Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Poetry after Pain

Anish Kapoor: The Healing of St Thomas
Mollusc was a work of solace, Entomology of curiosity. Mollusc was 10 years worth of the poems that had to write, poems that poured out of me because no-one was listening, because I was existing in a claustrophobic marriage with a man who though occasionally well-intentioned was only vaguely aware of me as a separate human being. Those poems were easy to write. They were the valve on the pressure cooker. Those were the poems that I needed to write at a time I needed to be a poet because it seemed the only point in a life that had rarely been other than lonely and unhappy.

Mollusc starts with my marriage, Entomology with the divorce, though in actuality the first poems were written several years later, as I was learning to be happy. There were years in between when the mental chaos was too great even for poetry, and years when poetry took a back seat because, frankly, life was better than poetry.

I had that choice offered to me very bluntly in the end. Part way through the writing of Entomology I was suddenly struck with chronic pain, most likely due to damage to the pudendal nerve of some unknown cause. The medication which would stop my pain, and which would have to be titrated up overmany months, would most likely affect my mental acuity. I considered the possibility that it would impact on my ability to write, and then decided I didn't care that much. Life was more important than poetry.

In actual fact the medication affected my capacity to live every bit as much as my capacity to write and it took a couple more years before I found a medication that worked without the terrible side effects. But in the mean time I learnt something about my priorities and I learned something about living with pain.

Pain, for me, was only bearable if I could live in the moment. Behind me stretched a 'before' an unattainable state of normality. Before stretched more pain. The moment was only a moment's work of pain. And the moment contained the whole universe. To exist within myself was for pain to be everything. To be connected to a universe in which my pain was only a part was joyful. That introversion no longer worked, that focussed wallowing which is the generation of so much poetry no longer worked.

These days I'm only in occasional pain, more often discomfort - but then find me a middle-aged person that isn't! I'm not lonely. I'm not unhappy. I don't need poetry. I don't need to be a poet. I'm perfectly content with knowing I am a good poet rather than a great one, though I've a good few years to work at being a very good one.

Entomology, for all it focusses on these tiny creatures is a pamphlet about being in the world, about human relationships, imperfect and wonderful. It's about figuring that out, it's about learning to be alive.

I don't need to write poems any more. But I think I'd like to. I don't particularly want to write poems about pain. They'll come of course, because life will continue to bring pain. I'll lose people I love. I'll be hurt, disappointed, frightened sick. But not all the time. I can live a different kind of life and I want to write a different kind of poem. I want to write poems that say "Look! It's fucking amazing!" I think they might be the hardest poems of all.

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