The title is a line from a poem by Vahni Capildeo. She is Trinidadian by birth but lives in the UK, and her poetry is full of the alienation of the dislocated, both physical and mental. The following post may well be interrupted by further italicised quotations from her work.
It is easier to touch a shape of air than to speak to you
Well, yes, Vahni. You were having some serious trouble speaking to me for a while there. The blurb on the back of your book said that you are a poet’s poet.”In a world rendered familiar by interpretation (including the literary) it takes a genius to recover (poetry’s) real intransigence…it is like being brought up hard against an immovable rock amidst all the torrents of counterfeited poetry…”
I admit it. I was worried. I thought that was pose-speak for “incomprehensible”. Poetry so far off the scale as to be utterly resistant to reading.
Conversation lounges around shared ambitions: but I am not on the same page
Damn right. I know the feeling. Maybe we do have something to talk about here, Vahni. Nevertheless, the regular everyday use of the word “poetic”, the vague and indefinite, has very little to do with poetry, does it? Poetry is the expression of the indefinite in very clear and precise ways, by both its content and its omissions. It is possible to go overboard and get so lost as to be opaque. The genius of Sylvia Plath is that her poetry lived right on the cusp between the mundane and the fantastic. If she had strayed the merest inch further it would have been like reading porridge, but she found the knife’s edge between the conscious and subconscious, between dream and reality with disturbing accuracy.
The existence as a marvellous witness who puts the seal on the confession that it is someone frailer who has full humanity
Yes. Are you saying that poets are inhuman?
Then the poets read. A fascination was exercised through them. People came up to them,wanting something not human: sympathy untroubled by the need for explanation; the most secret imaginings anticipated; an answer to the terrible, purely internal manifestations of love, which had them walking about whole but gutted.
Are you whole, or gutted, or both, Vahni? Or are you only the poet? A witness?
I know that sometimes it is possible to read (or write) too much poetry. To become so enamoured with that nether world of the waking dream that you can forget the practicalities of life and become disconnected. Even if it feels like home. Even if it is your only home.
Last winter I was walking home late at night through the park and all I could see were the brittle silhouettes of the bare leafless trees and the distant rows of houses along the park edge with light spilling out from warm kitchens and the only sound was the crunch of gravelled path under my feet. The same sound as scooping up cornflakes with a bowl from a large barrel full of them. I had to stop walking. It wasn’t real. I had crossed that line. Existence itself has sputtered out and all that was left was a scape of sight and sound. I wasn’t there and longed for a policeman to ask what that place was. To tell me where I was. None were available.
Sitting at lunch on the other side of the world that day, he refused to hear of the unkindness of poetry. – Sitting at the foot of a mountain, trying to describe by smartphone how precipitous it is, to a friend who has never left the valley, nor felt gradient’s drag inside tolling muscle-and-bone. – Being stranded on a desert island for six hours, but that during that time there is no recourse, you are truly stranded and can only look out at the sea, or do something such as can be done on the island. – Tell me about the fisherman who visits an aquarium on his day off?