I wrote most of this post last night, shortly before the unspeakable mass murder in Manchester of young people “without any protection against all the sudden, hostile forces loose in our fierce and beautiful world” (Andrei Platonov), and today I couldn’t decide whether to post it. The juxtaposition of joy and horror is not to be borne. I’m posting it.
On the wall in Ken Garland’s house there’s a black-and-white photograph of some people sitting around a table in the middle of a field on a summer day – I’ve no idea who the people are or how they or the food and the wine and the tablecloth came to the table, or how the table itself got to the middle of the field, but when I first happened to glance at that photo I immediately recognised what it was showing. It’s a picture of heaven.
Last Sunday, something too close for comfort. I went into town to meet David Collard in Holborn, where we were going to pick up his wife and go back to his home for lunch. David called his wife: she’d finished her work early, we’d meet her in the pub. The pub was the Seven Stars, also known as Roxy’s, in Carey Street, and there – no? really? – was Christopher Reid. Well, Christopher likes a good pub, so not a total surprise. An hour before, on the Tube on the way into town from Shepherds Bush, I’d been sitting next to the one vacant seat in the carriage and Nicholas Lezard had dropped into that seat – these things happen. Oh, hold on – there is Lezard again, in the pub. And Lara Pawson. And Will Eaves. And Patrick Mackie and Nancy Gaffield and Nicky Singer and Julian Stannard and Tony Lurcock and Tony White and Gabriel Josipovici and Alba Arikha and Stephen Knight and David Henningham and who … this is Paulette Jonguitud, who I have not met before but who has come from Mexico to be here today. As one might catch a bus to see a friend down the road. And it was a sunny day in May and there was a feast, plate upon plate of home-cooked food, and wine, and though it said 'No pudding' on the proper printed menu (with its list of all CBe titles and its quotation from Stendhal) there was of course a cake, a Lara-cake. And over the course of the afternoon, Cécile, Natalia, Michael, Houman, others …
In the New Statesman this week, which happens to feature a poem by Patrick Mackie ('A nasty, grotesque, impatient year ended,/ and the new one will be bitter, tired,/ opaque'), there’s a photo of a unicorn. Very, very rare, and bringing all the elements together in conditions of secrecy takes months of planning, but they do exist.
Two years ago Matthew Siegel (San Francisco) came over from the US and he and I and May-Lan Tan (born Hong Kong, then US before London, currently Berlin) took a bus to Oxford, where Matthew was going to read, and we walked around and went to a pub before the reading and he pretty well wept for strange joy, then me too. And here’s a photo from a few years back of Miha Mazzini (Slovenia) and Beverley Bie Brahic (California/Paris) in that tiny bookshop-in-a-greenhouse that used to be in Wapping:
A number of other CBe writers were unable to gather round the table on Sunday – Fergus Allen, Nina Bogin, Andrew Elliott, Todd McEwen, J. O. Morgan, D. Nurkse (but he’ll be over from Brooklyn at the end of this week and reading at the Troubadour on Monday), Dan O’Brien, Wiesiek Powaga, Marjorie-Ann Watts, Diane Williams – but actually they were there (and others too who, though not published by CBe, are part of the gang) in the form of words or drawings assembled in a box-of-a-book (like a custom-made Anne Carson) designed and made by the Henningham Family Press:
What’s been going on for the past few years has been partly to do with books but mainly to do with a group of people finding one another out and bringing one another to the table. Christopher (who is a very good finder indeed) found Beverley who found Paulette; Gabriel and Nina found Kristof, who was also found by May-Lan, a finding which led to me finding her, and May-Lan found Matthew and Diane, or was that the other way round, and there are many more of these links. I understand this, and I don’t understand it at all. There was Sunday, and then there was Monday.
If you haven’t had enough of CBe, come to Vout-O-Reenees (30 Prescot Steet, E1 8BB) this Thursday, the 25th, from 6.30, to hear Will Eaves, M John Harrison, Lara Pawson and Jack Robinson (launching his book Robinson). I was at Vouts last July on the night 86 people were killed by a truck driver in Nice, and we will go to Vouts again and again and again.