Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Unemployed In Bristol I Think

Oh, golly, has it really been SEVENTEEN YEARS since I posted anything on here? How remiss.


I ummed a lot about writing this because it felt like a kind of 'The Seamus Heaney I Knew' thing, but I've decided that if I can make a great loss in some small way about me, I'm okay with that. In 2005, at the beginning of my PhD thesis, I wrote to Seamus Heaney c/o Faber & Faber asking him some questions about Stations, a pamphlet of prose poems from 1971 published by Honest Ulsterman. (Six of them were later anthologised in the Selected, but they're better taken together - it's a beautifully crafted sequence). I also asked about his opinion of the prose poem form in general, adopted a tone somewhere between toady and impertinent and failed to address him as Professor. I wasn't really expecting to hear back, and neither should I have done, especially since I barely answer emails from my own family. But I received a six page letter from him a week later with exceptionally detailed answers and some recommendations for Continental prose poets I hadn't read or even heard of at that point, all of which was extremely helpful for the chapter I was working on, not to mention the thesis as a whole. Given that he probably got hundreds of letters, questions and requests from students a week (and, I can only infer, answered the whole damn lot of them with the same generosity), I was really touched by that.


I'm reading Timothy Donnelly's The Cloud Corporation, which I like a lot. If there were two of me I'd like to put a module together on 21st century American poetry. There are [is] not two of me.


I was looking through the files I salvaged from an old PC and came across my first attempt at a prose poem, written in the Autumn of 2003 when I was unemployed in Bristol. I think it was the week I tried to get a job in Orange's call-centre and in the interview they asked me what I would say if someone threatened to leave Orange and I said I'd tell them to take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror and ask their reflection if they were really even worthy of Orange. My first draft manuscript of The Solex Brothers contained a whole bunch of trad-length prose poems in between the chaptered ones, but they were cut on grounds of being kind of weak. Check it out for my cutesy definite article posturing, faux-naif / menacing / slightly irritating tone and all the other leitmotifs which have defined my career 2005-2013. I'm taking a break from poetry for a while, PERHAPS FOREVER, so it felt like an appropriate last thing for a bit.


I found nothing disagreeable in my memory, but wrote to request a history of my recent actions and received terrible news. The postman punched me right in the mouth.

‘I was raised in a pit of snakes,’ I spat.

‘When I found you, I threw in more snakes,’ he replied.

At dinner I have to sit at the table with a woman who killed both her sisters. I keep saying, ‘I don’t want to sit with this woman.’ But nobody listens.

Amber light from the cartographer’s shack. She clips the padlock to the door and sets off after the spies.

‘I love your maps!’ I shout – she looks back and smiles, letting her hair fall over her face like a tree full of crows disturbed into sudden flight by a passing taxi bearing me to the station later that week. Her style reminds me very much of yours – and her manner of thinking is identical.

I follow the cartographer, but the camera lingers on my cigarette, smouldering in the wet grass of the cemetery. A single raindrop extinguishes the cigarette and night falls. The camera remains on the cigarette for the rest of the film.