I promised / threatened in my last that I would write a little bit more about one poem I read at a few events over the past couple of months. The poem in question:
Poems never finished, always abandoned, &c. So, this is a snapshot of what this particular poem looks like today (and looked like, more or less, on 17 June, the last time I read it in public).
‘I remember saying once, I can’t understand these chaps who go round American universities explaining how they write poems; it’s like going round explaining how you sleep with your wife.’ Philip Larkin’s interview in The Paris Review, 1982. I agree with this; I don’t want to write about the process of writing, partly because I don’t think there’s a great deal that I can say about it (aside from the fact that it probably looks more or less the same, degrees of fluency and speed aside, no matter who is writing), and partly because it is precisely this, the process of writing, which is the most convoluted and incoherent part (mystical, if you want to put it like that; unconscious, if you want to put it like that; instinctive, if you want to put it like that) of the whole thing.
So, what I will put here, without trying to explain why I used them, or why I have put them in the order I have, are some of the references, ideas etcetera that make up this poem.
Title: ‘All Summers…’ This is a reference to the comedy series Goodness Gracious Me, the character of the father who claims that everything in the world is Indian. So, an oblique call-out to the phrase ‘Indian summer’.
Line 1. ‘From here, the sun is broad as a human foot’. Heraclitus of Ephesus, as recorded in Aëtius, Opinions of the Philosophers. (But actually found in the invaluable collection The first Philosophers: The Presocratics and the Sophists (trans. Robin Waterfield, Oxford, OUP 2000). The same Heraclitus who told T.S. Eliot that the road up and the road down were one and the same at the beginning of the Four Quartets.)
Line 2. ‘Red wine in your fridge’. It was hot when I wrote this poem and we had to keep the red wine in the fridge. Who says explanation never elucidates?
Line 4. ‘the man who was fucking his sister’. This is a nastier version of this sketch, which I like a great deal. I liked finding a way to be nastier than it, as well.
Line 6. ‘A provincial anecdote’. There is a play by the great Soviet Russian author Aleksandr Vampilov (1937-72), one of my favourite writers, called Провинциальные анекдоты (Provincial Anecdotes, 1968). The phrase must have come from there.
Line 7. ‘normal people need draft after draft’. This was another reference to Russian literature when I first started writing the poem. The original line read ‘Isaak Babel needed draft after draft’, but I thought that the reference to Babel made an already unclear poem even more unclear. The change is absolute: Babel was the least normal of people.
Line 10. ‘Summer of St Michael, quince summer, archangel summer’. All names for what we also call an ‘Indian summer’: a period of mild or even hot weather after the official end of summer, usually in October. I was particularly pleased with the phrase ‘quince summer’, which comes from Spanish (‘veranillo del membrillo’, the little summer of the quince), as it reminded me, and established in my mind at least, a connection between this poem and one of my favourite films, Víctor Erice‘s El sol del membrillo (1992, from which the picture at the head of this post comes).
Line 12. ‘Beep beep beep, this year is reversing’. Some delivery trucks have a little prerecorded message that they play when they go into reverse gear in order to warn people not to stray too close to them. From personal experience, part of one of my A-levels (I want to say Maths, but I can’t quite remember) was disrupted for what felt like about half an hour by one of these trucks reversing outside the exam hall. When I read this poem out loud, I’m tempted to put on my truck voice to read the line, but I probably shouldn’t.
Line 13. ‘Fire on its approach will judge and condemn us all’. Heraclitus of Ephesus, as recorded in Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies. (But actually found in the invaluable collection The first Philosophers: The Presocratics and the Sophists (trans. Robin Waterfield, Oxford, OUP 2000). Which is, pretty much, where we came in.)