Monday, 20 October 2008

Squinting, dazzled

I went to see some live music at The Shop this evening, but I'd forgotten there was going to be poetry reading too. As it started, I groaned inwardly, and found myself planning in my head a long spiel about how pretentious the art world is and how they all wear their ethnic knitwear, etc etc.
But I actually enjoyed it a lot.
And I was wearing a woolly jumper that my mother knitted and her old woolly legwarmers, so I couldn't feel too judgmental.

I liked one of the poems by Helen Mort, which I was lucky enough to find on the internet to reproduce here:

Night Shift

I wish I'd been born in the dark.

Not the punctured black of evening sky,

or the shadows in a lightless house by night,

not a blindfold or a cave of bats,

the gloom of a closing storm,

not even the dark behind your purple eyelids,

but true dark,

the dark of the body inside,

an ocean floor without the green of ocean

where I'd learn to feel properly -

tongue, hands, toes,

even my eyelashes probing the air.

And when at last they hauled me out,

a squinting, dazzled paleface,

sunshine would grate like sandpaper,

I'd be split by light that cuts to the quick

and every night would dream my sightless dreams,

each dawn a curtain.

Boys, staring through telescopes

at all the constellations, would make me weep;

each tear the casting down of stones,

waiting for a click that never answers.


I don't know anything about good or bad poetry, but I know that I liked some of the ideas in it. It makes me think of lying in bed in a power cut trying to search out specks of light but enjoying the sound of pressing silence or rain.

Or of Alex Garland's book "The Coma" in which he describes being surrounded by darkness, floating consciousness in an endless black, where he stretches out both hands and brings them together but they never meet and just go all the way around him because he is body-less.

Or the Phantom of the Opera, and how the phantom is condemned to live in the dark and is the villain. Secretly I've always though Christine makes the wrong choice to live with Raoul and should have stayed in the depths of the opera house - "Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation, darkness stirs and wakes imagination..."

Or the line about eyelashes - thinking about butterfly kisses and when light catches the end of my lashes so I can't see to cycle down the hill. And I was thinking about how much my attention is caught by light - how I woke up this morning and was dreading going to 9am lectures but I saw the dawn outside where the bronze-y sky matched the leaves on the tree outside my window and it made me want to take photos.

And I thought of other senses, like how I was skiing and on top of a mountain and that was the only time I had ever experienced true silence. And I thought of the other poems, like one about hearing someone's heart through a tin-can telephone, and about a woman who couldn't have barbed wire in her garden because her son died at the Somme, and about a man crippled into the shape of a question mark.

And the line about the dark of the body inside - I understand that - because even as I was sitting there surrounded by people with Alice right next to me I still felt like I was looking out of my body like it was hollow and the actual me was inside. I think even when I am happy, and I am, lots of the time, I still feel like it is lonely to experience things only as me, with only me inside my head alone in there. It isn't always a sad thought, but it is always a lonely one. It would be nice to have someone that I knew was always in tune with my thoughts, but maybe that isn't possible.

So I was sitting there thinking all of these things during that poem, and for me that makes it a good poem that I could be inspired to remember all those things. Probably that's really pretentious and writing all those thoughts down is also really pretentious. I guess I did think at the time that it was amusing how all the poets had their "poetry reading voices" and I did get a little annoyed at all the arty types mooching around and looking pensive, so probably I am a big hypocrite. But I can't get the balance right all the time.

1 comment:

onar said...

what makes good a poem, I think, is the capacity of making the reader descend in the deepest corners of his/her soul and feel, as ever, the essence of life. If a poem can create a feeling in you, the shadow of a shiver, the flashing (and indeed damn short) light of truth, than it's a good poem.
Poetry is, I believe, one of the few wonderful ways that human beings have to communicate what's inside their soul and heart. Words are vehicle and only a vehicle what they tell goes far beyond the mere sound and meaning, it sth we can't touch or express. It goes from heart to heart.
xxx