The first glorious weekend of summer! Unfortunately the weather goes to the heads of some people. Our neighbours insisted on sharing the insistent heavy-bass beat of their summer-weather music all day yesterday from midday to ten pm. Poets, migraine sufferers and naturally quiet people are reduced to blobs of misery in these circumstances. I have to keep reminding myself that curses are like boomerangs: when well-thrown...
Work proceeds on the unending submissions box. A Sampler of Cliff Ashby's (to be in time for his ninetieth birthday) is in hand, and Sally Festing's poems are in little piles, many of them with several versions. A large college task finished on Friday. With the help of Sumatriptan, things should start to move more quickly now, so far as HappenStance is concerned.
On the good side, Ann Drysdale's new book, Discussing Wittgenstein, arrived. I wrote a Forward for this, but I had forgotten doing it. Sometimes when you read your own writing some months after you've forgotten it, you feel slightly embarrassed by what you said, or didn't say. In this case, I was so pleased that I had actually said exactly what I meant about this book.
Wittgenstein is a mainly prose account of the last months of Ann's husband's life. It is a sequel to Three-three, two-two, five-six, at the end of which she and Philip had finally and miraculously made it home from hospital. Their struggle with hospital systems, illness and the change to their own relationship was the central matter of that book. The short prose chapters were interspersed with poems. The experience was often horrible, but the comic muse was present, even in adversity.
And that continues to be the case in this volume. I can imagine there are people who couldn't read it. It could be too close to the bone for someone actually in this situation of grappling with a terminal condition or a partner who has one. However, for anyone mercifully more distant from that, it is such a generous -- such a human invitation to share that experience. It is compelling, instantly readable, generous, witty, humane, funny, moving -- the full gamut of emotions. And it is one of the great love stories of our time, I think.
The mixture of poetry and prose is something I've never seen done like this -- or done half so well. I think it is because some of the feelings are so strong that they demand poetic expression. I'll share 'Sleeping Together' because it is so good. Ann Dryden is a true poet, a fascinating writer -- not like anybody else. I share her irritation with our age's hyped attitude to sex, I adore the way she disposes of grand sexual climax as "the spurt of jism / That signals 'tools down' for the jobbing lover', and I think the end of the poem -- the sestet, in effect -- is marvellous and unique. "Perilous proximity" -- what a way to sum up how it is, how it really is! What oft (but not oft enough) was thought, but ne're so well expressed:
'To sleep with' has become a euphemism
For fucking, humping, shagging, or whatever
Leads to orgasm, to the spurt of jism
That signals 'tools down' for the jobbing lover.
Sleeping with someone is an act of love --
Another phrase that raises nudge and wink
When it is innocently spoken of --
Though not as erotic as the dullards think.
Sleeping is quiet time for private study;
A heaven-given opportunity
Of cherishing another human body
In all its perilous proximity,
Its promontories and its recesses,
The busy music of its processes.