Monday, 27 April 2009

from Oxford

In the students' computer room at Kellogg College. Arrived yesterday afternoon to hear Gerard Woodward read from his book of short stories featuring stolen caravans. GW and I have met often enough before, here and at Bath Spa chiefly. This time he is just back from Galway ('Just back' gets to be the middle name of almost all writers after a while).

Splendid Woodwardian story: a late middle aged couple are in their perfectly appointed all-mod-cons caravan, when husband wakes up and hears wife snoring. He contemplates what she is now and compares her to how she had been when young and desirable. Overnight, while they are both asleep, they find their caravan has been mysteriously moved and abandoned in a field of rape. There is nothing else in sight anywhere and eventually they get out and try to find their way back to some recognisable landmark.

Rape is not called rape for nothing in a story, still less in a poem, and this story is part-poem in its conception. As they trudge through the fields he suddenly lusts for her and imagines what would happen if he initiated sex now, how she would resist, and then how he might have to smash her head in with a nearby stone. But none of this actually happens. He has never harmed anyone in his life. Nor does he harm her. Eventually they get out of the field. End of story.

The story isn't the story, not entirely anyway. It is full of hallucinatory realistic minutiae and a kind of dark humour combined with pure poetic symbolism, which is to say symbolism that does not lead to a clear interpretation but to a sense of the size and gravity and apprehension of things. The main poetic moment here is the point at which one of them breaks open the seedpod of two rape heads to reveal five black seeds in each. That is brilliant. It is sinister and premonitory long before the thing of which it is a premonition has actually happened.

GW was a student of the late Peter Redgrove. You can sense the literary bloodline here. The stories he mentions are all extraordinary but ordinary, all premonitory.

I am so pleased to have been able to use the word 'apprehension' again. It's what poetry is most of the time, without, necessarily, the fear. Just that things are always more, and more significant than you can fathom.

Interested also to see James O'Fee (link provided later) picking up my piece about Ireland and the single oppressor. Mark charmingly added a second oppressor in comments (the Norsemen, who have since compensated by awarding Seamus Heanery the Nobel Prize). James is concerned primarily with the contrast between history and myth. Later, as I say.

Here is has stopped raining. I took a seminar this morning and am free until the evening, when I read my own work. In another room, Jane Draycott. In still another, Pascale Petit.

Unable to sleep properly last night I found myself watching a boxing match in which an English boxer called Kotch (?) beat an American boxer called Taylor for a world title by stopping him with only fourteen seconds of the last round left. About fourteen seconds later I myself was asleep. KO? OK.

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