Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Opening Your Presents Before the Party and Keeping it Simple
Well what have I been up to, nothing much, then again a lot of reading which is far from nothing, in fact it is the creation of whole worlds. There are as many reasons why people read as there are books and we read different books for different reasons. However why I read fiction is mostly to experience a story, hopefully told in a way that makes me suspend my current reality and enter another one yet bring back from that something that makes my current reality just a little better. To be convinced to the point of letting go is something almost akin to a chemical high, in fact I wonder if we could look at the brain chemistry of the fiction reader there would be a correlation between what we are reading and the release of adrenalin, endorphins and the like. Is our visual cortex firing up as we read a description of a landscape or a character? I never think of the reader as a passive recipient of words but someone who actively engages with the words, who creates and paints images on an internal screen, hears whole dialogues, arguments, orchestras playing, tastes the food, feels the velvet dress a character smoothes down. A good book takes you to a place you and the writer have created together. When you look up from the page just for a second you forget where you are, that is the kind of feeling a good book gives me.
Not only are you there, you are desperate to want to know the future but not enough to spoil the delight of finding out page by page. As a child I never ‘cheated’ and read the end of a book, it felt a bit like opening your birthday presents that you find at the back of the wardrobe and then wrapping them up again to feign surprise on the day of the party just to please your parents. The present is not just about the having of it, it is about the ritual and delight of receiving it and so with a good book the reading is not all about having it ticked off on your ‘I have read this’ list it is about the whole experience of it coming into your inner world. I love books, so with World Book Night upon us in March, I and a friend are busy organizing an event to celebrate this, to celebrate books and libraries and the right every individual has to have access to books. Without books seems to underline the old biblical saying of 'Where there is no vision the people perish', Ezekial's vision of the valley of dry bones might as well be a vision of a world without books, without libraries.
I sometimes wonder if we can get too analytical about poetry, too eager to show how cleverly we can dissect a poem to find what makes it tick .Isn’t it just enough and everything to say we simply loved reading the poems, that the experience of letting them into our inner world was something special? Perhaps not, perhaps we have to ensure every last drop of what the poem has to offer us is squeezed out of it until the pips squeak but sometimes I just want to let the poem tell me its own story in its own words and keep it simple.
Do readers ‘get’ you? was a question posted on Facebook by Roddy Lumsden which generated many comments. Here is mine
I think sometimes readers 'get' themselves in a poem or a poet ..they come up to you after a reading and say I loved that poem about x' and I ponder on that and think I didn't read a poem about x. Everyone brings something to a poem and takes something away,... a mish mash of themselves, their personal iconography of words, the poet, the poetic form, even the context in which it is read. They may not get me at all, they may get something not me, more them but I think the important thing is the process of 'getting' rather than being got, that dialogue between reader and poems where all the creative spark lies. If no one can even be bothered to try getting even one of my poems then I worry. I am on the whole seen as an accessible poet but actually I do strive for something underpinning that and that's the process I want to engage in with the reader, digging underneath. As I say there might not even be a 'me' to get but the fact that a reader or listener might be bothered to dig is heartening. I could get all mystical and propose that poems are more than the sum of their parts and thus the ghost in the machine is what the poet may hanker to be got ...well ghosts and poets can sometimes be quite difficult to get hold of, slippery little buggers.