– I mean in the sense derived from the film with Bill Murray, a day going through an experience again and again until you find a way through, over or under it. Yesterday was one such: the blog post below, written yesterday afternoon, about not having written a poem for a decade; then in the evening three people, in separate conversations, all quoting to me lines from poems that I’d forgotten having written; then discovering that, also yesterday, George Szirtes happened to have picked up (for £1, in a Cambridge second-hand bookshop) and read a poetry collection I published in 1993.
George says some generous things. So did the three people (all far younger than me; I’m not sure why this is relevant, but it feels so) I spoke with in the evening. Uncomfortable encounters. I felt I was being complimented on something I’d done by accident, for which the responsibility was not mine. It was a long time ago (‘but that was in another country; and besides, the wench is dead’). I can see what’s being done in those poems, I can even see that on occasion it’s being done quite well, but whoever is doing those things is not someone I’m now especially fond of.
The account I gave below of stopping writing is a simplification; there were other factors, among them a certain person for whom my poetry-writing was largely an irrelevance and from whom I learned to like the non-poet more than the poet. But even if I stick to what’s on the page, one of the things George says as praise – ‘Your endings allow you to slip out of the poem so perfectly I can only envy them’ – is for me, now, something that utterly damns them: there’s a tactical evasion going on that allows some nice effects but which prevents the poems from ever being more than, well, decent page-fillers. More: the evasion is so built in to the whole way of writing that to write something more than page-fillers it was necessary to start writing in a completely different way. No wonder I stopped.
And here I am up to the same tricks again (‘something I’d done by accident’). Publishing other work under pen names (Jennie Walker, Jack Robinson, for those arriving late) is clearly also connected: they were liberating precisely because they enabled me to sidestep the Charles Boyle I felt a need to distance myself from. Which of course suggests that evasion may be what all the work is about, in which case . . . We’ll see.