Tuesday, 1 May 2012

From Oxford - masks, mysteries, clarity

I come to Oxford Kellogg once a year to take a class and then to read in the evening. Thus it was, and Oxford is where I am writing from. The only sunny day for a week with more rain to come, it made for a certain cheerfulness, the class talkative and bright, the discussion lively and the whole session at three hours, as ever, about three hours too short. That is to say one could go on talking and reading beyond the set time, since it always feels a little like a sudden cut-off. 'Three hours' is what is possible in practical terms, of course, and we might all be exhausted after six continual hours, though I remember stories of Brendan Kennelly's classes at Trinity Dublin reputedly going on for six hours, into the dark - literally the dark - with story telling in the darkness.

There is still something faintly illicit about creative writing workshops, as though we had all been let off serious scholarly work in order to think about ourselves, or if not quite ourselves, then the things our voices and imaginations can do. Talking as clearly as possible about the subject is a pleasant obligation, if not always possible. Nevertheless the simple effort of doing it has a kind of purgative effect. We carry too many mists and masks in our heads: they are our hiding places and disguises. It is natural to mist and mask, but in discussion there is no need to wear an extra mask or work in an even denser mist. I have long tried to demystify that which can be demystified. Poetry is not for magicians: it is for human beings. It is the effects that seem magical, not the poem that brings the magic about.

And yet there is a mystery too - it is the process by which we move through language by instinct, as though we were almost asleep but knew by a kind of sixth sense where the furniture was and where the doors and windows are. That is the part that cannot be taught, except in that one may point out that such a process, such a space, actually exists and that there are ways of getting through it, finding your way about, ways of living in that space and animating it..

What goes in in that space, how we look at it once we have tried to stumble through it, is, surely, capable of discussion in the simplest, most human terms at our disposal.


Angelatopping said...

The main reason I applied was because you taught on the course. Matt didn't apprve until I told him you were involved. I loved Jane Draycott at the interview and was sad not to get to work with her. But ultimately maybe it was best the way things turned out, as I might not have had the time to do it and the poems poured out anyway.

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