April 10th 2017
Hello again. I’ve had to take some time out to tour Cain and my first novel which were published in something of a bottleneck. You know how you crave attention but then when you get it you think, on measure I preferred being left alone? I don’t know why I’m writing that in the 2nd person. Actually, when an earlier version of the novel was sent out by my agent three years ago it received one ‘maybe’ and six rejections and I realised that if I was going to pursue the thing at all it was going to need at least a year’s revision and re-writing. Dejected, I walked down to the canal from Bournville to Kings Norton with the 400-page manuscript in my backpack and followed the towpath until it disappeared in a watery crossroads. This is the only thing I’m good at and I’m not good at it. I sat on the ground and considered somehow sinking the document, maybe tying it to a rock with my belt. This would have been a particularly awful and gratuitous act of littering, so I made do with miming throwing an imaginary novel into the canal. I’d like to pretend I had some kind of epiphany at this point: a heron landed on my shoulder, heavy as a camera on a tripod, and whispered don’t give up.
A couple of weeks ago I had two readings in Holland, one in Maastricht and one in Amsterdam. This is one of my poems, ‘Chorus’ (2007)1, translated into Dutch by Bas Belleman (2017):
Het koor liet hem niet meer met rust sinds de eerste dag van zomer.
Bij het ontwaken zag hij het opgesteld rond zijn bed.
Op een dag kwam het koor en gaf geen waarschuwing vooraf en geen verklaring,
Zong het koor vierstemmig en gaf hem een geroosterd broodje.
Op zijn eerste werkdag stond het koor rond zijn bureau
En zong: Het koor maakt zijn werkzame leven onmogelijk.
Twee weken later verliet zijn partner hem voor een osteopaat.
Hannah kon het koor niet langer verdragen, zong het.
Die nacht beukte hij de zangers met zijn vuisten;
Gefrustreerd slaat hij het koor, maar ondanks blauwe plekken
En bloedende lippen zingt het twee keer zo fanatiek, zong het koor.
Toen zong het, Hij kan niet slapen, hij kan niet slapen,
Hij kan niet slapen, in zuivere kwinten, tot hij in slaap viel.
Op den duur raak je misschien aan ons gehecht, zong het zachtjes.
The hotel I stayed in was right on the canalside and it was like a cross between a Wes Anderson and a David Lynch set. This was initially charming and later discombobulating after I unwisely decided, post-reading, that the best way to unwind would be to visit a café. I’m a poet, I reasoned, I’m expected to abuse my body and mind in pursuit of my art. To abridge a My Drug Hell narrative, I ended up weeping silently on the shoulder of my friend for upwards of two hours, unable to differentiate between the things I was thinking and the things I was saying out loud. We sat on the edge of the Keizergracht canal and she managed to stop me from falling in. I still felt quite odd flying home the next day. The man at UK passport control said, ‘Been on your holidays?’ and I muttered something like holiday holiday yes nice happy holidays. Passport officers should really ask you if you’re planning on having any good haircuts this year.
Look at the lift; it’s like a coffin!
Anyway, I’m delighted to have some more time and headspace to wander the towpaths of the UK again and to finish a couple of new poems before I pass the laurels onto another poet. It’s been a joy to be George Lazenby to Jo Bell’s Sean Connery. I have a couple of readings coming up in June where I’ve been asked to focus specifically on the dozen or so poems I’ve written as part of the canal residency. This is a good thing as I’m feeling quite sick of my other poems at the moment. One is June 10th 7:30pm at the Welshpool Poetry Festival with Helen Mort (who is excellent and has also written some excellent canal poems). The other is the Market Bosworth Festival on June 13th at 7:30 in a line-up entitled Music, Poetry and Laughter by the Canal. The latter is tied in with a school Viking theme, so I’m trying to write something about Vikings on a narrowboat. I’ll report back on both.