Feelings about the group have shifted again. I’d read and read out my poem about the baby until it was just words but when it came to doing the same with an audience I was way too affected by emotion to finish reading; couldn’t speak even. And of course all of us have been changed by terrible grief in one form or another. I was afraid that the subject matter would inhibit honest opinions; I don’t seem to have much written down but the notes I do have reinforce reservations I already had about particular lines or words. Or may be I only recorded the comments I agreed with; can’t remember I was a bit spaced out for a while.
Commenting on the poems is strange. We usually start out diffident, then a slightly more assertive observation from one person can open the floodgates and we all wade in until it seems that there isn’t a line that isn’t questionable. It’s good that the author can’t comment until the end; could get quite heated. Obviously no one is magic so they unaware that you might have spent ages selecting a particular word or term. I commented on a sequence of s-words that I thought sounded slurpy; but the writer responded that that is how 13-years olds eat soup; which is quite right.
I was glad with the Jimmy Woods opinion. I’d really struggled to recreate the weirdness of him inhabiting that place and time (strange enough in itself) but being of another time himself. There was (mild) criticism of me for using academic words, argot, extant, sinistral which of course, I felt defensive about. I wanted to respond that they’re all words I use, and I like seeing new words in writing, and that I didn’t see why I should cater for the lowest common denominator; which of course no one suggested I should do for a moment. On reflection, they were probably right. No one criticised my using hecatomb in the dead baby poem, and that certainly isn’t I word I bandy around much, but I’m guessing there were other motives for going easy on that. My last stanza in Jimmy Woods, where I invoke Pan came to me very quickly just before I sent the poem off:
Of another age even then
in speech and costume
Boots and vest, Father’s coat and watch chain
Like Father was Arcadian and he a son of Pan
I was smug because I’d got Jimmy’s dad, Arcadia and Pan in, but it did feel rather glib. And he a son of Pan particularly jarred. By Wednesday I’d changed it to:
Like Father was Arcadian, and Jim a son of Pan
Which sounded a bit more honest, but also Jim seemed a bit too familiar for the atmosphere I was trying to recapture. I think people did sometimes address him as Jim, but he was always referred to as Jimmy Woods, both names. Anyway, the pat-ness didn’t escape the group; which is good.
I drove past Jimmy Woods’ old house this week. In fact I went to a funeral at the church where he was the grave digger. His house is completely done-up and desirable now. The church is much the same. It was the funeral of the mother of the two best friends I had when I was growing up. Like us all she was a complex character but an exceptionally loyal and protective mother and always kind to me when I was young. I tried to base the way I looked after my children and their friends on her approach toward me. Such flattering things were said about her, I just can’t imagine anything so fine being said at my funeral; with the exception of, ‘she wasn’t a plaster saint’. The partner of one of her daughters spoke about her, but opened by saying that he’d known her for 20 years, ‘since I fell in love with one of her daughters’. I think that part moved me more than any other. To use that opportunity to assert his love; she’s a lucky girl to inspire such devotion; I was very jealous. It was my first wicker coffin, it was also probably the first time I’d attended an overtly religious funeral service since I lost my faith good and proper. This produced in my mind, moments of pure absurdity. What were we all doing in that building saying those things about someone, or two people, I really don’t believe existed? I read a little piece by Euan Ferguson in the Observer Review on 26/10/08. He wrote about how failure to wear a poppy on television after the first bloom marks you out as a toxic charlatan. He added that someone had tried to tell him that you had to wear your poppy with the little green leaf pointed exactly at 11 o’clock to mark the time of commemoration. Thus, he opines, ‘evolve the nonsensical tropes of religion’. Wish I’d written that. But still there’s a part of me that yearns for that ritual, manmade as I’m sure it is.
I drove my Dad to the funeral, he is a Jim too. He was a Royal Marine Commando in the last years of the Second World War; he is very brave and was very strong but he is the least violent or aggressive man I know. When I was younger I used to try to talk to him about CND and anti militaristic ideals, he quieted me one day by saying he hadn’t wanted to fight but that he did it to stop his children being slaves under Hitler.
My Dad, Jim, is a year older than my friends’ mother. In the 1950s she used to like him to sing September Song as sung by Walter Huston. The song seems very apt, both the season and the lyrics; which talk of days dwindling down to a precious few. I expected him to be terribly sad at the service and I wore a poppy to try to please him, wore it with the little green leaf pointed at 11 o’clock. But he didn’t seem unduly sad; and he didn’t seem to notice the poppy; a year ago he would’ve. He’s almost 85 and terribly diminished now, almost as if he’s leaking life.
I saw some policemen wearing bobble hats the other day; black knitted with POLICE written in yellow on the fold-over at the front. Well, they didn’t have bobbles, but they were knitted and I consider it worthy of recording.
Ellie’s take on the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross thing was; ‘what did they expect when they put two boys in a room with a live microphone?’
Quote, unquote - Currently reading Salt Publishing's Best British Short Stories 2015, edited by Nicholas Royle, with whom I recently teamed up on the Re/Place project for C...
4 days ago