Last week I ran through rain to attend the Q&A and reading by Timothy Donnelly at the Lutyens and Rubinstein Bookshop in W11. The initial conversation with Adam Phillips was both illuminating and amusing for the way Phillips' earnestly soft-spoken, chin-stroking psychoanalytical manner often abutted against Donnelly's fast-talking and wryly down-to-earth Americanese, his speech-rhythms and frequent witty self-qualifications not a million miles from the peculiar syntactic propulsion of his poetry. In reading aloud he was careful to accentuate the acoustic richness of his lines, the "phrases of their idiosyncratic music"(to quote from a Stevens poem Donnelly said was particularly influential on him as a young man, 'Jasmine's Beautiful Thoughts Underneath The Willow'.)
If the poems of The Cloud Corporation seem to operate more often than not on a level of ambivalent abstraction, preoccupied with the blurred interface between perceiving mind and fluctuant reality, it was fascinating to hear Donnelly provide background-context for certain poems I was familiar with and dramatically reconfigure their meaning for me. The opening poem in the book, for example, - 'The New Intelligence' - came out of a period of debilitating illness when Donnelly was experiencing bouts of deafness in one ear and dizziness so extreme he would fall over. Doctors at the time could come to no diagnosis and the poet actually feared for his life: only after one specialist decided that Donnelly was suffering from a Sensory Processing Disorder - a lifelong condition he could learn to adjust to rather than a disease - that he could begin to recover his sense that a shared future with his wife and a faith in the objective world (rather than "the mind that fear and disenchantment fatten") was again possible. This then is what the poem addresses, although obviously at a querying slant: most startling for me was the realisation that the ending of the poem, which I'd taken to be hoveringly metaphorical, is pretty much literal and therefore incredibly poignant:
"I won't be dying after all, not now, but will go on living dizzily
hereafter in reality, half-deaf to reality, in the room
perfumed by the fire that our inextinguishable will begins"