Thursday, 23 June 2011

To Gatwick Hilton via an ocean of red herring

Long haul day. The New Writing Worlds saloon continued with Gwyneth Lewis on poetry and techology, the technology in question being the body - the effect poetry has on the mechanism of the body, the neurological triggers, the molecules that thrive on metaphors. Then she moved to the internet and I lost it a little except, of course, I understood the internet part but not quite how we got there. But it hardly matters, since none of the provocations was an argument as such. It was writers speaking and feeling their way into ideas.

Indeed, that is the nature of writers' conferences. The one in Romania was on Exile, but there's no point going expecting an answer or hoping to arrive at a conclusion. Go to hear people speak, with feeling and intelligence about some angle of the advertised subject that, in this case, was Influence.

My job was to sum up, and since one of the writers earlier had asked for new metaphors for influence I searched back for the various metaphors people had employed. And not just metaphors but binaries and struggles - the translator with the author, the influenced with the influencer, the patrimonic and patrilinear with the toxic traumazone (a term I picked up from Joyelle McSweeney who employed it).

Joyelle, who gave the most provocative of the provocations, talked of losing the dead metaphor of flow. But then she employed it herself, talking of toxic flow, and of seepage. Liquid metaphors seemed the most frequently deployed and so the summing up worked towards images of liquid - first the soup, the clear consommé and the thick broth, then water pooling, inundating, working in tides and currents, moving as a sea and finally, the water that was no metaphor, the Japanese tsunami that our Japanese author wanted to write but couldn't. What happens when metaphor meets reality? Reality is indifferent to our use of its various manifestations as metaphor. It is indifferent, almost serenely indifferent, like Rilke's angel, sometimes disdaining to destroy us, but on occasion doing so, destroying us, entirely oblivious to our existence. There remains a doctor gathering a dictonary of the local dialect, and an old man weeping because so many deserving and illustrious people had died and he survived. And this had called forth the poem of the Polish Szymborska, which then led to a recollection of the ancient Japanese verse. I read my own poem about Water, the one in Reel, to end with, where the Calcutta washerman is drying his cloth by slamming it against the stone trough while behind him the water thrown off rises in a perfect indifferent arc to which he himself is indifferent, though we, as viewers, are not.

Then we went round and asked people they thought individually. There was one wonderful moment back with Gwyneth when she told us how she had responded to the idea of the subject of Silence, possibly for next year, with the concern that there were too many red herrings in it.

And suddenly we were back with water, a sea teeming with red herring, as, I suspect, language is, each word its own red herring, each poem its own school of red herrings swimming in formation, and that gorgeous luminous red that tells us it is not real herring, but a herring imaginaire which is the only herring we are ever likely to catch, while the real tsunami and the real perfect arc of Calcutta water shower us with more metaphors than we can possibly cope with, which is why we have red herrings in the first place.


Straight home and straight down with C to the Boundary Gallery, C's gallery, celebrating its 25th year. Bumping into people I hadn't seen in forty years, and a few other friends, and discovered friends of friends. And so by various trains to Gatwick from where an early start tomorrow to Budapest.

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