Lately I have discovered that I am most prolific when I take myself away from my desk to somewhere else. This week I have returned (with a small group of poets) to Château Ventenac, where I taught a course on the poetic sequence two years ago. Like the sequence, which has a tendency to reinforce themes through repetition, I am here at the same time of year, with the wisteria in full bloom. Maybe it is good thing when attempting to write new poems to choose a ‘somewhere else’ which is not unfamiliar. This is actually my third time here, and so I have already made the typical excursions from base: I’ve walked along the canal and visited Carcassone and Narbonne, so I have not felt the need on this occasion to stray much further than the terrace. I’d like to think that I’ve been purposeful, at least as far as new poems are concerned: by coincidence, I am currently working on a sequence of poems to accompany new paintings and drawings by David Harker, for his upcoming show in July.
David’s new work is about provisional places, a good subject for me – I seem to have been almost exclusively situating myself in edgelands for the last few years. My sequence has been influenced by the works, but also by the fact that I am travelling – the idea of travel, of being uprooted in various ways, has given me the central idea on which to hang the poems.
My other silent companion, apart from David, has been Roy Fisher. His urban visions, the dark corners of Birmingham that provide a setting to his poems, might be at odds with the sun-drenched vineyards, the cloudless sky; but what I think of as his no-nonsense description (no excess, nothing that doesn’t ring true, both visually and musically) has given me a model for how to approach my sequence. My poems are short and spare, often without a clear point of view, so that there is a sense (I hope) of being alien, of being unsettled.
What I admire about Fisher is how much he is able to say with very little, as if somehow the places he writes about, restrictive as they are, have only permitted him a reduced vocabulary to describe them. There’s something about travelling on one’s own (although I have arrived to good company and lively conversation) that also serves to contain thought.
This is a small poem of his which just does it for me. It’s so simple, but also very moving. It’s about a moment, observed, captured, and tells how the poet felt, without stating the emotion. It’s about brevity, not just of the moment, but of time, one’s time in a place:
The sun sets
in a wall that holds the sky.
be here long, maybe.
filled with reflections
turns on its pivot;
beyond its edge
the air goes on cold and deep;
your hand feels it,
or mine, or both;
it’s the same air for ever.
Now reach across the dark.
Now touch the mountain.
Yesterday, I sat on the terrace, not writing, not reading, but simply looking at the view of the Pyrenees in the distance, through a cloud of wisteria, enjoying the moment.