Friday, 30 January 2009

Doing Porridge with Galway Kinnell, Don Paterson and Baking as Therapy

The blogs are of course full of him, well at least those blogs written by those of us old enough to remember with a frisson of times past the beautiful John Martyn, and in the 70’s he did truly have something of the beautiful wild gypsy about him. I saw him perform live four or five times at various points during his career and my life, when his emotions were raw, when mine were, when we were thin and when we were both fat. He was always moving somewhere else, always looking for something different to say, he was always the Marmite music man, loved or hated, but he was never bland. Thank god for those that try to keep us from the anodyne, few of them around, sadly one less now.

The completed manuscript of the novel (with the definite article) is off with the agent now, and the final proofs of the poetry collection expected from the publisher. I now pace the floor in my head waiting. I think I have worn down the floorboards in a few synaptic corridors such that I can feel my way along the slight dip I have created in the dark, especially at 3am, a common time to meet other anxious poets and writers walking similar corridors. At 3 am I have become adept at peopling these corridors to make the to and fro less solitary, ‘an anxiety shared is an anxiety justified’ is my motto. I have bumped into several writers and poets of note, they tend not to recognise me of course but they are the sort of poet and writer who would tend not to notice anyone too much when in the throes of anxiety so I do not take offence and am more than happy to field the odd nod or brief moment of eye contact from them.

I heard Galway Kinnell read his poem Oatmeal at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival some years ago and I was happy to discover that he too found himself in the company of other poets when alone. Of course I find the word oatmeal chafes a little, porridge is surely not oatmeal, it seems a transatlantic bowdlerisation of the porridge I know and love. Oatmeal has a whiff of the nursery about it rather than the aroma of the solid gloop heart of dark cold mornings that the word porridge means. I have not been able to achieve the advanced art of noted poet conjuring as Kinnell has, the ability to create at will through the medium of a particular food group, I still find a small visitation of writers is the by-product of insomnia, cheese after 8pm and those early hours of low self-esteem, but nevertheless they do arrive. Emily Dickinson, brushes past me, her skirts taking up far more than her fair share of the corridor, head fixed on some point ahead, as if good deportment and a sense of the eternal are one in the same thing, she raises an eyebrow as I pace past her for the umpteenth time and that is enough to put my desire for some form of recognition in context. Soleiman Adel Guemar, who I heard read last autumn, wanders by and nods, enough for me to know that some have to be in fear of their lives, leave their country to write not simply spend time at a laptop in a cosy sitting room. Even J. K Rowling has flown by once, littering the floor with her rejection slips. I think Van Gogh may have stomped by mumbling about being in the wrong genre of corridor but muttering something about rejection and real turmoil not solely being reserved for those with pens. Strangely my solid no nonsense northern mother often rushes past on the way to or from some eternal kitchen where she cooks meat and potato pies and stews for all these anaemic looking writers who insist on peopling my head, she does not have to say anything she has the look reserved for the overly dramatic, those who need to get a grip and bake something or watch a little snooker.

I went to hear Don Paterson read in Cambridge on Tuesday, he read poems from a new collection yet to be published; it is always good to get a hint of what is to come. Interesting stuff, he also read some of the aphorisms from his book Best Thought, Worst Thought. The one that stuck in my head was this one,

The aphorism is a brief waste of time. The poem is a complete waste of time. The novel is a monumental waste of time.

I hereby resolve to try and do less mind pacing and bake more meat and potato pies.


Rachel Fox said...

I've been reading Paterson's aphorisms of late - they are intoxicating! I quoted a few in the blog but could have gone on forever...there's one about weird punctuation too...but here's a favourite:

"What my cabal look for: quick eyes. (The quick brain is another matter.) When we see those we immediately acknowledge a brother or sister under the curse of the present moment."

Michelle said...

Oh, this is a wonderful post!

Emily Dickinson's raised eyebrow deserves a poem of its own.

Your collection and novel are going to be fantastic.

James said...

beautiful words about the late great John Martyn.....

and all the other 'oatmeal' poets!

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