Monday, 27 October 2008

Simon Turner - “The newt is a realist”

[More from Poetry International!]

On the journey down to London from the sunny Midlands, I was lucky enough to be reading an extract in the Guardian of Roger Deakin’s forthcoming journal, entitled Notes from Walnut Tree Farm. Lucky because they were (are) beautifully written; lucky because it is good that his untimely death has left something behind which readers and writers can learn from, can apsire too. Lucky, ultimately, beacause of its correlation between poetry and uselessness:

“The poetry,” writes Deakin, “is all being efficiently excised from our land. Where there once stood a magnificent old barn, a rick yard and some half-ruined cow byres and feeding sheds at Withersdale Street, there is now a deeply boring, ordinary converted barn. We need ruined barns like we need ruined woods.”

Deakin sets up an opposition between efficiency and poetry, and it is an opposition I happily subscribe to. George, in an earlier post, made reference to John Berger’s claim that poetry is essentially in opposition to capitalism: for what is capitalism but rapacious efficiency raised to the level of a malign godhood? Poetry, like the natural and man-made ruins that Deakin celebrates, serves no purpose which can be codified in terms of profit and loss. Therefore, it is something to be celebrated.

Something which I think has come into focus so far this week is the need to define what poetry is for, why it matters. Deakin suggests one reason in his journal, and Jorie Graham, earlier this evening, suggested another (more on that tomorrow). I want to use the space of my forthcoming posts to suggest others. Really, I’ll only be thinking aloud, but I hope that some of you will be listening in, and may be able to shed some light on the matter.

To close, for now. Reading Deakin put me in mind of a derelict house a few doors down from a friend of mine back home in Middle Earth (or Warwickshire, if you want to use the received term), where a small colony of bats has set up home in the attic. The landlord of the house in question has had trouble with squatters in the past, but I suspect that these air-borne tenants are here to stay. One night we watched them feeding as the light failed. Swooping and ascending, they snatched insects out of the air which had grown plump and numerous in the midst of a garden grown luscious and wild in the absence of human habitation.

1 comment:

Gloria said...

I was lucky enough to be at Roger Deakin's memorial event, held at Walnut Tree Cottage in June last year. The fields surrounding the house are a marvellous testament to uselessness, with several old caravans and shepherds' huts on wheels which serve no purpose whatsoever (actually I think he used to camp out in them occasionally). The meadows went unmown, the roses rambled, the deep moat filled with weed and creatures. I so nearly met him. That place was the closest I got.

Jonathan Bate's book, 'The Song of the Earth' is interesting on John Clare as a maker of landmarks into 'text-marks' - the tree that he mourns, the path closed off, the field enclosed, all preserve, in some form, those lost places. But you can't beat the real thing. But nor can you live in Nostalgia. Places will always exist that are gaps in people's memories. You can read that any way you like.