Friday 11 February 2011

A ghost in Cambridge

Back from Cambridge, St John’s College, where last night I read with Sarah Howe (Gregory Award; tall-lighthouse) and Dan Burt (Lintott Press/Carcanet). (Several decades ago, from Philadelphia and from the wrong side of the tracks, Dan wrote a letter to Cambridge, enclosing something he’d written on The Waste Land; Hugh Sykes Davies – see here – liked it, and he was in; those were the days.) Poems, wine, good talk. The welcome surprise presence of Jane Monson, who first got in touch when CBe published the Francis Ponge book, who last year published her own prose poems (Speaking without Tongues, Cinnamon) and who is editing a prose-poems anthology out later this year.

And, discomfortingly, the ghost of myself around every corner. I was an undergraduate there; for various reasons, those were not the happiest three years of my life; this was my first return visit (it’s less than a hour on the train) in nearly forty years. I did a lot of solitary cycling around the flat countryside; I left my bike in the college basement in 1972, and now it’s gone. I did a lot of solitary reading of European lit; a contemporary, now a medievalist at the college, still has an ancient Penguin Classics Chekhov in which there’s a scrap of paper on which I’ve copied out certain lines. What will survive of us is bookmarks.

Later in the 70s I did have some happy years, in Egypt. Most of the present population of Egypt weren’t even born then, but tonight I guess they’re happy too, and I’m thrilled for them.

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