Tuesday, 10 November 2009
It rains in Manchester
Not proper rain, not really, just a kind of mizzly puttering kind of rain, as if it longed to drench you and wash you away, but didn't quite have the energy to do so. The train journey is long and slow, just two carriages creeping up the map of England, past the flatlands of Ely and Peterborough, gentling into Grantham and Nottingham, then entering upon a few hills until the landscape either side does begin to drop away between Sheffield and Manchester.
From the station by taxi straight to the centre where the reading is to take place. Greeted by Simon R , my contact, then by John McAuliffe who appears with my fellow reader Vona Groarke, just flown in from Dublin where she has been carousing with her kinfolk. We sit and talk for a while then the reading.
Vona's is in two halves, the first crystalline, clear, minute and superbly shaped monastic notations, quiet objects of beauty, the second a magnificent translation from the Irish of, Lament for Art O'Leary, in which a woman and her sister lament the murder of the woman's husband. No man has been more admired and missed and well-regarded as Art O'Leary. He seems a vast commanding figure, cruelly done down. The women pass the keening between them. It makes me think of the function of keening. Patrick Leigh Fermor talks of professional mourners and keeners in Greece, as was common in many places: it is a gathering together of grief and praise on terms of eloquence. Is it the symbolic size of the figure I am pondering, and what the figure stands for? The sheer weight of the lament carries you with it. Each death is worth this. Each death is incomprehensible and comprehended. No death is worth all this. But then what else is life worth? I buy a copy.
My own selection is a fairly rolling selection. Who knows how it goes down? Can never really tell. Je sui comme je suis / je sui fait comme ca. Well no, pas moi, that is Jacques Prevert. Il est fait comma ca. And none of us is quite as free of responsibility as that.
Then dinner. Martin Amis joins us, and blogger friend Peter who now lives in Manchester. I eat pig's trotters. A mistake of the non life-threatening kind. Talk ranges from Metaphysical Poetry, the toothbrush moustache, and 1989, down to Rugby League and Arsenal.
The next morning I lead a class on Hecht's 'The Grapes'. I have talked this poem through a number of times, each time it's different. Yes, the theatricality, and yes, the air - or so it seems to some - of pomposity. More on that another time.
The very nice taxi driver who takes me there is Pakistani but is unsure which is the Whitworth Building. I ask him how things are in Pakistan. Very bad, he says. That's why we leave. Corruption at deep level, everywhere. Politicians just after money. I ask him what he makes of British politicians and their corruption. He laughs. It is, he says, 100,000 times worse in Pakistan. What we are doing now shows there is no corruption here.
What's that? I ask.
I am hurrying to take you to your meeting. That is straight dealing. At home they wouldn't bother.
The paragon of uncorrupted virtue steps from the taxi, finds his own way to the Whitworth Building and defends a New York poetic grandee. Incorruptibility is hard work.
On the train home a young girl with her mother and younger sister. The girl is loud and wants to occupy mother's emotional space. In fact the space of everyone in the carriage. She wants to be noticed. I think she might be a nightmare in school. Then, as we are approaching Brandon, she says: I like Brandon. The sound of the name. An incipient poetic instinct briefly rises to the surface.
Then she goes back to singing, I'm just a teenage dirtbag, baby... with some gusto. Mother remains quiet.