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

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