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I have been thinking a lot recently about the gap between what is expected of us and what we think of as the essence of who we are, especially when it comes to interacting with others in social settings. I have been pondering again the truth of what Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer presents in his mysterious poem of near-death, ‘Alone’.  

The poem begins with the speaker skidding on the ice in his car at night, but ends with a kind of note-to-self which reinforces the need to ‘be alone/ ten minutes in the morning/ and ten minutes in the evening./ – Without a programme.’ Stripped of the identity- markers of name, job and family, the speaker becomes anonymous, waiting in silence for the crash he knows will happen.

Re-reading the poem recently has reminded me of an altogether different poem where the speaker disappears into the context being described, Ted Hughes’s ‘Go Fishing’.

I first heard the poem before I read it, on a cassette produced by Faber and Faber (a double-header with Paul Muldoon). ‘Go Fishing’ was the first in Hughes’s set-list. It is an electrifying performance, delicate yet somehow full voltage. The poem takes its energy from the imperative verb of the title, each stanza jolted both into and out of reverie by its first word in a mostly monosyllabic music: ‘join’, ‘lose’, ‘be’, ‘become’, ‘crawl’, ‘let’ and ‘try’:

Join water, wade in underbeing

Let brain mist into moist earth

Ghost loosen away downstream

Gulp river and gravity

 

Lose words

Cease

These final two words are delivered by Hughes as though he is trying to snuff out a candle with nothing more than a whisper. The poem is, of course, nothing to do with fishing, and everything at the same time. Far from a mere description of activity, it is a meditation on that rare dream-state psychologists call ‘flow’, a word the poem unashamedly uses. Like Tranströmer’s speaker grappling with his steering wheel, time seems to slow (‘The seconds grew – there was space in them –’) to the point where ego, identity and the outside world ‘dematerialise’.

I wonder if I am prepared to make that my goal in my writing and blogging this year, to vanish, vanquishing my need for external approval as I go, leaving only the effort of utterance behind:

Crawl out over roots, new and nameless

Search for face, harden into limbs

 

Let the world come back, like a white hospital

Busy with urgency words

 

Try to speak and nearly succeed

Heal into time and other people