Roger Hilton

The constructed space

Thinking about poetry and structure, in the wake of my writing workshop at the Fitzwilliam Sculpture Promenade. I had decided to name the session ‘The Constructed Space’ after the WS Graham poem of the same title. And that poem will always remind me of a weekend in St Ives with a group of poets: walking the cliff paths in Zennor, sitting in Barbara Hepworth’s garden after rain, talking about those extraordinary Wallis paintings where ships tilt in their harbours and sail up streets. After the Fitzwilliam workshop I ended up in Kettle’s Yard, looking at more paintings by Wallis and thinking about how everything is linked, certainly by memory, but also by what moves us and continues to move us.

And so back to Graham’s poem. The 'constructed space’ is the poem itself, but also the 'abstract scene’, the 'public place’ (those lines make me think of empty city squares with isolated figures heading in different directions, never to connect), and also communication, the words on the page reaching out to the reader, two speakers engaged in conversation. Even in that transaction, it is never certain that meaning will be conveyed, which is how I read the phrase 'lonely meanings’. But the attempt is all, and so he must continue in 'this abstract act’, the act of writing poems.

The painting is by Roger Hilton, Graham’s long-time friend and drinking companion. It’s called 'January 1957’. Hilton often titled his paintings with dates or months, as if he was trying to fix an impression or sensation in time. When I look at it I too think January, in all its cold greyness, parched fields and bleached skies …

The Constucted Space

Meanwhile surely there must be something to say,
Maybe not suitable but at least happy
In a sense here between us two whoever
We are. Anyhow here we are and never
Before have we two faced each other who face
Each other now across this abstract scene
Stretching between us. This is a public place
Achieved against subjective odds and then
Mainly an obstacle to what I mean.

It is like that, remember. It is like that
Very often at the beginning till we are met
By some intention risen up out of nothing.
And even then we know what we are saying
Only when it is said and fixed and dead.
Or maybe, surely, of course we never know
What we have said, what lonely meanings are read
Into the space we make. And yet I say
This silence here for in it I might hear you.

I say this silence or, better, construct this space
So that somehow something may move across
The caught habits of language to you and me.
From where we are it is not us we see
And times are hastening yet, disguise is mortal.
The times continually disclose our home.
Here in the present tense disguise is mortal.
The trying times are hastening. Yet here I am
More truly now this abstract act become.