Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Heated Words on Home and Louis Macneice

King’s Lynn Poetry Festival was, as usual, great fun and full of good poems and interesting poets. The reading I was involved in seemed to go very well, I tend to judge by a quick head count of those nodding off, the laughs at the funnier parts and the volume of Mmmmm at the serious parts. The invisible swingometer of the poetry audience would appeared to have swung our way.

The final discussion about Auden and MacNeice on the Sunday afternoon was interesting, not least for the small tornado that suddenly sprang up to stir up the after-lunch unruffled waters. In the green corner Irish poet Matthew Sweeney intense and vocal declaring MacNeice a truely, madly deeply Irish Poet and not just by virtue of the location of his birth but by his immersion in Irish culture and poetry. In the blue corner the poet Anthony Thwaite who shared an office and many a drink with this same poet over a number of years when they both worked for the BBC. He declared that apart from enjoyable holidays in Ireland MacNeice told him that he undoubtedly saw himself as English. Both had an arm of the dead poet and were keen to pull him into their corner. I think the best comment was by another panellist who simply said that when MacNeice wrote letters once from Europe he said he just wished he was home and no-one but the poet really knows what he meant by that. Yet at the same time we all know what he meant, most of us have a sense of home, albeit the space within four walls we create for ourselves to feel comfortable in, physically and emotionally.

Birth place, family, given culture, embraced culture, the whole rag bag of life experiences and our history feed into that word home. The absence of feeling at home haunts many who find themselves permanently separated from home. Norwich I know has declared itself ‘A City of Refuge’for persecuted writers and their families. Can a refuge ever be seen as home is it by its very nature, transient, a place between, a place to catch your breath.

Many years ago I worked as a volunteer at the very first Woman’s Refuge in London set up by Erin Pizzey. It was a a refuge in the full sense of that word and yet to those women and those children it was never home, it was an address where they could feel safe for a while.

Home is surely more than just a place of safety, vital though that is. A child of parents who constantly refer to another place as their home may learn to assimilate the idea of being in two places at once, inside two different skins, two countries, at once. I don’t know how a sense of being home is achieved, there is no recipe; take one house in a familiar or preferred landscape, fill with those you love and/or feel comfortable with, surround with others who also follow there own home recipe and who allow you to follow yours in peace and active goodwill. No that’s Utopia, I have met people who have felt that home was despite rather than because of all those ingredients. There are those who have lived in one place or in one family all their lives and never feel at home there, and there are those that can find true home in a sudden epiphany of place or people. Home can be a matter of geography, home can be people, home can be that which is simply familiar. Does it matter where a writer or a poet finds home? Do writers create their home and their refuge in the words? Is it always easier to know when you are not home than when you are? Is home sometimes a fantasy concept, the equivalent of the cottage with roses round the door? Adam and Eve probably argued with the angel with the fiery sword that they needed to go home because only paradise would tick that box? Should we go all pop psychology and not only love ourselves and embrace the moment but also love and embrace where we are and just agree to call it home? I doubt we can ever do that.

When MacNeice wrote Carrickfergus did he see Ireland as home or just a place he once lived in. Perhaps it was just one of many places in his head he called home, perhaps we all have more than one home and if we are very lucky always some place of refuge.

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