Thursday, 23 October 2014

Dizzily Hereafter: Donnelly in Notting Hill

 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"

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Blackout: A Poem from Human Form

Like patient abrasion of a dug-out artefact
brittled with age, to grasp what’s come to light,
you chafe the jaded Swan Vesta across
its worn sandpaper-page – in that dank
yellow box the crumbly duds outweigh
the live. We hunch around you in mumbling
suspense, like Neanderthals at their first glimpse
of fire. At last, a cursive scribble detonates
with a sound like Velcro unseaming.
We recoil a touch, as you stoop, and communicate
the momentary, palm-cupped flame to a candle:
a glow-worm sacrificed to a glow-animal.
That abrupt blackout – moments before,
as though the whole house fell unconscious -
had you rooting through cupboards, rifling drawers
like an intruder to unearth these instruments
of sight, locating the children through a sonar
of name-calls and blindman’s-buff gropings.
Soon enough, the living-room’s ushered back
as a woozy apparition coaxed from tea-lights,
eery for a moment as a séance
or Hall of Rest. But someone’s prised out
a November sparkler or two, crackling-bright
and acrid: they arc-weld the candle-haloes together
and sear a blurred initial on your retina.
Bereaved of TV, we soon lope to bed, probing
with torch-beam the wraith-mobbed corridor
of the stairs. I colonise the freezing sheets
inch by inch, resisting awhile the liminal dreams
that muster in the frostscapes on our window,
afraid to miss the sleep-balm of your last Goodnight;
then burrowing deeper, mining for warm,
I replay my body’s initial unclenching
in the vivid, tactile blackness of your womb.

                                                        First published in Human Form, March 2013