Monday, 5 January 2015

Why I try to write (or 'Happy' New Year)

I try to write
But perhaps I have perfected the art
Of losing the plot
Far too often.
An indulgent paradox
Shifts through my fingers
They look like insects here
Yet the wrists rotten.
I take the first hand
In the other
And curl the fingers to fists
Slowly knotting the flesh
Is this expression?
If I hold it above my chest
Does it mean something?
When I push it against my temple
It fits like a glove

Ah, you lover
The clichés run
And these hands uncover
They scrabble with dust
They want to hold
But they only touch.

Perhaps I should try and write why I write. Poetry is perhaps something different we distinguish it, it is a little like speech, there is something raw about it, to me.  My writing may appear to take the form of poetry, but I never really can see it as poetry in itself; it would be like it was assuming a lie, a form it was not. Like so much around me – family being just one example. Ah, they try to fit to that six-letter word like lining their limbs with a suit jacket. They want to formally witness the occasion of their own betrayal.

Yet the betrayer holds the pen so to speak. If the pen is mightier the sword, then perhaps fingers on keys can be as awful as artillery fire. Noise thunders around me however, and my digits on the keys are a mere patter. It is like my limbs falling out of sync down a flight of stairs. Every time I write it feels like some grave necessary injury.

Did the ‘great writers’ feel such an injury? Injuries do not always involve pain, but typically involve trauma –  to the flesh, or the mind, or both. Did Fitzgerald feel his tissues twinge as he unthreaded the phrases which became ‘The Great Gatsby’. But then again, Fitzgerald could be seen as a ‘creator’  - he inhaled that flavoured air of the 1920’s and created a  delicious fiction of it, something stunning itself. I could be considered, if anything, as a captor. The first time I read The Great Gatsby my skin tingled in anticipation of  touch. The anticipation of touch and the creation of it as a sensation could be considered as perhaps more powerful than replicating touch itself. The  anticipation of touch heightens the awareness of the moment, the surroundings, the mind relaying over a series of uncertainties. It is an expression difficult to express and thus perhaps requires allusion to the moment which first made it for me – within ‘The great Gatsby’ itself, a scene I often visit in memory:

They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.

Here the narrator Nick first introduces us to the figures of Daisy and Jordan – later to become major characters, but in this stage only in chapter 3, and here retaining  an almost tantalizing sense of mystery, there is something haunting in the fantasy o their description such as ‘flying around the house’ and the  ghostly ‘whip and snap’ of the curtains and the ‘groan of the picture’, yet there is some indeterminate point in this domestic imagery which makes it appear alluring, almost normalised. I too, reading for the first time, hungered for those sensations where the strange became circumstantial. I wanted to be part of projecting these hot, unhealthy, heady, magical emotions I had never properly felt before and yet The Great Gatsby captured so cleanly.  Cleanly seems only like the appropriate adjective. For even when Gatsby’s car crashes into the unsuspecting Myrtle, he tragedy I always pictured was the single bold streak of blood across the yellow bumper, an injury inflicted still with an artistic precision. Ultimately, for me, The Great Gatsby stoked many haunting images – the green light lingering at the end of a dock, Gatsby; open arms, his descent down the staircase, the billowing motion of his body in the water both in his mind and at the end as he drowns for a love he potentially half-wondered whether outside the head at all…

The power of good writing, good reading, is that it keeps us questioning, it keeps us alive. So much I feel like part of me has died, and has been replaced by something emptied, slowly silting, beginning enveloping my eyelids. I want to scrape it away, like casting off a sediment. Perhaps this was a sensation with some kind of similarity to which Fitzgerald felt, as after all, he wrote with an extent of ferocity – as seen in the variety of forms in which he searched, as I still feel I search – letters, poems, pieces of non-fiction. In his correspondence, he sent a friend an example of a poem which struck me particularly:

I seek assertive day again;
But old monotony is there—
Long, long avenues of rain.

The repetition of that tremulous vowel in ‘long, long’ is haunting in itself, seemingly of the hours experienced in which the human body feels useless and nature continues in  her cruel cycles. It is perhaps against this then, that words – the speech of people, their writing, is a form of resistance, a form of resolve. And resolve can link to resolution. After all, consider all that is put in motion by the written form – the dissemination of ideas, petitions, arguments, declarations of peace, war, love, hate, unity, disunity. The written word in this way is certainly a force for change, an awareness it ignored in the heady days of youthful idyll and abstract hope. Perhaps now I can revisit writing, whether my own or that of much-loved, much-agonised over authors – Fitzgerald, Plath, Nabokov for example – in order to immerse too myself in that charged, heady, naïve sense of deliciousness – that which perhaps comes with first authorship also.

The naivety and deliciousness seem an almost necessary combination in the process. It the case that I keep consuming and keep consuming – sometimes reading without taking in meaning, like eating and eating to absorb no satiation from it. It can be a frustrating process, leaving the mind gorged and dripping with itself, yet internally empty.

But writing preserves, even when the mind begins to flicker. Whereas the function of the mind is often depicted on relying on metaphors of light – like how Gatsby follows the green light – writing itself can be creation of darkness in itself, even in writing this, the black type on the white page summarises it for me. Writing entertains the paradox that it can illuminate even when it is a product of  darkness. And that is my hope for 2015.