Saturday, 16 October 2010


There is usually a useful little bon mot from the Duc de la Rochefoucauld on most matters. On conversation he says: The reason that there are so few good conversationalists is that most people are thinking about what they are going to say and not about what the others are saying.

Good man, there.

I don't know about conversation. Talking is interesting when there is a partner to talk and listen to. It's world class ping pong at best, and decent county level most times. There's always the Pinteresque when stuck. Twos are entertaining.

It is also quite definitely possible to have fours in a fine doubles. Your shot, partner! I'll take that one! Well played, etc etc etc. I don't do the lingo of 'the tennis club event' very well but you get my drift.

Beyond that it's a bit like six or eight or ten-man tag-wrestling to me. All I see is the big man in the ring throwing bodies about, then he hands over to another big man (generally male, but not necessarily so) then there's more throwing of bodies. It's good spectacle sport for fifteen minutes or so, then I completely forget who has thrown who, and why X is climbing back back into the ring. And there's another figure who seems to have been briefly in the ring but has completely disappeared. Maybe he has skipped it back into the dressing room. God! Am I supposed to be in there? So I am! So it's not a spectator sport, after all!

Conversation in that sense loses me. I lose it. I lose the capacity, if I ever had it, of being an entertainer, or even to be entertained. I forget why I am in the ring. I forget I am in the ring at all. What I remember is why it was I wanted to write poetry. It was to get away from conversation. There was something I deeply loathed about it. What was it now?

Eventually of course it leads back to talking, because I am far from being a solitary and I like the talking-and-listening exchange. Though something in me - and maybe in all poets - is curiously solitary. Maybe it is true that we are all autistic at heart: poets as the autists of language.

Is this a matter of consequence to the world? Not in the least. Does it mean I am detached from the world? Not in the least. I am chockful of less than systematic opinions and ideas about it. Some of those impinge on the world of action. Sometimes, to tell the truth, I think it is only those ideas that really matter, and not so much the ideas either, as the action.

But then there is so much to be done with words. I don't think I have ever run over a word without trying pick it up and nurse it back to health. I am the milk of human kindness when it comes to words. I like the sound and look of them. I like their weight and smell and their sheer cussedness. I like to hear them breathe a little. I don't mind them offensive and unfashionable. I don't mind them in Elizabethan costume, in periwigs, in wellies, in tartan pullovers, in overalls. They can wear what they like. They can be as politically incorrect as they like. They haven't always been so, nor have all their users been evil. And if some have been evil, the words themselves remain fascinating.

But conversation in the general chat sense? I suspect I am an arid desert of chat with the odd quip in the occasional oasis. I hope to have some pseudo-dowsers clue as to where the water is running. I seek the currents, the subterranean brooks. Babbling brooks! The poetry is in there somewhere: in the relationship between that desert and that water.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

Speaking about words, like in "I don't know about conversation.": A tough old time conversationalist will start with a modified: "Me, what do I know from conversation?"

Then, of course, everyone will immediately know to stifle.

George S said...

:) Snoopy, you'd be a great conversationalist! Me, I'm reduced to :)

Poet in Residence said...

Conversations? Tricky subject. I think it's often best to keep quiet, appear to be a 'good listener' and nod in the right places as if intelligent. Unfortunately this scheme always falls apart after the second pint and I can become as bolshie as the next man...or so people tell me, in a later more sober conversation of course.
I have had some rewarding conversations with next-door's cat when he comes round on the scrounge.

dana said...

Good conversation is rare but essential. i find this thing fascinating because it allows conversations over space and time, ones that'd never occur otherwise.

Most likely this thing only works because George is such a good listener, and very polite.

Poet in Residence said...

Yes, dana, it's true. George, like my neighbour's cat Tommy, although sometimes battle weary, reamins a good listener and the epitome of politeness. I should add that Tommy is now getting on in years but carries his little nuts very well. I think it's the active life he leads that keeps him in good fettle - the latest scar, the freshly torn ear-flap, the watery eye, perhaps a touch of arthritis, these are our subjects for conversation. Miaaoooow or mrrrr, he always has the last word.

Dick said...

Intimately familiar and beautifully put. Autists of language indeed. That phrase at least will be slipped into the next decent conversation I manage to have.

George S said...

Mustn't grumble, is a classic Englishism, lower class. Keep a stiff upper lip, is another, higher class. One murmurs a little to oneself. Nor is this a bad way of contemplating the ever various manners of the world.

The Hungarian partnership of the poet István Vas and the artist Piroska Szántó kept an open house on summer Sundays. It was strictly an afternoon arrangement. Anybody could come provided they were invited by someone already known. It worked. I sometimes think it might be nice to do something similar. Talk if you want, or not, then read or think or drink and nibble.

Just have to find the time.

Alfred Corn said...

And Coleridge's genre, the "conversation poem"? Thoughts on that? I like that genre, probably because I like conversation.

George S said...

Coleridge was a considerable talker. Talking is good. Not so sure about dinner parties, Alfred.