Tuesday, 28 June 2016

That which is not already shaped

I took an old printer to a pc fixit friend at the weekend and left it with him, saying, "Fingers crossed, we need something good to happen...".
      "Sounds like something bad has happened." He looked blank.
      "Thursday?" I prompted.
      Still blank.
      "Come on, surely, the referendum..."
      "Oh, that," he said and spread his hands out, indicating the street. "What's changed?"
      And sure enough the street was quiet, the sun shining, cars parked, house stones in place. "I always felt European. I am European." I struggled to articulate the loss I felt.
      "Sarah, you know you are more than your identity, don't you?" Beatific smile.
      And, of course, on one level of course I do.

Way back, when I was young and still forming, I realised I needed to write, to sew, to cook, to grow vegetables, to make creatures from shells, stones and beads and all those other things I made to allow what part of me expanded beyond the parameters of my body to become manifest, to be held in another form, for me to shape that which was not shaped by flesh. Creating things has become second nature now, to the extent I am rarely aware of that -- let's call it consciousness -- which seems to be at the root of my need to create.

I heard Greta Stoddart read for the first time this weekend at the inaugral Kendal Poetry Festival. A synchronicity that allowed me to sit and latch onto images and her voice and slip out into the wider swirl of emotions, memories, senses that blew with the poems. It seemed to me that Greta's poems were communicating to me, beyond me, attaching me to that which is beyond us while also connecting us. They allowed me to walk alongside her experience, see what she saw, feel that and then open a side door through which something else was happening, something I may not have experienced, but the glimpse of, or sound of, enabled me to engage with something that was both deeply familiar and totally new. Perhaps her subject - the dead - was partly responsible for this. It came at a time of deep grief; for so much I cannot articulate - that identity, that sense of country and community - that I also understand to be superficial and meaningless.

This morning I sat and focused on this consciousness that is held by and seeps beyond my skin, that can be spoken to and touched by others, that goes off and does its own thing. The trees outside were swaying, a greenfinch settled briefly on a branch, sunbeams broke through cloud to disappear again.

Whatever is beyond also has to co-exist in this material world of trees, weather, climate, cars, their drivers, home owners and their neighbours, their colleagues, loved ones, their dead and those they admire or hate. This balancing of the transcendental and material, the integration of both in experience, memory and understanding is something I am only partly aware of very very occasionally. The distractions around me - radio, news, political fall out - ensure my daily focus is grounded, ground down into seeing distinction and manipulating fear from that. This fear turns to imbalance so I need to hang onto something solid to prevent myself from falling - a solidity that is either material - the softness of my sofa, say - or that is opinion that has been sculpted already, or it might be something else that already exists, because fear washes over so quickly it is difficult to counter it with creativity. Creativity needs space for its expansion.

Politics is not given space, which is why we have art as a parallel communicator. Which is why art gives me the ability to transcend and cross those boundaries politics says is fixed, such as identity. Through reading, listening, making and responding to art - at least that art which hits my target - I am reminded of that which is beyond us all, that which we have the ability to shape and hold as it passes through. Which of course all sounds flaky as I write it, so I'll leave this post to Wallace Stevens, who can generally be relied upon to nail what I can only fleetingly experience, but know as essential:

[the mind] is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without. It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality ... [where] reality is not that external scene but the life that is lived in it.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Self-portrait in plastic

I have a reading tonight. I was planning to read a reasonably new sequence of poems about rubbish found on the beach. Now, after the shooting of Jo Cox, in the midst of an aggressive yet petty campaign focused on blame, alongside the violence of young men who proudly call themselves 'hooligans' and seek out conflict in the name of revenge, I am wondering about the context of such poems.

At the end of 'Lune' I write of "half-recognisable fragments of one world / to be washed up by another." I see the plastic detritus as this and more. I see it as a marker of a civilised culture - after all, how amazing a thing is plastic - how durable, how malleable - that has lost sight of its inherent value - that such a wonderful product had to be transformed into something disposal, throw-away to make 'economic sense' for its manufacturers. And I see the fractured pieces of insulation, squashed drinks bottles, plastic lids, torn bags, shredded food cartons and so on as the result of this nonsensical regard for economy, its roughshod influence over other fundamental elements of life, such as our environment, the air we breathe, the sharing of a small planet with other life forms ... I'm sure you would name others.

Of course I'm not saying money isn't important; it is in our culture. But the debilitating emphasis on it has made us lose sight of the value of other forms of exchange: the reciprocity between people that doesn't have monetary worth, that is far more intangible, more subtle and perhaps more fitting for our own complexities. After all, we don't know the half of it: how our brain functions, what's in the sea, where the universe ends, if it ends, hiccups...

Plastic waste, barely recognisable fragments of our everyday lives, represents to me the futility of trying to solidify, fix, the uncertainty and unknowableness of the world in a world that has no regard for such rigidity. It can't, it needs the flexibility to mitigate against change. And change seems to be something that terrifies us, to the point of resistance, xenophobia, murder. The only way most plastics change is either by the pounding of wind and wave action or through extreme temperature for recycling (and even then, not all plastics can 'survive' that transformation to continue to be of use). And so it washes up on beaches, at riverbanks, blown into corners of building sites and edgelands, in dangerous and ugly pieces, our very own Picture of Dorian Grey, peeling and splintered, a long from the bright shiny material of consumer promise.