Thanks for letting me borrow your house. Honestly it feels like you’ll be back any moment! I know I said I came with a cat; I’m sorry I didn’t bring him after all. He looked so settled where he was, I couldn’t bring myself to uproot him. And I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the ghost of your ‘old warrior cat’ puff up like a pinecone at the sight of him. And what would he make of me, your gospel cat? A poet is always asks themselves if they’re a fraud. What constitutes the poet’s work? The hardest thing is this constantly needing to change gear in the brain – there is always the life admin, the planning ahead and the looking behind, trying to be a decent friend, needing to bring the pennies home – when I finally settle down to the wiped school desk in your kitchen, and face the notebook, the pencil and the endlessly microwaved cups of tea, I meet myself like a ghost.
I have a list of projects a mile long. What feels like ten tonnes of first drafts. Charles – how did you write? Did you sit down to one poem at a time, sticking at it until you got it right? I’m starting to think a first draft isn’t like a seed in a seedbank, that you can hope will grow true down the line, nor that you can start down a path with any pleasure if you know where it’s going to wind up. Maybe I’ll just try and put one word in front of another, like one foot in front of another. A friend of mine sent a manifesto: it said ‘follow the life of an idea’. That sounds like another way to live in the Here and Now: I like that.
My mum watched that thing on the TV the other day about how we should all be learning poetry by heart. I’m going to try and learn one of yours every month I’m here, starting with ‘Johnny Alleluia’. Your Collected is so riddled with ghosts, and I love that this one is electrified by that other, particularly poetic kind of haunting: what we understand through a poem’s ‘silent words’, the sense made by nonsense. It raises the hair on my arms to read ‘I sharpen my knife/on the winding stone/to cut me an apple/from the branch of bone./My pants so tight/they keep my legs apart/And I blast with powder/The human heart.’ Did you know what you were saying before you found yourself saying it?
Every day, give or take, I try and sit still indoors and face myself until the work rescues me. And afterwards I explode from your house like Johnny Alleluia ‘to hear in my heart/the gold blood beat.’ Into the car (if I’m lucky I’ve remembered wallet, keys, water AND phone) – Kerry Bray, Callington, Merrymeet, Liskeard, down to the cider farms, the cliffs. I walk til I’m hot enough to walk into the waves and I gasp a bit and keep walking until I turn to face the shore as a friend taught me and fall backwards into the clear swell. Every time I wonder if this is the last swim of the year. As my shocked breathing calms, in floating, rolling at the edge of the motorway current, I feel like a true word spoken. One wave follows another, bearing me on its shoulders, dumping me down. I stomp up through the woods on feet of bone, my hair drying scarecrow stiff with salt. I lick my own fingers on the hungry drive home.