The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Monday, 25 July 2011
pool, your life as a novel, wildlife, Bly on poetry
And now just at the dusk of that rare and wonderful thing – a whole day off! Harvesting new potatoes, more garlic, a few marigolds.
I've had a weekend of very intensive courses here: Saturday a writing from life day looking at the themes that weave through our individual lives, and yesterday a day exploring work-in-progress in relation to participants' novels. Having led fewer courses this year (burnout), it felt very good to welcome some people, mostly 'old hands' at my courses, to my beautiful (if shambolic) loft space.
The perk of leading a weekend course is that I allowed myself to have today off (there's always more to do than I can stay on top of as a freelance – ironically little of it to do with my actual writing, and much to do with admin in relation to present or future courses; and that's before I think of partner, daughter, friends, family including incapacitated parents, dogwalking and veg garden – oh and writing – not necessarily in order of significance!) – and there's an extra deliciousness in the slightly illicit sense that most working weeks involve working on a Monday...
And so I've been lying in the orchard immersing myself in more Motorcycle Maintenance, Waddell's Peter Abelard (thank you MM for the cue; and related spotify coming up) and Robert Bly's Talking All Morning.
On Saturday I slip out for a breather while the writing-from-life writers are looking at 'what under no circumstances would you give up?' which is a question I feel is crucial to plotting a novel, from the point of view of the main character – this can show motivation and drive, and point to the source of potential conflict, both in a plot and, I think, in a life. Wandering up the path beside my shed/loft, I emerge from under the holly and little oaks and ashes into the light of the orchard – and there, sitting up like a dog, is a full-grown fox sunning itself, ears pricked! We check each other out for perhaps two minutes before it decides – what's that phrase? 'Caution is the better part of valour'? – and lopes off through the undergrowth.
Then later, dusk, I meander out to look at the pink quiet sky. Standing by the woodpile (inhaling the good tannin smell of oak logs in the woodstore, slated and all, that The Man built) I hear a small scratchy rustle, like giant beetle wings; and then one after another a little smoke of bats stream out from a gap maybe 2mm deep between the slates of the loft and the ridge tile – that explains the scrabbling I so often hear above my head if I'm working late here! I count 23, either all horseshoe with young, or a mix of horseshoe and pipistrelle. A little wonder.
So I'm reading Robert Bly. This is a book of his essays on poetry. He's speaking of poetry and the political, but it's clear to me that it's not just about the political, but about the whole process of immersion. Listen: '...what is needed to write good poems about the outward world is inwardness... the truth is that the political poem comes out of the deepest privacy... The life of the nation can be imagined also not as something deep inside our own psyche, but as a ... larger sphere... In order for the poet to write a true political poem, he has to be able to have such a grasp of his own concerns that he can leave them for a while, and then leap up into this other [collective] pysche. He wanders about there for a while, and as he returns he brings back plant seeds that have stuck to his clothes, some inhabitants of this curious sphere, which he then tries to keep alive with his own psychic body... A true political poem is a quarrel with ourselves... like the personal poem, it moves to deepen awareness.'
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