Do you find that? That you are lying on the bed, buried in a book when suddenly you come across a passage that is so striking, so delightful you must write it down? And then you dash to your laptop and keyboard your excitement so others can read when you post it to your blog? Do you do that?
Here is the passage I found quite early into my voyage of ‘The Last Voyage of Mrs. Henry Parker’: ‘on the shelf above the clothes rail were two identical life jackets lying side by side like a canoodling couple …’ Even more apt when you learn she is waiting for her beloved husband to board.
It was an extra pleasure to be able to GO INTO the library, roam around the new book shelves, and strike up conversation with the librarians whom I had not seen for over seven weeks.
Do you do that? Do you copy out passages? What’s the last book you were really excited about, particularly regarding the quality of writing?
I think of fragile Dennis when someone needles me,
and toughen up.
He let the jibes get to him;
He closed down the fun house of his world view,
changed his clown shoes for cement boots.
He was heavy as Hamlet,
& wouldn’t read his wonderfully quirky poems out any more
because people were telling him,
they were weak.
They were a little childish but
they weren’t weak.
Poets are supposed to care for each other.
I wish some people would close up like zippers.
I try writing a serious poem about a relationship break-up
About how gutted I feel
I even get in a few good metaphors
But then it starts going off the rails
The clown in the closet wants to come out and play.
I try to shut him out
But he plants his foot in the door
And before I know it
He’s taken over
pouring out puns, profanities,
double and triple entendres
A real word-acrobat.
The poem’s a mess but he’s having fun.
and so am I.
What the heck!
We horse around a little then get into it.
I just can’t help myself.
We were seated at the feet of the Great Writer who at 37 already had three novels published, the latest of which had just won the Booker Prize as it was then known.
“I will tell you a secret,” he said. “one which is not really a secret. It has been known for millennia but it has been largely overlooked and forgotten. Aristotle first taught it in his ‘Poetics.’. It is the principle of Endings. “
We leant forward. I had my notebook ready. “The ending,” he said, “is written in the beginning. There should be only one way a story can end. The challenge for any writer is to surprise the audience with the inevitability of everything that happens. There is no such thing as alternative endings. I repeat, there is only one way a story can end.”
do you agree with that? Is there only one way to end a story?
can you think of a story — fairy tale, parable, short story, film — that could have ended in a way different to how it did?
have you read Salman Rushdie’s Booker prize winning novel, ‘Midnight’s Children’?
My body alarms me.
It rings two or three times a night.
Who’s in charge here anyway?
Poetry flowed from me
Like water from a garden hose.
Days were diamonds.
My feet horses’ hooves.
Nothing defeated me.
I was sharp as Sherlock.
Prolific as Zola.
I had two hounds.
The wheels turn.
Accept, my friend tells me, Embrace.
Loss is gain.
Now is the new normal.
What seems to be the trouble , he asks .
I cough and splutter all over the place .
He gets the message .
Sits down to write the certificate .
There , he says , handing the form to me . This should do the trick .
I peruse it quickly .
There’s something missing, I say, why I had time off .
That’s right . If you had Alzheimers or a social disease would you want
people to know ?
Certainly not .
My point exactly .
But I thought you had to put something down .
No , he says . And if they ask , tell them to take a running jump . Better still , tell them to phone me and I’ll tell them to take a running jump . Only in stronger terms .
He stands up . Shakes my hand .
The next day at work I hand in the certificate .
He’s right .
They see the blank space but no one says a word .
I push it a bit further .
On the official form , the one you fill out yourself , where it says Illness I put down ‘See Certificate’ .
It feels good . It really does .
I’ve found a new way to treat with the world .
I’ve got a poem for you, a very short one, he promised with a garrulous grin, and then, in a long-winded introduction in which all the masters of brevity were cited, he proceeded to demolish the very notion of shortness. The poem took ten seconds, the intro five minutes.