade.
We began to laugh and the more we thought about it the more we laughed. I think my parents, should they have currently have access to such things, would have been laughing to, they had a keen sense of humour.

I have made a mental note about the ashes map, it will scratch at my brain like a dog desperate to be let out of the house unless it finds some form and shape in a poem. The poet and translator, George Szirtes talked about the nature of artistic inspiration in his news section on his website yesterday. Sometimes we perceive something that we prod and poke with language until some sort of form begins to take shape, which in itself allows us to step back and examine it without drowning in a welter of subjectivity (I summarise clumsily here). I shall have to use my Wallace Stevens allotted thinking time today to ponder on that. What do I make of a map of human ashes, so scrupulously kept and painstakingly documented in a manicured quiet English garden? What do I make of a man who can talk of our calcium phosphates and nitrogen content and the death of roses and potatoes, of our laughter in the face of the macabre?

Think long and hard enough and to quote E M Forster’s forward to Howard’s End..’Only connect’, ideas and thoughts begin to cohere. The perception, the language, the form that takes are not so much linear as an intricate web of constant interconnections that somehow we manage to create. I think this process is what allows us to be surprised by our own work sometimes, we can be caught unawares. That odd paradox can occur, if we are lucky, the discipline of thought setting the idea free.

Of course we could all adhere to Robert Graves’ concept of The White Goddess and the phases of the moon from which she derives her power as the source of poetic inspiration. I am rather proud of the fact that I actually got through reading that book without having to call on a Chick Lit book to cure me of the footnote trauma his works usually bring on. Personally, whilst I know the moon may influence many things, tides, bad songs, were wolves, Apollo moon landings, poor decisions on a mate; I am loathe to see it as a direct source of the muse. However in Cool Web he did have something interesting to say about language being necessary to keep us whole and that it served to make sense of the chaos of the power and immediacy of experience. Of course Graves famously read his own obituary in The Times, when he was presumed dead during the First World War which may account for his more bizarre intellectual eccentricities.