Saturday, 28 May 2011
As noted in a recent post (11 May) I left my notebook in Clerkenwell – well, someone posted it back to me. Last week I left my camera on a bus to Oxford; catching the bus back, I asked the man checking tickets about it and got my camera back. This week I left my bag (with proofs and stuff) in a café; I went back, it was still there.
Ten years ago this month I lost the habit, the knack, of writing poetry – not the will, I still had that – and that’s still missing. In Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview, which I was reading yesterday, Bolaño mentions three forms of stoppage. One is Georg Büchner’s – ‘the silence of death is the one that cuts the edge off what could have been and never will be.’ One is Rimbaud’s, which is ‘sought’. One is Juan Rulfo’s (he published a story collection and a short novel in the 50s, then nothing; he died in 1986), and this one ‘is so quotidian that explaining it is a waste of time’. Rulfo claimed he had an uncle who told him stories, and then the uncle died. Mine is the Rulfo type. A few years ago, when another poet me asked me what I was writing and I told him nothing, he was bracingly contemptuous: stop being so prissy, just sit down and get on with it. I tried but no result. Not because an uncle had died but because, and I do mean this, I wasn’t good enough. I wanted to get a new tone and a new range of material into the work, and I didn’t have the technique, the ability. Writing more of what I’d already written, variations on poems already in print, was pointless – firstly because there was no thrill in this, secondly because it wasn’t as if this was an income-generating activity that I needed to sustain to keep myself in cigarettes. So, quotidian reasons.
‘What made you start to write?’ is a common and usually boring interview question. The process of stopping writing has no less mystique attached to it. The photo above, taken in Yemen in 1880, was bought by two French booksellers in a flea-market and put on public display last year: some say the man second from the right is Rimbaud, some say it isn’t.