Lately I’ve been thinking about both the professional satisfaction and personal comfort that come from re-drafting. A great sense of security arises from working over and over the phrasing of a line, from reaching and reaching for the most sonorous ring, the right resolution of a delay, sweet release from anticipation, the small surprise swerve.
These past few days, when I’ve been unsettled both for various prosaic, pedestrian reasons (property issues) and for those that even to me are dim-dark, inscrutable, I’ve been doused in a wash of old griefs I’d hoped had long rushed out to sea. I’ve had to turn away from one project I’ve been tinkering on for the Burns Fellowship. It’s just too bleak; I will get lost. I’ve managed to take small, sudden dashes at a second large project: but sometimes even for this I’m still too ankle-deep in my own bull-swill to be able to etch out fully separate, credible characters. Music sometimes soothes: not, it would seem, Erik Satie or albums by Tiny Ruins and Bon Iver – they go so close to the bone that the ribcage feels like one of their unscripted instruments. Yet during some research reading, I’ve found reassurance in words by Darian Leader in The New Black, that suggest “the place of arts in a culture [is] to help us mourn”. I try to push through the strong backwash of loss by turning to poems that have nothing to do with either of my ostensible current projects. (In the lyric mode: yup, originality gets the Tui Beer response to artistic claims.) I try to siphon off some of all this excess ‘affect’ (to use that wonderfully distancing academic term). Cardiomyopathy: there’s too much haemoglobin in the system. Leech it safely into the hard, glassy, corked vials of art. (I like the homophone with vile: oh, vile heart…) Let the blood croon to itself, little caged red animal. If I can bottle it all up in the candid camouflage, the have-it-both-ways of metaphor, it might be a case of “patient, thou hast physicked thyself”.
It’s the technical work that is the curative as much as the confrontation of subject matter. Sometimes, plain-speaking straight talk doesn’t help a whit. “I’m bereft.” That only screws the melancholy to its sticking place all the more. But approach it sidewise: turn to the thing that hovers in the imagination’s peripheral field. Why do I keep visualising the great, shaggy, overhanging branches of macrocarpa, their protective canopy over the children’s rope swing and trampoline? Gradually, although the trees themselves might also be laden in the rain of loss (we are leaving them), the focus shifts. Get the branches onto the page. Listen out for assonance, sibilance, internal rhyme, the flicker of metre; ferret out etymology; press out an irony a little more sharply; trim off a woody line there; try to open the casement of one line to something close and luminous, perigee, and slowly, slowly, the attention might revolve, tired lunar flower still carrying the hidden sun’s aureole, turning outward, to the world.