How do things end? Love affairs, literary excursions, sojourns into divine counter-lives? How long can you linger, retarding the climax, holding back on what you know has to come? And when it can no longer be held back, what makes the climax and what flows in its aftermath? Glory, dejection, bitterness, exfoliation, calm? There’s an end. The cycle must begin again, a gradual build-up, one eye to the past, the other towards something new.
Temptation always is to go back, do it again, try to re-find the exquisite moment, repeat. But can you go back again, and if you can once, twice, twenty or two hundred times, can you forever? Is there forever ever on this side of the end – the complete end? Love and Death. Eros and Thanatos – what other subjects, finally, are worth poetry? And what more can be said about either? Journeyman worry that all has been said. The ones burning with life don’t pause to wonder. Life is flaying them onward; their cries and their sighs and barks of exuberant joy rise up in an agitation of pursuit. Onwards! Onwards! the rushing swirl – this is the atmosphere of poetry.
Gods, help me get out of the backwoods of schoolmasters and inhibition. Fuck the repression, let the sounds burble, erupt – let the lava explode from within. Or… What about those who have chilled, lost the glow or – worse still – never had it, yet know and rue what is missed? Somewhere in inhibition may lie the instinct too, what drove Emily Dickinson or T. S. Eliot, young and old. We can’t all be Shelley or self-destroying Pound. ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worse are full of passionate intensity’… Even Yeats was made fine half by inhibition – ‘Only the greatest obstacle that can be contemplated without despair lures the soul to perfection’.
Be brave: that’s the message. Nor do I cease to be amazed by how people manage to overcome fear and stand up to speak, however tremulously, or declaim to cover trepidation, even if unexpected – even if sometimes they don’t quite want to. So on a recent poetry night, which was quieter than our usual Fridays, came the observable tenderness of Steven trying something new, an animadversion on butchery, a brief shade of a deceased aunt; then Emanuele in Italian sharing the first verse he ever wrote, age fifteen – a meditation on the inadequacy of words against ‘primordial sound’ – then Charlotte joining in with Bukowski, then Rowan Pelling being persuaded to stanzas about a pathway that hides a wealth of unknown histories under busy feet which tread on it, lock-step in the provinciality of the present.
There is nothing stale when people try the surprising or new. A performer rehearsing what’s been perfected before is in effect hawking commodity. An admirer reciting that performer’s words pays an homage, which is different: he is remaking himself and making the other new. ‘The living give life to the imaginings of the dead,’ Yeats also said, or something like it. It is part of our purpose: to treat the dead to love, to bring back their spirits, to live their loving again and let it inform our own. Because our Eros is not the first or perhaps even the best, though it may seem so as we feel it. Nor is our Thanatos, however intensely it may flay us, however particular a tragedy. Humility in the face of the universal is part of the process. Erik came to sing a song at the end of the evening. His voice had a new element of defeat in it, a kind of resignation which gave it unexpected authority.
How do things end? Perhaps the essential question to ponder before attempting any new start...